Robert Mugabe, the controversial president of Zimbabwe and a close political ally of President Michael Sata, has ruled his country for more than 32 years. But now his opponents in the governing coalition are calling on him to play a role in the transition back to democracy.
Speaking in an interview with The Guardian this week, opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) says that Mugabe has now become a liability to the region, and is losing support among regional governments. According to Tsvangirai, neighboring states should encourage Mugabe to organize a peaceful transition through assistance and reforms before the next election.
However Zambian President Sata has in recent public appearances stood firm by the Mugabe regime, creating a scene at a recent Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) meeting in Angola when he sang the ZANU-PF song and said that no one should be asking for Zimbabwe to implement reforms.
Tsvangirai, who has survived assassination attempts and was forced to pull out of a presidential race he was winning in order to stop the violence against his supporters, is in the unique position of working with the Mugabe government at the same time that he competes for influence. In his Guardian interview, he explains that it would not be possible to create meaningful change and make improvements to the country without working from within the system.
“Mugabe is part of the solution because of his grip on the party and the institutions of the state,” Tsvangirai said. “For the sake of his legacy and the sake of the future stability I hope that he behaves in a manner which observes the constitution.”
Since taking over as Prime Minister, Tsvangirai has successfully tamed inflation, bringing it down under 5% from the currency freefall in 2008, while also achieving more than 7% growth every year in office. While acknowledging the costs of working with an authoritarian figure like Mugabe, Tsvangirai emphasizes, “There is peace, there is food on the table, the hyperinflation is gone.”
While serious reforms are still needed before the transition, Tsvangirai argues that the economic sanctions have actually become an obstacle to progress in the country. Over the past decade, Zimbabwe has been subject to international sanctions. However the European Union says it will suspend most of them once a credible referendum is held on a new constitution – which could be as soon as next month.
Tsvangirai says the sanctions should be lifted already. “They are no longer an instrument of leverage. The continuing restrictions are actually stifling any further reform.”