“Life for the ordinary Zimbabwean is appreciably better now”

Morgan Tsvangirai

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC party took power as part of a coalition with Zanu PF – President Robert Mugabe’s party – following disputed elections in 2008. With elections looming once again in Zimbabwe, Tsvangirai opens up to Global about his party’s struggles with Zanu PF within the inclusive government (IG), and his determination to ensure that the upcoming elections are free and fair. He believes that the past four years have brought improvements and that it is time for the world to see that the country’s political and economic reforms are taking shape. Life has improved for Zimbabweans, he insists, but with more help from the global community, and with the lifting of sanctions, it could be even better. He is optimistic that there is a brighter future for Zimbabwe, particularly if an end is brought to the international isolation it has endured under the reign of Mugabe.

Global: There has been considerable confusion about the timing of the 2013 elections – Zanu PF seems to want an early election while you prefer a later date. Can you clarify?

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai: It is practically impossible to hold elections in March. Elections are most likely going to be held in 2013, but no date has been decided yet. Much depends on the pace of the preparatory work at hand. This is because a number of processes have to be completed before elections are held. These processes include the conclusion of the constitution-making process in terms of the Global Political Agreement (GPA).

SADC [Southern African Development Community] has recently restated at the Dar-es-Salaam Summit that the road map towards elections includes the completion of the constitution-making process, which includes the holding of a referendum.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) – the constitutional body that conducts and supervises elections – has advised government that it needs at least ten weeks to prepare for the referendum and 90 days for the elections. There will also be an intensive voter registration exercise beginning 3 January 2013 for up to three months. Given that we are already into the new year, this essentially means, if one is optimistic, that the referendum would be at the end of February or early March and elections will be much further away than that.

If adopted, the new constitution will need to be implemented – particularly the provisions that are likely to impact the elections. The implementation programme will also require time and resources and this cannot practically be achieved before March.

As prime minister, I have engaged ZEC on behalf of government to determine their needs and expectations and to ensure that the preparations for elections are adequate for the purpose of facilitating a free and fair elections that is credible and legitimate. The timelines that we have from ZEC are understood by all the parties concerned, and it is clear that elections will be further than March.

What are some of the pluses and minuses of the inclusive government?

When we went into the inclusive government (IG), we were responding to a political and economic crisis that had engulfed the nation, against the background of a disputed election – the first round of which we had won. Ordinary people were going through a torrid time, courtesy of a severe economic environment arising principally from mismanagement by the government. We were driven by the need to restore political stability, as a precursor to economic stabilisation, which we have achieved in the IG. If one makes a comparison between the period immediately preceding the IG, when circumstances were dire, and the period during the IG, the difference is plain.

Another factor that drove us into the IG was that we needed to occupy space within the state and use that space to influence reform from inside. We had spent all the previous years of the democratic struggle outside the state structures and we were aware that our rivals had the advantage of incumbency.

We had a situation where the state was synonymous with ZANU PF, that is, where the state was ZANU PF and ZANU PF was the state. That situation was untenable and a serious threat to the achievement of our democratic struggle. Our task was to occupy key spaces within the state and break ZANU PF’s monopoly and hold on the state structures. We have managed to do that to a considerable degree.

We also had the challenge of breaking barriers between ourselves and various state structures. While there is still work to do in some cases, we believe we have broken barriers and built bridges even with our rivals as a result of working together in the IG. Those who did not trust us through misunderstanding are now able to deal with us with a fair level of confidence and respect.

Further, this has also given us the opportunity to demonstrate to the citizens that we have the ability to govern and that with full control of government we will be able to do so much more. We have key social delivery ministries, including health, water, social services as well as the finance ministry, where we have managed to improve service delivery which had virtually ground to a halt before the IG.

The IG has also given us an opportunity to build experience – which, in addition to our plans, will be invaluable in the future. Furthermore, the IG opened up the opportunity to revive the stalled constitution-making process and enable Zimbabwe to have a new constitutional dispensation. The constitution-making process is our baby as the MDC.

Our background as a party is in the labour and constitutional reform movements. We have always championed the making of a new constitution and we are pleased that we have overseen the writing of the new constitution under the IG. The constitution-making process is a defining feature in the history of Zimbabwe and, when completed, it will certainly be one of our major achievements.

Our entry into government has in some ways sanitised the image of the country, and gradually the country is emerging from international isolation. The process leading to full integration is important in order to ensure that there is access to economic, political and social facilities that have hitherto been unavailable to the state.

We like to be positive about our experience but, of course, in any government coalition there are bound to be challenges. In more recent months, there has been increasing policy discord between the coalition partners, principally I believe because of the impending elections as parties try to position themselves favourably.

The biggest challenge has been the slow pace of implementation of the GPA and in some cases utter refusal by our partners to implement the terms of the GPA, which forms the foundation of the IG. We still see signs of resistance to change through attempts to politicise the security sector – a circumstance that can be fatal to the realisation of a credible and legitimate election.

However, we are grateful to our regional neighbours who through SADC have patiently and consistently insisted on the full implementation of the GPA. The facilitator, South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma, has remained fair, consistent and steadfast in facilitating dialogue on the implementation of the GPA and in particular the completion of the constitution-making process and preparation of the road map towards elections. He and his team have been excellent in their role and we hope they continue to demonstrate the same kind of leadership going forward.

As you said, the economy has improved considerably since the MDC took over the finance ministry in 2009, but life for ordinary people is still pretty hard. What else can you do to make life easier for Zimbabweans?

We always felt that the IG’s role was to stabilise an economy that was in free-fall and weighed down by unprecedented levels of hyperinflation on account of poor economic management. But we were also alive to the fact that the set-up was inadequate to actually drive sustainable economic growth. In that respect, the IG was more of a palliative than a cure for the economic malaise afflicting the country.

We are pleased that we managed to achieve economic stability and that life for the ordinary Zimbabwean is appreciably better now than it was before the IG. We also know, however, that better is not enough and more ought to be done to drive growth.

We believe that this can be achieved in an environment where we have full control of government and are able to implement our economic vision and policy without the internal contradictions that we currently experience in the IG. One such contradiction is ZANU PF’s indigenisation policy [which compels foreign companies to hand over 51 percent of their ownership to Zimbabweans]. We believe this is no more than an elitist project which invariably benefits the few in privileged positions, but it is being executed under the guise of empowering communities.

It is not different from the manner in which the land reform programme was implemented, where land was simply occupied without the attendant accessories of promoting productivity. As a result, while some people now have the land, production levels on that land have actually gone down.

Similarly, ZANU PF’s indigenisation policy is not growth-oriented but is based on sharing the existing, albeit small, economic cake without attendant plans to expand it. The risk is that unbridled greed will lead not only to economic stagnation but will also fuel asset-stripping as those in favourable positions pursue a ‘crash and burn’ mentality.

We believe in creating growth and in promoting an environment for both local and foreign direct investment. We appreciate that not every person can be an owner of a business but that a viable economy requires employment opportunities for its people, especially for a country with a big population of young people.

Jobs for the majority of the people have a central place in our economic plan. It is for this reason that we have recently launched JUICE, our jobs plan for the future. JUICE is an acronym for ‘Jobs, Upliftment, Investment, Capital and Environment’ and the central theme is job creation through investment. We are particularly concerned that our infrastructure needs serious improvement, and infrastructure development will itself provide opportunities for job creation.

We will generally pursue an economic policy that encourages foreign investment, where property rights are protected and where fundamental freedoms are respected. We do not believe in a culture of freebies, where people expect to be given things for free. Of course, we will provide facilities to protect the vulnerable in society, but we will be faithful to the values of fairness, hard work, diligence and honesty as grounds for building a decent and honest and prosperous society.

Zimbabwe is richly endowed with mineral wealth. We will work to block revenue leakages that we are presently experiencing in respect of the export of our diamonds and other minerals. Transparency and accountability are key factors that will guide us in the generation of income from our natural resources. This revenue will be used to fuel economic activities in the country.

Economic sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe by the West are still in place. What have you and your party been doing to get the sanctions lifted?

On our part, we have always maintained that those who imposed restrictive measures did so at their prerogative and we have no power over their decisions. We have always rejected culpability for the sanctions. We can only use our persuasive power in the national interest.

We have, therefore, invested effort in persuading the international community to reconsider the restrictive measures in light of the developments in the country. Our view is that reforms and progress in Zimbabwe must be rewarded appropriately and this would include lifting restrictive measures. When progress has been made, it must be recognised.

Further, my team has worked hard over the years to help bring back Zimbabwe from international isolation. Our mere entry into the IG played a significant role in changing public and international perceptions of Zimbabwe. There has been greater engagement between Zimbabwe and the international community.

There has been constructive dialogue between the government and international financial institutions such as the World Bank, the IMF, AfDB, etc. Our constitution-making process has been funded largely by the international community through UNDP. All this has been possible because the GPA reconfigured the government and provided a window of opportunity for both local and external stakeholders to influence reforms on Zimbabwe’s political landscape.

A few months ago, you sacked a number of MDC officials in government. What was the cause?

There were no sackings, as such. There was, however, a reorganisation of my office – the prime minister’s office – where we brought in new people to bolster the team and reassigned existing officers to other roles. We wanted to allocate our resources efficiently, assigning staff to perform services that match their skills’ profile.

We recognised the need to make adequate preparations to govern when we win elections and to run our programme of institutional reform. It is important to bolster the political side of the office, ensuring that there is a strategic vision and plans that promote the efficiency of the office. We are working to attract and harness the talent and passion that is at our disposal to bolster our team and create efficiencies.

Will Zimbabwe ever rejoin the Commonwealth?

We do not believe any country can survive in isolation. We have to work together with other countries and we have a number of organisations in which we are involved, including the United Nations, the African Union and SADC, all of which have played a critical role in resolving our challenges in recent years. For a long time we were a happy member of the Commonwealth family. We can only hope the Commonwealth still has room for us.

About the author:

Morgan Tsvangirai is Prime Minister of Zimbabwe and leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party


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