Last week Zimbabwe’s leaders, politicians and Civic Society Organisations (CSOs) attended yet another ‘summit’ to sort out Zimbabwe’s messy politics. This came after president Robert Mugabe had proclaimed an election date without consulting the Prime Minister thereby sparking outrage from other political parties.
The outcome of the summit is hotly contested, each side claims it scored diplomatic points against the other. Judging by the newspaper reports and social media one can be forgiven for thinking there were several summits not one. The only common point is that there was a summit.
Fortunately the report is readily available and among other things says there is need for the media to be impartial and fair and also for the security sector to publicly reaffirm their commitment to behaving in a professional manner. More importantly President Mugabe was “urged” to- through the Minister of Justice- approach the courts seeking an extension of the election date by two weeks.
The interpretation of these seemingly simple points has been varied. ZANU PF claims it got the better of Tsvangirai because SADC only “urged” President Mugabe to seek extension of the election date; an urging the President and the courts may conveniently ignore or reject. Furthermore, in line with its sovereignty mantra, the party says SADC’s decisions are not binding at all. Concerning reforms ZANU PF is adamant that the media and security sector have always behaved “professionally”.
Tellingly, the state owned The Herald, on the morning after the summit had an interesting headline where it claimed that Prime Minister Tsvangirai and his party Secretary General Tendai Biti had fought over a hotel suite, devoting as little time to the summit as possible. That speaks volumes.
The CSOs and the MDCs were, by and large, convinced that president Mugabe had been utterly and thoroughly defeated as SADC had emphasized the need for a credible election which means conditions for a free and fair election must be in place before any voting can take place. This of course means SADC observers on the ground sometime before polling day and media, electoral and security reforms.
According to the MDC (T), Prime Minister Tsvangirai had a clear diplomatic victory over his old foe. Indeed, as he had claimed, he held the keys to the election and if ZANU PF changed the locks as some media outlets had reported, then his is a master key.
One Tamsanga Zhou, writing for an online paper, said victory went to MDC leader Welshman Ncube, for his “eloquent and convincing argument” among other things.
But the SADC leaders, despite their outward appearances, are not stupid, they realised how delicate the situation is. They know that they will have either Mugabe or Tsvangirai as president in a few weeks’ time hence the need to have wording which can be interpreted in ten different ways. That way everyone is happy. No one, except Ian Khama, cares to be frank and risk souring regional relationships.
What really happened in Maputo, therefore, is nothing new- the resolutions, proclamations, promises, and imagined victories- we have seen it all before. In truth it was a few elites living in hotel suites, drinking expensive wines and eating expensive food and haggling away the future of a country.
However despite my misgivings I still hope, I hope that it turns out that this one time the real victors are the people of Zimbabwe.