Saturday, August 23, 2008

Problems with Power-Sharing in Zimbabwe

This past weekend, inter-party talks were supposed to resume between Zimbabwe’s main political parties, the ZANU PF and the MDC. The talks were set to be held on the sidelines of the SADC summit in South Africa, where leaders from the region were to discuss the political impasse in Zimbabwe. As you may remember, President Robert Mugabe (ZANU PF) extended his 28-year rule of Zimbabwe in a June 27 presidential runoff vote in which he was the sole candidate. Tsvangirai of MDC, who won the first ballot in March, withdrew after alleging his supporters were being targeted in a state-sponsored campaign of violence. The leaders have now held three days of face-to-face talks in Harare aimed at resolving the dispute over the elections. They have signed 13 agreements before Morgan Tsvangirai pulled out earlier this week. Several issues remain, most importantly how power will (or will not) be shared among the leaders.

As I’ve been reading through the articles, opinions, and issue briefs about the situation in Zimbabwe, I cannot help but question why Mugabe continues to refuse to cede power despite significant international, regional and national pressure. Of course, this question arises out of my westernized view of politics, power and democracy. But we see this all too often in Africa (and I suppose to be fair, in many other parts of the world) – leaders refusing to give up power, rigging elections, etc. And for what? In the U.S., leaving the Presidency often awards even more opportunities for money and fame than being President can. Of course, you don’t have the same level of power or luxury of living in the White House and being the most powerful person in the world. But you have even more freedom in some ways, and certainly can make more money on book deals, speaking engagements and the like. Apparently this isn’t the case in Africa but I can’t help but wonder if it would help . Maybe if there were more perks for former leaders they wouldn’t be so reluctant to give up power when it is obvious their time is up.

Instead, we try to arrange these elaborate power-sharing agreements which seem to be destined to fail. Can you imagine someone telling Gore and Bush that they had to share power in 2000? No one would have bought into that kind of an arrangement. I can understand the attraction of this kind of deal to international mediators who don’t see another option but violence in a country. But it surprises me that they are unable to find some sort of a package that would make Mugabe more willing to step down.

In college, I studied African Politics and one of the key issues that arose time and again is the idea of patrimonialism or ‘personal rule’. As Alex Thompson writes, “the vast majority of African leaders in the period since independence have achieved office either by being in the vanguard of their country’s nationalist movement or by leading military coups. As such, many regarded themselves as the ‘father’ of their nation and such self-perception encouraged these leaders to act as if they were above the law.” I imagine Mugabe undoubtedly sees himself as the father of Zimbabwe. He was a critical player in the movement to end minority white rule in Zimbabwe in the 70s and was seen as a hero when the war in Zimbabwe ended in ‘79. Mugabe became Prime Minister of Zimbabwe in 1980 as a result of the first election in which a majority of blacks in Zimbabwe participated. In 1987, he went on to become the first President of Zimbabwe and has held that position ever since. I won’t go into all of Mugabe’s policies, but it is hard to deny the significant impact he has had in shaping where Zimbabwe is today, for better or for worse.

So, after nearly 30 years, why does he refuse to step down? I don’t have the answer, but I think it is a critical step in the process of democratization to understand the incentives and disincentives for democratic transitions for leaders who have put their entire lives into building a country. Mugabe has committed a lot of questionable acts in his lifetime, but I do not think he is in danger of being arrested and tried for crimes if he steps down, as some leaders might fear. I can’t help but feel like there must be a better alternative for an 84 year old man than to grip a presidency with all his might until he dies in office, resented and remembered not for what he did for Zimbabwe when he was younger, but how he overstayed his welcome and caused his country’s international reputation and economy to plummet.


Charmagne said...

Just an update: on Monday the Movement for Democratic Change won the position of speaker of parliament, defeating a nominee backed by Mugabe's ZANU PF party. This marks the first time the opposition has been in power in the Parliament since Mugabe took power in 1980. It also demonstrates that Mugabe is going to have an extremely hard time governing. It also demonstrates that despite attempts at intimidation and strong-arming, the opposition party remains a viable force in Zimbabwe. Hopefully this will also lead to an agreement between Mugabe and Tsvangirai in the coming weeks or, better yet, convince Mugabe to step down. Time will tell. For more read the article in today's NY Times:

Jaime said...

I think one of the inherent problems that this Zimbabwe/Mugabe issue illustrates is that African democracies were created by Westerners (post-colonial) and may just not work for some African states. Patrimonialism is something that's inherent in many of the cultures of these states and may contribute to these men who cannot and will not relinquish power under any circumstances, and will go back the words they spoke at the beginning of revolution in order to maintain that power. Coincidentally, I just watched The Interpreter. If you haven't seen it, it's about an interpret at the UN (played by Nicole Kidman) who is entangled in an assassination plot against the President of (enter name of the fake African state here), who is accused of genocide in his country. But you find that in the beginning, he was the hope of liberation for the country, much like Mugabe was for Zimbabwe. In the end, the fictional African leader turned on his promise and did horrible things in order to maintain his power. You see him speaking to the UN as a very old man, in his 80s, obviously past his prime days as a leader. I echo Charmagne's question: why maintain power?

I obviously don't have answers or solutions, but rather think it's worthy to consider that democracy, or the form it has taken in some African states, just doesn't work. Power-sharing, or other variations, may work as a way to progress toward a better way to govern than one person, one office, one government. But we don't tend to experiment; whether that be right or wrong. We just use what has worked in other places and try to adapt it to other states.

SenoritaAndreita said...

One thing I try to continue to elevate into discussion is that, as Jaime points out, African countries created by western democracies are not working for some states. Yes, culture does influence the development of these democracies, but it does take time. Maybe by finding the achilles heel as to why power is held so closely to particular individuals of African decent, we could identify incentives to take a step off the state and allow their own country to move on. What comes to mind, is the development of India after being colonized by Great Britan for years. How is it today, that with over a several billion in populaton, do they continue to move forward much more peacefully in comparison to African countries? Many Indians live in poverty while the gap between them and the rich widens greatly. But we do not see as much violence as we see in Zimbabwe. India has had only 50 years of independence in commparison to Zimbabwe's 28 years. Do they need more time to reconcile their differences? Many questions come to mind, but answers do not. Just some food for thought.