The Way Forward. Wither Zimbabwe?

At the end of 2002 its probably worth just looking back and reviewing what has happened in 2002 and what might happen in 2003. These are not hypothetical issues for us who live here but are of real concern to our very survival.

So far the outcome of the year has been very much as predicted - we forecast what would happen if the MDC was denied power in March and to a very large degree it has turned out that way. We were the first to project the food crisis - many thought we were alarmists at the time, but in retrospect we were pretty accurate. As early as February 2001 we were calling for contingency plans to be made for imports of food on a large scale. We were the first to project import demand of over 2 million tonnes in 2002/03.

We forecast 200 per cent inflation and a 12 per cent decline in GDP if Zanu PF held onto power in March 2002. We are going to be just about spot on in both respects. We forecast export earnings falling to US$1,4 billion or less - they are going to be about US$1,35 billion. We forecast total formal employment declining by one third to 900 000 or less - we were optimistic - employment levels are likely to be even lower than projected.

So what, you might ask? When a bunch of economists make predictions that turn out about right it usually a bit of a fluke. Being right gives us no satisfaction and does little to change our situation on the ground. Zanu PF is still in control and still retains the support of regional governments to a large extent despite their almost complete failure as a government. The position for the average Zimbabwean has simple got worse by the day and is now almost intolerable. What is going to happen in 2003?

As far as the economy is concerned there seems to be no respite - we predict export earnings declining to below US$1 billion. The GDP will decline again - we estimate by 15 per cent in 2003 and that this decline will be manifest in all sectors of the economy. The food shortages will continue at about the present level for the whole year and these shortages will run into 2004. If anything, we see acceleration in the downward spiral with the State no longer able to fund even the most basic services. Inflation will accelerate to between 400 and 500 per cent.

The issue of what is likely to happen in Zimbabwe is an important question for three main leadership groups in the region - Zanu PF as the governing Party in Zimbabwe, the MDC as the only significant opposition and potential future government and the leadership of the ANC in South Africa. The latter have been exhibiting considerable fragility in recent weeks and a major collapse in Zimbabwe would be a serious development for the ANC's current leadership which has now abandoned any pretense at neutrality on the Zimbabwe issue and is backing Zanu PF as a "sister" organisation and fellow "liberation movement".

There are three main possible scenarios for the evolution of events in Zimbabwe in 2003.

1.. Zanu PF is forced (they will not do it voluntarily) to allow a rerun of the March 2002 presidential elections. This could come about through the loss of the court case challenging the outcome or thorough external pressure of some kind. If held under reasonable conditions and on a level playing field (again not possible without external pressure) then I would expect Morgan Tsvangirai to win by a wide margin and the MDC to form the next government. The failure of the present regime is so comprehensive in every field that any other outcome is inconceivable.

2.. The Zanu PF regime collapses under the pressure generated by their complete failure as a government and rising internal discontent and violence. The two main parties agree on an interim transitional administration of some kind with a limited mandate to caretaker the country until we can write a new constitution and hold fresh elections under international supervision. The outcome will be the complete elimination of Zanu PF from power and their relegation to a minor status in the countries political system.

3.. The economy collapses and in the absence of any initiatives by the political parties the army steps in as the only institution which can force change in the domestic situation and they set up a civilian administration to run the country leading eventually to a new constitution and fresh elections. Zanu PF elements would clearly control the latter process and the MDC would be marginalised or even banned. I can think of a dozen variations of the above but the basic process in each remains the same. If the option one is carried out but elections held under the same system as in March 2002, then I expect the same degree of rigging and violence with an unsatisfactory outcome and no change. But the one thing that people in Zanu PF must appreciate of this option is that at the end of the process Zanu PF would still control over half of the elected seats in the House of Parliament and a blocking one third of the total membership. Their front bench would be unaffected and they have several people who could provide effective leadership of Zanu PF in opposition. On the negative front, if Zanu PF refused to work co-operatively with the MDC during this phase under option one, then Morgan (as President) could dissolve Parliament and hold fresh elections under the present constitution and in so doing wipe out Zanu PF as a significant opposition. This would clearly not be in the interests of Zanu PF and would create a unique opportunity for collaboration on a programme of economic stabilisation and a resumption of growth.

Morgan Tsvangirai would have to implement any recovery strategy and it could be two years before fresh elections are held - either under the existing or any new constitution. Two years in which they could rebuild their image and put their own house in order. Two years of democratic activity in the House and outside. At the end of that process unless the MDC has done an outstanding job of the recovery, which will barely be under way at that time, Zanu PF would at least have a chance of holding onto their status as a major effective opposition. They would also be able to influence intervening events including any new constitution, which would have to get a two-thirds majority to pass.

If the leadership of Zanu PF (excluding Mugabe) were to ignore this strategy then we are left with options two and three. Under option two we have a less than satisfactory outcome - implementation of turn around strategies are delayed, political control over the transition arrangements and the writing of a new constitution are less satisfactory and at the end of it all MDC sweeps the board. Under this scenario it would be years before we have a functioning democracy again with all the threats that this entails.

Option three would be a catastrophe for the country and the region. The new administration would not be recognised, South Africa would have to carry the burden of maintaining stability and starting recovery on its own and the people who have perpetrated the present collapse and crisis would remain in power behind the scenes. I know this is attractive to the military and to certain Zanu PF leaders, but for Africa and Nepad this would be the final straw that broke the camel's back. African leaders would be obliged to back the new regime and a formal break in ties with major forces in the developed countries would become inevitable. Do not think that this scenario is unthinkable - the recent approaches to the MDC leadership have all the hallmarks of the military. One additional disturbing resonance of option three, is that under certain conditions it might be acceptable to Pretoria.

I think it is now dawning on Zanu PF that their present position is untenable. They no longer command the resources to maintain their activities and the position for them is weakening rapidly. There is also no way out of the political impasse they have got themselves into. Mugabe is not going to be able to recover his position in the global community, no matter what he does. They must start to work on life after Mugabe - and they must do it now, before they lose control altogether.

By entering into negotiations with the MDC on the way forward they will be using what strength they have remaining to secure the best possible outcome for themselves. This could include a secure retirement arrangement for Mugabe and a select few of his close associates. It could also include either a transition mechanism to a new constitution and fresh elections or arrangements for fresh presidential elections that would open the door to a democratic and lawful transition to a new government.

As far as the MDC is concerned it has stated its position very clearly, and any road out of this impasse must include the retirement of Mugabe, a return to legitimacy in national government and the full restoration of the rule of law. Once these conditions are met, Zimbabweans can start the long task of putting their lives back together again and getting the economy back onto a growth track. For this to happen both Zanu PF and the ANC must accept that the MDC holds the key to gate on any new initiative except the one that leads to disaster. The ANC must see to it that Mugabe and his military cohorts do not use that other key in a desperate attempt to escape reality.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, December 28th 2002.