SENIOR STAFF WRITER
DIALOGUE between President Emmerson Mnangagwa and the opposition is now inevitable, and also remains the best way to ending Zimbabwe’s decades-long myriad challenges, professor of World Politics at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies (OAS), Stephen Chan, says.
Speaking to the Daily News at the weekend, the respected academic also said the country’s “Big Three” political players — Mnangagwa, opposition leader Douglas Mwonzora and Nelson Chamisa — needed to approach Zimbabwe’s challenges with an open mind if progress is to be made.
This comes as Zimbabwe’s top clerics are set to meet this week, to help kick-start the much-talked about national dialogue.
It also comes after Mnangagwa, Mwonzora and Chamisa all recently signalled their preparedness to end Zimbabwe’s toxic politics of the past two decades, in the interest of the country and its long-suffering citizens.
“The situation in Zimbabwe is dire, so that posturing is simply futile. I think everyone is slowly coming to the realisation that dialogue is unavoidable.
“Certainly, the view in the international community is that talks that are unconditional — on all sides — open and transparent, should take place.
“Inclusive means inclusive. The MDC has split. It cannot at this moment be repaired. Both factions need to have a place at the talks,” the highly regarded Chan told the Daily News.
“No power to help Zimbabwe exists on any side, except through careful and detailed expert planning that is also negotiable with the donor community and lending agencies of the outside world.
“The economy is front, back and centre of all of Zimbabwe’s problems. Closely linked to that is, of course, the dire problem of corruption.
“And I have often suggested the Kariba Houseboat model. The principal players should simply go off to Kariba, take a houseboat out into the lake and stay there for an entire weekend once every month — finding, via informal means, common ground.
“No one should take credit for any successful plans. There should just be agreement on how best to go forward,” Chan further told the Daily News.
“This should not be an exercise in point scoring. Kenyan power sharing worked better than Zimbabwean power sharing. There are lessons to be learned from continental neighbours,” he added.
Chan also said it was very likely that once Mnangagwa and the opposition healed their rifts, punitive international measures such as last week’s announcement of sanctions on the country’s security chiefs and Zimbabwe’s envoy to Tanzania by the British government would be reversed.
“These (sanctions) were symbolic, if clumsy gestures. You won’t get anything that is not clumsy out of (UK prime minister) Boris Johnson’s government.
“But the symbolic intent is that the outside world will not re-engage with Zimbabwe until there is a notable improvement in human rights and it’s not just the UK.
“The US-Biden policy will be exactly the same. Look who will be advising Biden. It will be Obama Mark II,” Chan said further. I don’t think Zimbabweans get this.
“Having said that, it would be so easy to turn that situation around by very visible and fair dialogue, leading to an inclusive government in which securitisation of the country is not monopolised by one party alone,” he added.
This comes as attempts to kick-start the much-needed dialogue between the “Big Three” gathers more steam — with the Zimbabwe Heads of Christian Denominations (ZHOCD) confirming that it is meeting this week to work out the modalities for stakeholder negotiations.
After their crucial meeting, the clerics converging under the ZHOCD banner would also seek to involve the regional Sadc bloc, in a bid to nudge Mnangagwa and the opposition to work together.
“The Zimbabwe Heads of Christian Denominations executive is meeting next week (this week), on a date yet to be agreed on, and the issue of dialogue and the possibility of engaging Sadc are high on the agenda in view of the prevailing political climate in the country.
“The meeting will discuss how, as the Church, we can go about ensuring that the talks become a reality, rather than mere talk.
“This is because the position of the Church has not changed since we brought up this idea way back in 2016 … The challenges facing the country can only be resolved through a broad-based national dialogue.
“While I cannot pre-empt what will come out before the meeting has been held, we will have a definitive position next week after the ZHOCD executive meeting,” ZHOCD executive secretary, Kenneth Mtata told the Daily News last week.
ZHOCD is made up of the leaders of most of the influential churches in the country, which include the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference (ZCBC), the Zimbabwe Council of Churches (ZCC) and the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe (EFZ).
On its part, the ZCBC said apart from being part of the ZHOCD initiative, it was also working on a separate process to help thaw the frosty relations between Mnangagwa and Chamisa — which stemmed from the disputed July 2018 election outcome.
“We have been working on bridging the gap between President Mnangagwa and Chamisa. We have, however, not been able to do much as of now because of the Covid-19 pandemic and its attendant restrictions on meetings.
“Given this reality (the parties’ latest apparent willingness to talk), we will probably have to ramp up our engagement through online forums,” ZCBC secretary-general, Frederick Chiromba, also told the Daily News last week.
The move by the Church comes as political analysts have suggested that the clergy would most likely be acceptable as mediators for the talks, if the leaders of the ruling Zanu PF and the MDC were not currently speaking in forked tongues on the urgent need for dialogue.
University of Zimbabwe political scientist, Eldred Masunungure, was among the analysts who told the Daily News last week that the Church needed to step in again to engage all key local stakeholders, as well as Sadc to kick-start the talks.
“It is encouraging that the protagonists are showing signs of willingness to engage. So, a combined effort of the Church and Sadc taking the lead in bringing the relevant parties to sit down should see us through as a country.
“The Church should initiate the talks because someone has to take the lead in shepherding the dialogue.
“They must approach the protagonists, as well as the Sadc region to set up the parameters for the talks, because on its own the Church may not have the necessary gravitas to tackle political organisations.
“We only hope that Zanu PF and the two MDCs are not speaking in forked tongues and have a genuine appetite for the talks,” Masunungure told the Daily News.
* See also comment on Page 6