Managing disappointment in Zimbabwe

Sebastian Bakare, Anglican bishop of Harare.
Sebastian Bakare, Anglican bishop of Harare, who was recently awarded the Per Anger Prize by eight Swedish human rights NGOs, was the centrepiece of a recent seminar organized by the Nordic Africa Institute, the Swedish Institute of International Affairs and Living History Forum. In the setting of the stately Victoria Hall at the SIIA, Bishop Bakare discussed for 90 minutes with Amanda Hammar, Zimbabwean researcher at the Nordic Africa Institute, and Anders Möllander, former Swedish Ambassador to South Africa.

The title of the seminar, ”New Deal for Zimbabwe – A Framework for Change” may have sounded hollow at the time of the seminar in mid-November 2008. In late September the regime of ZANU-PF and Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe had effectively abrogated the power-sharing deal signed a few weeks earlier, by unilaterally awarding all important government posts to members of the ruling party, instead of sharing them with the opposition party MDC, Movement for Democratic Change.

Bishop Bakare, who has been a central voice for human rights and human dignity in Zimbabwe during the campaign of violence launched against the opposition during the election campaign in the spring, was disillusioned and tired in his opening remarks in the discussion:

”Today, 28 years after the ZANU-PF government took over in 1980, the people of Zimbabwe are crying, there is no food, they are starving to death, there are no schools, employees stay home from work because their salary is less than the ticket for transport.”

”We hoped the election would bring new life, bu that didn't happen. The results took six weeks and we didn't know what would come next. We were kept waiting, but we remained hopeful for a solution. And again it didn't happen.”

Bishop Bakare was sharply critical of the politicians of the ruling ZANU-PF and said that for them ”power is more important than human life”.

Dr Amanda Hammar, programme coordinator and researcher at the Nordic Africa Institute struck an equally pessimistic tone in her address, titled ”From New Deal to Dead Deal” (read the full text of Amanda Hammar's address here).

The power-sharing deal was ”an important mutual gesture of non-partisan good-will”, Amanda Hammar said. The deal however had serious flaws, or as Dr Hammar said, ”the glue /.../ was not included”. That ”glue” would have been ”a specified, fair and actual distribution of real power” between the parties.

The pessimistic tone of Dr Hammar's initial remarks did not preclude her from listing a set of key conditions for meaningful renewal. The conditions listed included ”active inclusion of a wide range of actors” in the negotiation process, as well as ”a new political vision and changed political and moral stance” among the SADC leaders.

Ambassador Anders Möllander in his address took the liberation struggle and the early years of the ZANU-PF regime as a starting point. Ambassador Möllander reminded the audience that Robert Mugabe in his victory speech spoke about a ”time to make plows out of our swords” and the great expectations the world had on his regime.

Möllander explained Mugabe's clinging to power as a result of the leaders around him being dependent on him staying, politically and economically, as a protection against charges of human rights violations.

As for the solution, Ambassador Möllander was careful to say that there was no easy way out. Sanctions would be counterporductive; mobilization was made difficult by repression. The important thing at this moment is to keep attention on Zimbabwe, to confront and criticize where we can, and to maintain and explain smart sanctions.

Christian Palme

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