Yet another win for African diplomacy

Sunday September 14 2008

The signing last Thursday night of a historic power-sharing deal between Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe and opposition leaders Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara is a victory for African diplomacy.

The settlement offers the first real possibility of returning Zimbabwe on track after years of political turbulence and economic stagnation, which has seen the country’s inflation rate hit 11.5 million per cent.

It also holds out the hope that the international community will re-engage with the country to ameliorate the humanitarian situation and jumpstart the economy.

That the Zimbabwe compromise was reached through the mediation of South African president, Thabo Mbeki, is poignant. A quarter of Zimbabwe’s population has run away to South Africa as economic migrants, underscoring the regional nature of the crisis.

The success of President Mbeki’s intervention speaks to the emerging importance and advantage of regional mediation over the bullhorn diplomacy practised by the international community on poor countries.

The latter approach sometimes exacerbates a situation because the West regularly ignores or is unaware of the undercurrents that often shape African political reality.

President Mbeki’s measured approach, in contrast, took cognisance of Zimbabwe’s tortured past, including its relatively recent armed independence struggle and regional tensions over land, including in South Africa itself and in Namibia.

The mediator’s work is however incomplete. The signing of the settlement, which is expected to be concluded this Monday, will mark the beginning of a long reconciliation process fraught will tension, acrimony and suspicion.

Unlike in Kenya, for example, the two protagonists in the Zimbabwe crisis, President Mugabe and Prime Minister Designate Tsvangirai, have no history of working together.

They are on record as having shaken hands just once, during the recent signing of the MOU that paved the way for political settlement.

The approach to rebuilding Zimbabwe will also be difficult. President Mbeki must continue to impress to both Mugabe and Tsvangirai the need for a bipartisan approach to national issues.