Dialogue and African solutions: the Zimbabwe agreement.
In Zimbabwe an agreement was finally signed, on September 15, between President Mugabe and opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, under the aegis of South Africa ’s President Thabo Mbeki. The agreement marks a dramatic turning point for Zimbabwe . It provides for a government of national unity with Mr Mugabe to remain an executive president and Mr Tsvangirai as an executive prime minister. There is, of course, still room for problems to emerge and not all details yet appear to have been fully worked out. Indeed, implementation of the deal may prove difficult, but even to have reached this stage, an agreement between two groups who have long been bitterly at loggerheads, is a notable achievement to the credit of an African solution to African problems. It appears both sides are committed. President Mugabe was notably complimentary towards President Mbeki, praising his determination and his generosity, thanking Zimbabwe ’s neighbours for coming to its assistance once again, and describing President Mbeki’s work as noble. Mr. Tsvangirai referred to the agreement as “the best opportunity for us to build a peaceful, prosperous, democratic Zimbabwe ”. It should be remembered that President Mbeki had earlier come in for a lot of criticism especially from the western press and others for his “quiet diplomacy”, which was even described as “a method of conferring respectability on a policy of appeasing Mugabe’s domination” and claims that he was denying the crisis and preventing regional and international intervention in defence of human rights and democracy in Zimbabwe.
The most striking factor in this mediation is that it was achieved within the African context. President Mbeki was first given a mandate to mediate by the South African Development Community (SADC), and this was subsequently endorsed by the AU at its Sharm el Sheikh summit, at the beginning of July. It was notable that the AU Executive Council expressed its deep concern over the situation in Zimbabwe and its implications for political stability, supported the efforts to assist the parties to find a peaceful and lasting solution, called on all parties to exercise restraint and put an immediate end to violence and intimidation and urged the parties to refrain from any actions that might negatively impact on the climate for dialogue, and to commit themselves to a peaceful solution to the current situation through dialogue. The AU very specifically did not call for sanctions or resort to threats. This contrasted sharply in tone and intent with a UN Security Council draft resolution a few days later which demanded the beginning of a substantive and inclusive political dialogue, but called for condemnation and sanctioning of Zimbabwe under Chapter VII of the UN Charter, calling it a threat to international peace and security in the region. The draft would have imposed an arms embargo, and a travel ban and a financial freeze. Fortunately wiser councils prevailed, and the draft was rejected, allowing President Mbeki the space necessary to carry out serious and substantive negotiations that would have been impossible if the heavy handed approach of the international community had been adopted.
There are considerable lessons to be learnt from this implementation of an African approach to African problems. President Mbeki was emphasizing a peaceful, low key, approach based on dialogue and discussion, avoiding any sense of exclusivity and stressing the necessity of inclusively. He resolutely refused to demonize, something that certain elements of the international community have made the central element of their approach to Zimbabwe . President Mbeki consistently made it clear he was seeking the middle ground between the protagonists rather than trying to widen the gap which appeared to be the intent of those who proposed the UN draft resolution.
This use of an African style of mediation, and the particularly African insistence on dialogue rather than confrontation, provides a welcome lesson. It isn’t a question of parochialism, and it isn’t indicative of any necessary rejection, principled or otherwise, of other alternatives or an insistence on any uniquely African approach. What it emphasizes is that in such cases, African states are, perhaps, closer to the problem, in a position to understand the dangers and the implications of selected courses of action rather than others. There is no doubt, for example, that if the approach outlined in the UN draft resolution had been adopted, it would have done nothing to maintain stability in Zimbabwe , and done much to encourage instability.
This reminds us of the experience we had in Ethiopia in 2005 during the post election period when highly provocative, and inaccurate remarks by the head of the EU’s Election Observation Mission, and the leaking of documents, were largely responsible for bringing opposition supporters out onto the street and encouraging the opposition into violent confrontation. In other words, the violence that occurred was not solely the product of the Ethiopian political scene. There was external third party involvement by people whose knowledge of Ethiopia was minimal, whose sensitivity to potential problems was non-existent, and who had no attachment to the interests of Ethiopia , only to their own. In the end this meant that no dialogue proved possible, and led, almost inexorably, to the riots of November, and the totally unnecessary loss of life, both of police and civilians. It was a political crisis that could have easily been avoided by discussion and dialogue, as demonstrated last year when the efforts of the traditional Council of Elders provided mediation which allowed for the pardoning of convicted opposition leaders.
It is clear that the first approaches of the international community to the crisis in Zimbabwe had nothing to do with dialogue and everything to do with the threat of external intervention from outside Africa . Once this was dropped and a more conciliatory mode adopted, coupled with mediation by people involved in the region, knowledgeable and prepared to take the time, interest and energy to produce a settlement in the interests of the parties concerned, a peaceful solution became very possible. We might, at this point, ask what are the lessons we should draw from the experience we have had in Zimbabwe . First of all it is very clear that what was in the interests of Africa might not be supported by the international media. Prudent approaches that would help maintain peace in Africa and contribute to national reconciliation might be ridiculed. It is only when they succeed that their validity is accepted, and even then only grudgingly. All this means that any potentially effective methods of resolution of African problems must be pursued with patience, determination and consistency even in the face of what appears to be almost unanimous opposition from the international community. For Ethiopians, of course, this is confirmation of the soundness of the policy their government has been following both in domestic and foreign affairs. That is why we continue to insist that for Ethiopia and Eritrea there is no alternative to dialogue, and to consistent and determined commitment to peaceful resolution of the dispute.
Celebration of our charitable status come to our event.
This will be an evening of entertainment to raise awareness for the Hopeful Futures Foundation, come for a ”Taste of Africa”. This event is in collaboration with BrazenBunch and features live performances from: Imaani, Elisabeth Troy, Zena Edwards, Abdul Shyllon, Baby Sol, Jnay, Bianca Rose, Amanda Drummond and many others
Venue: The Halo317 Battersea Park RoadLondon, SW11 4TLDate: Saturday 27th SeptemberTime: 8pm-2amEntry: £10 (live music)(all proceeds will be donated to the Hopeful Futures Foundation)RSVP Essential: maito:firstname.lastname@example.orgTelephone: 0845 077 1189Purchase Tickets
”Taste of Africa” part II
This event will take place at Movenpick Hotel in Dar-es-salaam. Date to be confirmed in December 2008.