20. April 2009

Engaging the Inclusive Government

After years of violence, repression and a catastrophic economy, there is optimism Zimbabwe is turning a corner, but the international community must do more to make the process irreversible.

Zimbabwe: Engaging the Inclusive Government,* the latest policy briefing from the International Crisis Group, examines the opportunity for recovery from a disastrous decade with the entry of the opposition into government. There is considerable international scepticism whether the flawed arrangement can succeed. President Robert Mugabe has described the inclusive government as a temporary one in which his ZANU-PF party remains in control. But Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai sees it as a transitional process that can stabilise the country, leading to elections under a new constitution in two years.

“There are signs that a more constructive political dynamic is developing, including within the parliament, the one institution with some democratic legitimacy and where cross-party collaboration will be needed to pass major reform legislation”, says François Grignon, Crisis Group’s Africa Program Director.

While the humanitarian and economic situations remain dire, many schools have reopened, prices have stabilised, and basic stocks are returning to shops. As a result, the credibility of Tsvangirai, who leads the main faction of the divided Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), is rising.
However, hard-line members of the security establishment are trying to cause the new government to fail by tactics that include continuing arrests and detention of activists, refusal of police to carry out some government orders and efforts to drive out the last few hundred white farmers by continued farm invasions.

To counter the risk of an attack against Tsvangirai or a military coup, a South Africa-led negotiation is needed to have the hardliners accept retirement before the elections, in exchange for limited immunity from prosecution for political crimes. It would be premature for the U.S., the European Union and others to remove their visa bans and asset freezes against key members of the Mugabe regime at this stage or to give the government direct budget support. To lessen the suffering and support the dynamics of change, however, donors should reengage and inject significant resources under a “humanitarian plus” approach that aims for both relief and rapid recovery.

“If the international community stands back with a wait-and-see attitude, the unity government is likely to fail, and Mugabe and the military establishment will entrench themselves again”, warns Donald Steinberg, Crisis Group Deputy President. “There should be no alternative to engagement to address pressing socio-economic needs, reinforce new hope and prevent a return to violence and repression”. (ICG, http://www.crisisgroup.org)

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