Zimbabwe: Year of Major Movement On the Political Front

While economic progress has dominated the headlines, largely because 7,8 percent growth and the spread of that growth to so many at the bottom of the economic ladder through rural development and agricultural programmes, the political progress Zimbabwe this year been remarkable.

On the foreign front, the continued re-engagement efforts have been pressed with determination as Zimbabwe seeks “normality” in its relations with the rest of the world, even those who might have been opposed to some national policies.

So while Zimbabwe continues to enjoy high-level and closer relations in SADC and in Africa generally, and has seen relations continue to firm with all-weather friends such as China thanks to economic reform that has opened more doors to business ties, there has been continued and rapid improvement in relations with Europe and North America.

One signal is the way new ambassadors from European countries speak after the formal presentation of credentials to President Mnangagwa.

This is a formal diplomatic process that is only disrupted if two countries are at war or are totally opposed, but the press conference afterwards can be used to signal general closeness of relations.

And when new ambassadors are talking about the need to improve trade and other ties they are signalling a general desire to return to normal relations.

This was most marked when President Mnangagwa went to the COP26 global climate conference in Glasgow Scotland.

As a signatory of the agreements on moderating climate change, Zimbabwe had a right to attend this conference.

But instead of treating the Zimbabwean delegation like a near pariah, the full diplomatic courtesies were rolled out and important foreign leaders like British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and US President Joe Biden sought out President Mnangagwa for brief, but substantive meetings.

The first prize remains, and will always remain on legal grounds under international law, the removal of all sanctions since they were not approved by the UN Security Council, but improving relations do open a practical path.

Some countries, such as the US, entrenched the Zimbabwe sanctions into their law, but those same laws allow their Governments to make “findings” and to suspend for fixed periods some or all the sanctions.

In practical terms such a process of erosion works almost as well as a repeal. Already one benefit of those COP26 meetings has been the smooth return to normal diplomacy by the US embassy in Harare, whose chargĂ© d’affaires has now joined the British Ambassadors since the start of the Second Republic and most European ambassadors in seeking far more normal relationships.

Internally a lot of the heavy breathing in our politics has eased dramatically. The grouping of all, but one Presidential candidate from the last election, Polad, continues its general discussion and other work.

No one expects that such a wide range of politicians will always agree, but it has been remarkable how their talks have lowered temperatures and shown than many political disagreements are not over goals but over how to achieve those goals.

President Mnangagwa has even talked about inviting the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament to join the group, and has in any case had separate talks with that person since he wants to have communication, if not agreement.

The Polad door remains open for the one hold out.

We are now approaching a set of 133 by-elections for local authorities and a number of constituency seats in the National Assembly.

A few vacancies were created through death or resignation, but most arise from the internecine warfare within the opposition.

Already efforts are being made to keep the disputes peaceful and allow the voters to make the decisions, just as the Constitution says they can.

The by-elections on this scale will be a dry run for all major parties on how they plan to run their campaigns just over two years later in the middle of 2023.

Fairly obviously Zanu PF is planning a campaign based on what it has done in Government, rather than on making wild promises.

As the Second Republic progressed we get less and less promise and more and more commissioning or opening something new, with action rather than words being stressed and the even then the words usually just placing the action into context.

Some opposition parties had the same opportunity since they won large majorities in some local authorities, but will probably be doing their level best to hide the results since only Zanu PF can benefit from publicising these.

Zanu PF also has an internal policy of letting its very large membership chose party leadership, as is being done now, and uses primaries to ensure that its candidates are checked out and supported by the party people who know them best.