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Monday, 18 June 2007

Zimbabwe needs constructive engagement!!!!!


By Daniel Fortune Molokele

Last updated: 06/16/2007 08:38:16

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LAST week I wrote about the apparent failure of the outgoing British Prime Minister Tony Blair to positively help Zimbabwe through his policy of diplomatic isolation of the Robert Mugabe-led regime in Zimbabwe.
In response to that, I received several emails in my feedback mailbox that challenged me to proffer a clear way forward on how to handle the current impasse in the crisis affecting Zimbabwe .

In particular, I got an email from Joram Nyathi, the Deputy Editor of the weekly Zimbabwe Independent newspaper that is based in Harare. Nyathi wanted me to further clarify my stance on the efficacy of the Blair led policy of isolation of Mugabe and his regime elements.
Subsequent to that, in the 'Candid Comment' feature column, he went on to interrogate the simple but difficult question; is it better to isolate or not to isolate the Mugabe regime?'

It is thus by the reason of the foregoing that this week I will take some time and further explore the ramifications of either option. Specifically, I will argue that the time has now come for all the friends of Zimbabwe to appreciate the need for a constructive engagement with the Mugabe regime. The time is now ripe to remove any form of vestiges of the regime's isolation from the rest of the global diplomatic community.

Be that as it may, for the avoidance of doubt, it is incumbent for me to further state that my position on the political legitimacy of the Mugabe led regime remains unequivocally clear. It is my take that unless the side-effects of the controversies perambulating the aftermath of the country's last three major national plebiscites of the years 2000, 2002 and 2005 are decisively addressed; there is no way the nation can move forward as a cohesive political entity. My honest view is that the legal framework and political context of the said elections are to such effect that one cannot sustain an argument that we do have a popular democratically elected government in Zimbabwe today.

It is common cause that the whole constitutional labyrinth that encapsulates the Zimbabwean elections today makes it virtually impossible for the electorate will to be fully expressed.
In particular, I fully endorse the calls for a major overhaul of the electoral systems especially on the need to replace the key role of the Registrar General with a fully fledged Independent Electoral Commission.
To that end, there is an urgent need for a constitutional amendment process in the run up to the 2008 polls that will capture that legitimate issue of concern.

Having said that, may I return to my original argument on the need to urgently rehabilitate the Mugabe-led regime, diplomatically. Even then, it is also necessary to further unpack what the diplomatic isolation has actually entailed, over the last decade. In other words, what in essence do we really mean when we talk about the diplomatic isolation of Zimbabwe?

Firstly it is my view that there is a need to demystify the notion that the so-called smart sanctions from the Western governments are the main cause of the crisis in Zimbabwe. It is indeed absurd to argue that denying travel visas to Mugabe and his close associates has actually led to the political and socio-economic collapse of the nation!
It is common cause that the situation in Zimbabwe could be much better than it is today had it not been for several policy and political blunders made under Mugabe's extended 27 years in power. Put in other words, we as Zimbabweans are still holding most blame for the crisis in our country, and also the keys to the solutions.

Secondly, it must also be clearly asserted that the Western governments have not necessarily sought to isolate Zimbabwe as a country but have implemented what are largely known as 'targeted' personal sanctions of Mugabe and his cronies. They have over the years come up with 'blacklists' of the leading persons in the regime and their close family members that they have used to restrict their travels to those countries and also their ability to freely conduct business there.

Further, they have also revised some of the multilateral and bilateral agreements to assist the Zimbabwean government in the hope to pressure the regime to accept some of their conditions on the need for political and socio-economic reforms in the country. This has thus been some kind of a 'carrot and stick' strategy. The Western governments have never sought to impose full scale diplomatic isolation of Zimbabwe. This explains why they have maintained their embassies in Zimbabwe unto this day without ever threatening to close them down at any time over the years. Conversely, the Zimbabwean government has also maintained its own full diplomatic presence in all the major capitals of the leading Western nations including London and Washington DC.

Thirdly, the so called isolation of Zimbabwe has largely been limited to the leading Western governments only. Both the USA and the European Union have so far tried and failed to influence the rest of the global community of nations to join them in their dis-engagement strategy of the Mugabe regime. Apart from the largely symbolic expulsion of Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth Club, Zimbabwe has easily maintained its full presence in all the major diplomatic forums in the world. That is, from the United Nations, EU-ACP, Non-Aligned Movement, G77, African Union and right up to the Southern African Development Community; Zimbabwe has been largely unshaken. This is mainly due to the full support it has consistently got from most African countries especially the influential role of South Africa.

The support that the Mugabe regime has received from South Africa and others is perhaps best captured in the preparations for the forthcoming Europe – Africa Union Summit that is due to be held in Portugal in December 2007. The EU countries had initially insisted that Zimbabwe be excluded from the process. In response to that, the African countries as led by Ghana and South Africa have also been unequivocal in their stance, in terms of not backing down to the EU demands. As a result, it now looks like the EU itself will be soon forced to change its stance and embrace Zimbabwe back into the fold.

This is a fact that has been captured in the recent remarks that the outgoing EU chairperson and also the new G8 chairperson, Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel made about Zimbabwe. She has accepted that it might be necessary for the EU to compromise on its stance on Zimbabwe for purposes of progress.

Fourthly, over the past few years, most Western governments have opted to tone down on their political rhetoric on Zimbabwe. Having realised that the Mugabe regime is most unlikely to accede to their pressure for reforms in Zimbabwe, they have reluctantly resorted to a 'hands off' approach. This forced strategic retreat has also been accompanied by a view that asserts the need for a so-called 'African solution' to the crisis in Zimbabwe. This turning point was largely captured during the July 2003 visit to South Africa by the USA President George Bush who formally endorsed President Thabo Mbeki to lead the process of re-engaging the Mugabe regime. This stance was further affirmed by both the AU and SADC which earlier this year also tasked Mbeki to help bring the key parties involved in the crisis in Zimbabwe to the negotiation table. The apparent U-turn was then eventually completed by the last ditch endorsement that Mbeki also got from Tony Blair during his farewell visit last month.

Fifthly and perhaps most crucially is the fact that both the leading opposition political parties and the civic society formations in Zimbabwe all seem to be in favour of a re-engagement strategy in dealing with the Mugabe regime. In the last few months, we have seen the willingness from all these parties to sit down and engage Mugabe at the negotiation table. There is thus no clear opposition from all these key critics of the Mugabe regime to constructively engage him on the need for a decisive solution to the crisis in Zimbabwe.

Last but not least, there are also indications that both Mugabe and Zanu PF at large are also amenable to the idea of sitting down with the opposition parties and forge a common way forward on the future of Zimbabwe. In fact, Mugabe himself this week also made a rare public acknowledgement of the critical role of the opposition parties in the national developmental agenda. These then may be signs of a thawing of the hitherto frosty relations between Zanu PF and the opposition MDC. The question now is how much compromise they are prepared to make once they meet the opposition parties and hopefully, the broader civic society formations representatives as per the recent demand of the Save Zimbabwe Campaign.

It is therefore plausible that if the current trend towards a constructive engagement of the Mugabe regime continues, then some compromises will soon be made that will pave the way for renewed opportunities for Zimbabwe to have a fresh start. The onus now remains on both the Mugabe regime and the opposition to come up with a positive attitude towards the need for an all inclusive strategy for a decisive solution to the political and socio-economic crisis in Zimbabwe. In this regard, only time will tell!
Daniel Molokele is a Zimbabwean Human Rights Lawyer who is based in Johannesburg. He can be contacted at zimvirtualnation@yahoo.com


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