Kenyan judge brokers Zanu PF, MDC talks

Kenyan Chief Justice Willy Mutunga
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WHILE President Emmerson Mnangagwa this week ruled out talks and a power-sharing arrangement with the MDC-Alliance, saying Zanu PF had won a two-thirds majority in the July general elections, it has emerged that dialogue is unfolding behind-the-scenes, facilitated by prominent former Kenyan chief justice Willy Mutunga.

According to the reliable local weekly publication, the Zimbabwe Independent, which first broke a series of stories about the previous talks between Zanu PF and the MDC, can exclusively reveal that Mutunga arrived in the country yesterday and met senior MDC officials, including MDC president Nelson Chamisa. He has been secretly coming to Zimbabwe for the talks since August.

“Mutunga is in Harare to meet Zanu PF and MDC leaders for talks to resolve the current political and economic situation. This has been necessitated by events which followed the otherwise peaceful, yet not transparent and credible elections in July,” a top African diplomat told the Independent.

“He is coming here at the behest of the international community which wants to see the situation tackled and fixed before things get too complicated. He has been travelling here since August when the Constitutional Court (ConCourt) dismissed Chamisa’s electoral petition challenging Mnangagwa’s election.

“Even though the Zimbabwean ConCourt, in terms of section 93 subsection 4 sub-paragraph (a) of the constitution, duly declared Mnangagwa as the winner of presidential election held on the 30th of July 2018, there has been a realisation that the political problem won’t go away and the economy and people would be the major causalities, as we are witnessing now. So Mutunga is trying to broker serious talks between Zanu PF and the MDC to address this situation.”

The diplomat said Mutunga’s process is modelled along the lines of the late United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan, who also tried in vain to help resolve the situation in Zimbabwe with Nelson Mandela’s Elders, an international non-governmental organisation of public figures noted as elder statesmen, peace activists, and human rights advocates, while former president Robert Mugabe was still in charge.

In his book, Interventions: A Life in War and Peace, Annan confesses he had to act solo “as some Lord of sorts” in order to save Kenya from the brink of collapse, following the bloody post-election violence of 2007 that left of 1 000 people dead and hundreds of thousands maimed and homeless. Annan brokered a peace deal between retired president Mwai Kibaki and former prime minister Raila Odinga, ending the post-election turmoil in 2008.

Mutunga, a well-known Kenyan former judge, academic, reform activist, and the Commonwealth Special Envoy to the Maldives, is said to be using the same approach. “There is a growing realisation in Zanu PF, Zimbabwe in general, the region and the international community that the transition which was envisaged after the events of November 2017 did not go well, especially after the elections and August 1 shooting and killing of civilians,” a Western diplomat said.

“The government of Zimbabwe is pursuing an agenda for economic recovery and promoting itself as a trade and investment destination following a presidential transition in November 2017 and the elections. This ‘new economic order’ includes talks to normalise relationships with international partners, creditors and investors. Delivering on promises of austerity measures and reform, as well as growth is imperative in a country where over 80% of economic activity is informal, and citizens’ resilience is being severely tested by a worsening economic situation characterised by an acute liquidity and cash crisis, shortages of goods and company downsizing or closures, among other things.

“Re-engagement to end isolation, pay debts and arrears and get new funding, besides rebuilding foreign, trade and investment relations will require political legitimacy and stability, and a clear and consistent policy reform agenda.

“In this environment, this is not possible, hence we are saying the Zimbabwean government and President Mnangagwa must realise that dialogue and consensus are now a sine qua non for recovery, growth and progress. This can’t be avoided anymore, unless, of course, Zimbabwe is to be allowed to slide backwards into the abyss with disastrous consequences. Leadership is needed to take the country forward. That means putting the national interest above individual and party political considerations.”

Mutunga’s visit comes amid increasing calls for dialogue from churches, civil society and ordinary Zimbabweans. This is largely necessitated by the economic meltdown, widespread suffering and discontent. Only two days ago, prominent cleric and businessman Shingi Munyeza urged Zanu PF and MDC to put their differences aside and focus on nation-building.

The Independent understands Mutunga’s mandate includes looking at a broad framework, before identifying salient issues on both sides, which can be narrowed down to an agenda for talks. This means dealing with issues since the coup through elections to the present.

“Mutunga is engaging to look at the political and economic situation, sources of the political wrangling, the current situation going back to the coup, transition, elections, electoral dispute, the subsequent economic turmoil and the state of the nation to see how dialogue can be structured and facilitated,” one official said.

“He will also specifically look at what issues both parties want addressed before coming up with an agenda for discussion. There are many options which will be considered, not just a Government of National Unity (GNU); remember power-sharing is a system of governance in which all major segments of society are included.

“There are basic principles of power-sharing. It can be grand coalition governments in which nearly all political parties have appointments; protection of minority rights for groups; decentralisation of power or decision-making by consensus. There are several and different models. If people sit down and think they will find ways of doing it.”

Mutunga’s timing could not have been worse, as he arrived at a time Zanu PF is gathering at its annual conference and thus playing hardball. Mnangagwa has been vacillating between calling for dialogue and adopting a hard-line approach. Chamisa has said he is willing to talk, not to join Mnangagwa’s government, but to fix Zimbabwe.

Yesterday, the MDC-Alliance said it welcomes any efforts to push for dialogue and a peaceful transition in Zimbabwe.

“We will always welcome dialogue to help resolve the country’s political and economic problems. The MDC believes in dialogue, a consensus-based approach and collective solutions to the nation’s problems, particularly to arrest the worsening economic crisis, which will see Zimbabweans having one of their worst festive seasons in living memory,” party spokesperson Jacob Mafume said.

“We must put the nation’s interests first, ahead of our individual and party ambitions. This means as the main parties and leaders, we have to show leadership, and stop posturing. Remarks by Mnangagwa that he would not want to engage because he purportedly won the elections and his party supposedly has a two-thirds majority in parliament are unfortunate and unhelpful.

“The fact of the matter is that Mnangagwa, as the Zanu PF leader and candidate, did not win the elections. He knows it. Zec (Zimbabwe Electoral Commission) also knows it. The people know it. Observers also do.

“Even by Zec’s fraudulent count and standards, Mnangagwa still does not have the support of half of the electorate.

The majority of the economically active and productive Zimbabweans, and indeed 80% of taxpayers, don’t support him.

The majority of taxpayers funding his government’s budget and his own salary don’t support him. Besides, he was rejected even by Zanu PF supporters in some constituencies. He won in 129 constituencies out of 210 constituencies, while his party won in 145 constituencies out of 210 constituencies. He even publicly complained about this. He also protested that his own party is plotting to impeach against him, among other complaints. These issues are very important and can’t be ignored. Let’s get real and deal with them timely.

“There is also this myth that Zanu PF won a two-thirds majority in parliament. It did not because we are challenging the results in more than 20 constituencies. You also had chaotic situations like that in Chegutu West where Zanu PF’s Dexter Nduna and our candidate Gift Konjana’s had been declared winners before things changed.

Besides, in some constituencies where Zanu PF won, we had more votes than them, but unfortunately because we had more than one candidate we lost by default. Harare South constituency and many others are clear examples. So when the situation is analysed, Zanu PF has no two-thirds majority to talk about. In the end, that is why dialogue, given all these issues and the messy situation we are now in, is necessary and almost unavoidable if we really want to fix this country. That is what we want, not a GNU.”

Zanu PF spokesman Simon Khaya Moyo said he was unware of talks between his party and the MDC. “I have no idea; there are no talks that I’m aware of,” he said.