Zimbabwe 2008: Unpacking the historic power sharing deal

As the world tries to digest the implications of the inter-party power sharing deal that is to be signed on Monday, 15 September 2008, in Harare, it is important that we pose to think carefully about the deal structure, its fundamentals, consequences, challenges, and opportunities.
MDC Secretary General Tendai Biti in a recent visit to Kigali.
MDC Secretary General Tendai Biti in a recent visit to Kigali.

As the world tries to digest the implications of the inter-party power sharing deal that is to be signed on Monday, 15 September 2008, in Harare, it is important that we pose to think carefully about the deal structure, its fundamentals, consequences, challenges, and opportunities.

The deal is a complex one and the protracted nature of the negotiations confirms the challenges that were inherent in constructing a “win-win” transaction balancing the interests of a class of personalities that hitherto had no basis to share the same negotiating space. 

Zimbabwe is not the first conflict infested country to face similar challenges and overcoming them. 

Indeed, only 28 years ago, the country faced a somewhat similar challenge and in the final analysis, negotiations saved the day and out of the Lancaster House conference, with all its acknowledged imperfections, emerged an outcome that allowed the transfer of power to take place.

Future generations will no doubt reflect on this deal and I have no doubt that consensus will emerge that it represents the best chance for the country to move forward. 

For many of us who have not been privy to the negotiations, it is always easy to criticize the actors but given the nature of the problem and the character of the actors, there can be no doubt that Zimbabwe stands to benefit from a deal whose genius is in its unique construction.

The world now knows that a new national unity cabinet chaired by President Mugabe will be formed comprising 31 nominees drawn from the three parties as follows: MDC-T (13), ZANU-PF (15) and MDC-M (3). 

Based on this framework, the cabinet that will operate like a board of directors of any company and would be chaired by President Mugabe in his capacity as Head of State and government premised on the notion that sovereignty vests in him on account of his contention that he won the controversial Presidential run-off election.

Notwithstanding the outcome of the election, President Mugabe believes that he is the ultimate guarantor of the 1987 Unity Accord that has allowed the leadership of the former ZAPU party to remain in senior positions of ZANU-PF and government without having to subject themselves to any election. 

Under the Unity Accord, ZANU-PF’s presidium comprises of the President from the former ZANU party, two deputies one drawn from the former ZAPU and the other from the former ZANU parties, and a National Chairman from the former ZAPU. 

The current incumbents are as follows: (i) President Mugabe (who contested the March 2008 Presidential elections); Vice President Mujuru (a duly elected member of parliament who also contested the elections); (iii) Vice President Joseph Msika (who did not participate in the election fully knowing that his fate was causally connected to Mugabe); and (iv) Mr. John Nkomo (who also did not participate in the election and if he had would most probably have lost anyway).

Both Msika and Nkomo’s interests were critical in the deal construction. They were both nominated as Senators signifying even before the conclusion of the negotiations that Mugabe was not about to dumb them. So it must have been obvious to all that any deal that would enjoy the support of Mugabe had to ensure the relevancy of these two individuals in the state.

Accordingly, instead of having a non-executive chairman, ZANU-PF must have pushed for a package deal accommodating the four senior members of the party in the new framework. 

The age profile of the incumbents is instructive.  Mr. Joseph Msika at (85) is older than Mugabe while John Nkomo at (74) is younger than Mugabe and Mujuru at (53) is the youngest. 

The average age of the ZANU-PF presidium incumbents is 74 years making it one of the oldest clubs to run a country that is in such a crisis. 

Ordinarily, the Zimbabwean crisis requires an energetic team but what makes the country unique is that retirement in the game of Zimbabwean politics is not a preferred option. 

When the composition of the ZANU-PF leadership and the attendant internal succession challenges are put in a proper context, it then becomes obvious that leaving Mugabe and his two deputies outside the council of Ministers or more properly described as an executive committee supporting a CEO of a company made more sense to transition the country from the old politics of accommodation.

The composition of the cabinet at 31 plus 3 (Mugabe, Msika and Mujuru) leaves ZANU-PF with 18 representatives and MDC with (13 plus 3) – 16 representatives effectively giving ZANU-PF the majority of the full cabinet. It is not, however, clear what happens when the Vice Presidents vacate office and whether they will have a vote in cabinet.

Assuming that the council of ministers in which the MDC (combined) has the majority (13 plus 3) versus (15) works like a normal executive committee in companies, it means that a resolution passed by the council may not need to be debated again at the full board meeting. 

In arriving at any resolution in the council of ministers’ meeting, one would have to assume that ZANU-PF’s views will be incorporated in the deliberations given the composition.

It would, therefore, be untenable if cabinet were to duplicate the functions of the CEO’s team. Any Chairman of a board of directors is compelled to work through the CEO and using this analogy one has to be comforted that the deal on the table creates a separation between the past and the future. 

President Mugabe must be acutely aware that his brand of politics will not advance the national interest particularly if private investment and multilateral and bilateral development finance is needed. 

Any incumbent President who has been in power for 28 years must be tired of people telling him what they think he wants to hear.

There is evidence that President Mugabe’s world view has been shaped by people who have invested in him being out of touch. 

The proposed deal presents a threat to ZANU-PF members who have over the years invested in President Mugabe’s ignorance.

President Mugabe is surely not fully aware of the damage his administration has caused to the economy and politics of the country otherwise he would have agreed to step down and allow fresh blood to change the direction in which the country is going. 

By remaining as the Chairman of the board, the proposed arrangement provides an opportunity for Tsvangirai as the CEO to unmask the true nature of the regime to President Mugabe who will no doubt also benefit from knowing the squandered opportunities resulting from a government that over the years lost touch with the ordinary citizen.    

ZANU-PF has not been able to tell President Mugabe what time it is.  It is now time for the people to tell him the truth and hopefully his last defenders who may be against the deal will no doubt be scheming on how best to derail the deal. 

In most organisations, the CEO is the face of the company and given the consensus that Zimbabwe needs a new face to lift it up to new heights, President Mugabe will increasingly find himself not relevant to the future of the country as the truth about his administration’s actions is exposed not only to the world but to him. 

The country needs to change direction and any external support will be linked to the CEO’s ability to convince both private and public sector actors that a new dawn has arrived and there is no turning back.

Based on the above, I join many well wishers of the new Zimbabwe to embrace this deal not only because it is the best of many possible and realistic worse alternatives but it provides an opportunity for Mugabe to begin to know his own party through the victims who now have a historic role to bridge the knowledge, execution and capital gaps that confront the country. 

Contact: mmawere@global.co.za

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