Home / Policy / Morgan Tsvangirai, Prime Minister of Zimbabwe

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Morgan Tsvangirai Photo: Getty Images

“There is a regional consensus that the crisis cannot be allowed to affect regional development”

Morgan Tsvangirai, Zimbabwe’s prime minister, entered a power sharing agreement with Robert Mugabe and Zanu-PF in 2008, nearly a decade after the formation of Mr Tsvangirai’s party, the Movement for Democratic Change. Speaking to This is Africa on a visit to London, where he lobbies for the withdrawal of sanctions and increased economic support for Zimbabwe, Mr Tsvangirai argues the agreement, mediated by South Africa, brought his country back from the brink.

“By 2008, there was no food in the urban areas, and health and education had almost shut down. We had the highest inflation economy in the world,” he recalls. “The inclusive government implemented a short-term recovery programme, and introduced a multi-currency regime to tame inflation. We opened schools. We opened health delivery in the hospitals. We started supplying water in the big cities. Food became available in the shops.”

But the hastily-agreed deal – which shares executive authority between the president, the prime minister and the cabinet, with Zanu-PF and the MDC sharing portfolio ministries – is an interim stop-gap rather than a solution to Zimbabwe’s fractured politics. “It was never anticipated that this would be a power transfer arrangement,” admits Mr Tsvangirai. Communication is now breaking down, and the original agreement, he claims, is not being honoured.

“Mugabe has appointed governors, when in the power-sharing agreement all appointments should be in consultation with me. He has appointed ambassadorial deployments without consulting me. He extended the appointment of some of the key security positions like Commissioner of Police beyond their term of office without consulting me. The litany of unilateral decisions is obvious.”

The structure of power has long been at the centre of the dispute between the MDC, which favours constitutional reform, and Zanu-PF, which has historically preferred to operate alone, sabotaging multiple coalitions since Zimbabwe’s optimistic independence in 1980. But disagreements over the direction of Zimbabwe’s economic policy are now intensifying too. Mr Tsvangirai, once an active trade unionist, is favourably inclined to greater private enterprise and foreign investment, as is Tendai Biti, the finance minister. Both raise concern about the Zanu-PF indiginisation law passed before the formation of the inclusive government.

While recognising the need for empowerment for Zimbabwe’s black population, Mr Tsvangirai sees quotas as ineffective and prone to corruption.

“The Zanu-PF policy thrust, instead of creating jobs, is actually going to destroy jobs,” he claims, pointing out that most Zimbabweans do not have the resources to participate in shareholder functions. Indiginisation has often served to enrich the elite, with much reallocated land going not to ordinary Zimbabweans but to Mugabe’s family and colleagues. Violent displacement and intimidation of white farmers have caused drastic falls in agricultural production.

Mr Tsvangirai sees the indiginisation law as an extension of this land reform programme. “What we see again and again is the criminalisation of investment, excessive expropriation, arm-twisting investors, to the extent that you want to share a small cake instead of expanding the cake.”

Public disagreements between parties supposed to be governing in coalition means businesses are waiting for resolution. Zimbabwe’s diaspora is also cautious. “They are ready to come home but there has to be a clear programme. You can’t expect anyone to jump in the dark,” he argues.

Investor caution is preventing the country from re-capitalising, and Mr Tsvangirai now wishes to bring economic ministries together to advance an “unambiguous” policy regarding the implementation of the empowerment law. “The potential is huge and investors are keen to look at Zimbabwe as a very attractive investment destination, provided we in government show there is political stability, especially as we go towards the elections.”

When pressed for details on the MDC economic manifesto, should elections go ahead, Mr Tsvangirai emphasises the need for a more dynamically linked economy. “There is no way you can grow the economy unless you have backward linkages to the big commercial areas and rural communities. You need to encourage training, to encourage packaging and marketing for rural communities,” he says. “MDC has a jobs plan based on attracting investment and creating opportunities for uplifting marginalised communities in rural areas and other sectors.” One of the biggest challenges is security of tenure on land under communal ownership which is shaky, deterring rural investment. “You cannot continue to produce peasants whose main preoccupation is subsistence,” he argues.

The macroeconomic picture is still gloomy. Zimbabwe needs balance of payment support to deal with a huge budget deficit. Seventy percent of the budget goes to salaries and 30 percent to recurrent state expenditure. Mr Tsvangirai believes international actors are vital, calling for credit to ease the budget and help the government respond to the social needs of the country (Zimbabwe lost access to IMF and World Bank support for defaulting on loans).

He calls for greater donor support for institution-building, especially of four structures he sees as vital to the political development of the country: the Zimbabwe Independent Electoral Commission, the Anti-Corruption Commission, the Human Rights Commission and the Media Commission. “All those institutions need financial resources in order for them to carry out their reform agenda. Supporting these organs would help strengthen the reforms required before elections can be conducted.”

Mr Tsvangirai has also rallied against sanctions on Zimbabwe, which perpetuate its pariah status in his view, and calls for Western countries to “renew their positions”. The EU has partially responded, lifting travel bands and asset freezes on some members of government in February.

Zimbabwe’s regional relationships remain problematic. South Africa has now officially endorsed its support for Zanu-PF, which deeply disappointed MDC officials, and has led some to question whether South Africa can remain the mediator of the conflict. But Mr Tsvangirai believes his relationship with countries in the Southern Africa Development Community as a whole has improved. “There is a regional consensus that the crisis cannot be allowed to affect regional development. Zimbabwe’s position is so central, it affects the whole region. We are a transport and logistics hub. If Zimbabwe is ticking then those from the north can go south, east and west.”

The disharmony in government might indicate that an election is sorely needed to provide a clear mandate for a party to move Zimbabwe forward. Zanu-PF have expressed a preference for an election this year to free them from the awkward fetters of the MDC, whose fearless protagonists Tsvangirai and Biti are burrs in the side of Mugabe and his party.

Mr Tsvangirai is confident that the MDC can build its support base and supports the calls for a return to the polls. “We need to conduct an election which is credible and legitimate, unlike our previous elections which were characterised by violence, intimidation and coercion. That resolves the political crisis. Once you have resolved the political crisis, you need a clear economic reconstruction plan based on recapitalisation, based on recruiting back the lost talent.”

However, rushing to elections would be unwise, he claims, listing several preconditions which need to be met for elections to proceed in a peaceful manner.

“At this stage there is a constitutional process which is at drafting stage. We need to complete that. We also need to amend the electoral act as agreed by the negotiators, which is now a bill before parliament. We need the electoral commission to be truly independent. It needs to be capacitated. You need non-partisan officers who are answerable to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission. We need a new voters roll. Above all, we need a code of conduct of all political parties, that they shall abide by that code in order to achieve peace and stability during the campaigning, so we achieve a non-violent environment.”

Mr Tsvangirai is reluctant to specify a date for the election, but hopes it can occur in the later part of 2012 if benchmarks are satisfied. At the time of writing, Zanu-PF appeared to prefer an earlier election. But Mr Tsvangirai’s desire to hold off until institutional foundations are laid does not indicate any lack of confidence in his party.

“People realise that, for the country to be where it is now, it is because MDC came in to rescue the nation. They see us as saviours of a country on its knees. They hold us in very high regard for what we promise for the future. We are the epitome of hope in a country which has been brutalised, which has seen undermining of the rule of law, undermining of private property, undermining the essence of fairness and freedom for the people. We represent the future; the future of hope.”

Analyse Africa

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