After the referendum: political maneuvers in Zimbabwe

Earlier this year, I informed you that there would be held a constitutional referendum in Zimbabwe this March. The outcome was positive and the Zimbabwean people have agreed on a new constitution. The referendum was only one step out of several others agreed upon in the roadmap to democratic elections in the South African country as foreseen in the Global Political Agreement (GPA) and negotiated with the SADC and the main Zimbabwean parties. Elections shall be held this year and consultations about the date are currently under way.

So how does the outcome look like? Little surprising, the new constitution has been approved by the majority of the electorate. A huge a majority of 95% of the votes were in favor of the new constitution. Also, more than half of the six million eligible voters went to the ballots. While the high number of approval is not very surprising given that the proposed draft had been supported by the two large Zimbabwean parties, ZANU-PF and MDC, one needs to say on a more positive note that the number of electoral participation was higher than expected. Remember, the process was overshadowed by political tensions, politically motivated violence, and the exclusion of NGO and media representatives.

After the referendum’s results had been pronounced in March, MDC leader Welshman Ncube immediately complained that he had been shut out from the GPA by Tsvangirai and Mugabe. Ncube is leading a small faction of the MDC and is supposed to take part in meetings with Mugabe and Tsvangirai as demanded by SADC. He informed South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma, who is mediating the Zimbabwean case, and wrote a letter to SADC in order to inform the regional organization. Apparantly, Mugabe and Tsvangirai agreed on the outline for the election process. Supposedly, elections shall take place this summer sometime between June and September. But they also unilaterally appointed key positions such as Justice Rita Makarau as the new Zimbabwe Electoral Commission chairperson.

SADC officials reacted rather diplomatic to this stating that the GPA needs to be fully implemented before the election could take place as the regional organization will inhibit elections if the roadmap violates GPA and SADC resolutions, such as security sector and media reforms. First and foremost, free and fair elections shall be ensured in order to prevent a chaotic situation as witnessed four years ago. So, I suppose that June as the preferred date by the ZUNA-PF party is off the table, but no definite date has been announced yet.

Meanwhile, both Tsvangirai and Mugabe are engaged in a lot of political maneuvering with the SADC member states and abroad:

the country’s leading political rivals, President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, are both courting the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in bids to use the regional bloc to secure their political future (as stated by Ray Ndluvo)

On the one hand, Mugabe is busy consolidating his relationships with Namibia and Malawi. In case you’re wondering why those two countries: Well, Malawian President Joyce Banda is the incoming SADC chairperson and Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba will take over the SADC troika chair. Both presidents will play a crucial role in the political and electoral process in the following months. On the other hand, Tsvangirai was travelling throughout the region to find support against Mugabe and to organize external pressure on him. The MDC leader met South African President Jacob Zuma and Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete. But he was also snubbed in Mozambique, Angola and Namibia when the respective presidents denied to receive Tsvangirai or he was only confronted with low level officials. This forced Tsvangirai to reschedule his tour towards Western and Central Africa where he met with officials from other African regional organizations (ECOWAS and EAC).

So, what we’re currently witnessing in Zimbabwe is a lot of political maneuvering: While the two more prominent persons are reaching out to their SADC neighbors in order to improve their international / regional standing, internal opponents try to undermine their positions by emphasizing their apparently secret agreements. All these actions are oriented towards the single most important event this year: the elections. These will not only end five years of political unification and stagnation but also decide about the political and personal futures of Mugabe and Tsvangirai. Consequently, we can expect to see a lot more of the political investing they have shown over the last few weeks. In the following months, it remains to be proven, though, that the chaos from four years ago has been overcome and that the main proponents will adher to the democratic rules of the game.

2 thoughts on “After the referendum: political maneuvers in Zimbabwe

  1. Hello Sören,

    thx for keeping informed about Zimbabwe :)
    Unfortunately I can’t follow you:
    “MDC leader Welshman Ncube immediately complained that he had been shut out from the GPA by Tsvangirai and Mugabe.”
    If he is leader of a party who is favor of the referendum, why did he complain about it?
    But by further reading it made more sens that Tsvangirai is MDC Leader … so who is this Welshman Ncube now???

  2. Thanks for the question.
    The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) constellation can be a bit confusing. To make a long story short, there are two factions of the MDC – one is led by Tsvangirai, the other by Ncube. Often, they are referred to as MDC-T and MDC-M / MDC-N (M – Mutambara, N – Ncube). I tried to make that clear by stating that Ncube is leading a small faction of the MDC (also often referred to as a splinter group), but probably should have used the aforementioned acronyms.
    FWIW, some more background information: The original MDC party split after the Senate elections in 2005, with Tsvangirai leading the main faction. Nevertheless, both the MDC-T and the MDC-M won the combined majority in the presidential elections in 2008 which then led to the chaotic political sitution and the GPA and the referendum. When Ncube took over the leadership of the MDC-M faction, he was also supposed to take part in negotiations over the roadmap for elections and political reforms with Mugabe and Tsvangirai as agreed upon in the GPA and with SADC.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *