The group of international donors concerned with development in Zimbabwe, the so-called “Friends of Zimbabwe”, gathered in Copenhagen two weeks ago for their bi-annual conference to discuss the progress achieved so far as well as the future of their engagement in the country. The final statement of the “Fishmonger Group”, as it is also known, can be found under this external link.
The international donor conference on Zimbabwe was organised while in Zimbabwe a three-month political stalemate seemed to be coming to an end with the intervention of South African President Jacob Zuma, the regionally appointed mediator between the Principals to the Global Political Agreement (GPA), ZANU-PF Mugabe, MDC-T Tsvangirai and MDC-M Mutambara. The Inclusive Government has achieved positive results since taking office in February 2009, notably restored economic stability and growth, marked improvements in the health care and education sectors as well as piecemeal media freedom reforms. However, bickering on senior appointments had led to a deadlock in the relations between President Mugabe and Prime Minister Tsvangirai. Although both are allegedly back on speaking terms following the South African mediation, talk of holding fresh elections next year has meanwhile raised concerns among the population.
The memory of the 2008 post-electoral violence is still very much alive among Zimbabweans and many fear a repeat of the events if polls are to be held as soon as 2011. Before a conducive environment for elections can be created, the GPA needs to be implemented and the Constitutional reform process completed. Without these conditions, no meaningful truth, justice or reconciliation process can realistically take root in Zimbabwe, leaving scars unhealed and the country divided. Since June, the Constitution Parliamentary Select Committee (COPAC) has held over 5,000 public consultation meetings and local civil society has also played an active role in the process, preparing the ground for Zimbabweans to participate meaningfully by informing them at grass-roots level. But some of the meetings on both sides have been marred by episodes of coaching, violence and intimidation.
There is still a long way to go before the constitutional reform process can culminate in a referendum. According to the time line set in the GPA, the draft Constitution is to be produced no later than three months after the end of the public outreach programme and presented before a second All-Stakeholders’ Conference. If the conference then approves of the draft, the latter is to be tabled before Parliament, along with a report on COPAC’s work, and followed by a referendum.
The storm in Zimbabwe is therefore far from over and the international community, especially the EU and SADC, should refrain from jumping onto the elections bandwagon and should instead throw its weight behind the constitutional reform process. Indeed, Western donors have a crucial role to play in assisting SADC’s Troika make both the President as well as the Prime Minister live up to their commitments under the GPA.
And whereas it is about to take up the chair position of SADC next year, South Africa, especially, could apply extra leverage to hold the Inclusive Government accountable to its promises .
International assistance should also provide long-term perspectives to local civil society in order to encourage more long-term strategies in terms of outreach, bridge-building and coordination programmes. Thanks to the assistance provided by the European Union and the Netherlands Institute for Multi-Party Democracy (NIMD), the EPD has been supporting activities of the like, in cooperation with its local partner ZEPAD and a group of local Zimbabwean organisations, within the context of the constitutional reform process. Despite difficult circumstances, i.e. local authorities blocking several meetings, over 45,000 tool-kits with information about the process have been distributed throughout the country and over 500 meetings have taken place at ward level, informing and engaging Zimbabweans to participate in the writing of their new Constitution.
The drafting of a new functional Constitution would also be a way of building on efforts provided by CSOs in the field and allow for both civil and political processes to feed on each other, providing for more and more political breathing space. Elections would then come as the natural next stage of change in Zimbabwe. The EPD is therefore fully committed to the continued support of such CSO-implemented activities, key to the completion of the constitutional reform process and the implementation of the GPA, and therefore essential to assist the country in its way forward.
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