Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe.


Zimbabwean parties this week once again went back to square one, re-opening negotiations for a new constitution after President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF rejected a draft constitution which it had helped write in more than three years of hard bargaining.

But in a new cabinet committee set up to renegotiate the constitution, President Robert Mugabe refused to budge on Thursday from the objections Zanu-PF had raised to the charter its negotiators had agreed to in July.

Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) constitutional affairs minister Eric Matinenga, who chairs the committee, said the team would meet again tomorrow to try again. “It is work in progress, but something positive is happening,” he said.

The high-level committee comprises the principals from each party in the unity government, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai of the bigger MDC, Industry Minister Welshman Ncube, leader of the smaller MDC and Mugabe, who was confirmed last week as Zanu-PF’s candidate in the next presidential poll scheduled to be held next year.

Ncube had at first refused to participate in the new committee, saying the three parties had already agreed to a draft constitution. But he relented this week.

The three parties had agreed in July to a draft constitution after three years of hard bargaining and released it to the public.

The most significant reform in the draft charter was a considerable reduction in presidential powers and some devolution of power from the central government to the provinces.

Zanu-PF hardliners then intervened and overrode their own negotiating team, releasing a 29-page document objecting to much of the draft, mainly those sections which diminished the power of the president.

Zanu-PF’s politburo made the same objections which it brought to a stakeholders’ conference in October. But the MDC rejected Zanu-PF’s proposed changes, saying they had already made substantial concessions during the three years of negotiations.

They said Zanu-PF should have raised its objections during those negotiations and pointed out that the cabinet minister-level Zanu-PF negotiators had reported to Mugabe all the way, so he knew what concessions they had made.

Many MDC officials and analysts believe Zanu-PF is deliberately stalling the process until the current unity government expires next year, so that they can go into elections on the old constitution which favours Zanu-PF, as it would leave its powers intact.

Mugabe appeared to confirm these suspicions when he told his party’s annual conference last week: “If they do not (agree), I am going to declare sooner or later the day of an election. Enough is enough. We cannot continue to drag our feet on this.”

But Finance Minister Tendai Biti, the MDC secretary-general, disagreed, saying recently: “Zimbabwe clearly is not ready for an election; it’s impossible to have an election in March. We will limp our way to some form of acceptable agreement. Our people are tired. They want a solution. They want peace. So I think we will reach an agreement because everyone is exhausted.”

If or when it has been finalised, the draft charter is expected to be put to a referendum, leading to the new elections, which would have to be held by next October.

The delay in resolving the political impasse is aggravating Zimbabwe’s tough economic predicament with a recent slow-down in the recovery that began after the multiparty government was established in February 2009 and began to repair the damage inflicted on Zimbabwe by 29 years of Zanu-PF rule.

The World Bank warned this week that anxiety over Zimbabwe’s next elections and lack of clarity on Mugabe’s “indigenisation” policy had created a gloomy outlook for the economy.

The latest research note released by the bank predicts that Zimbabwe’s recovery or growth will be 6 percent next year, moderating to 5 percent in 2014 and 2015 “as (the) level of investment remains below potential”, reads the report in part.

“The outlook remains fragile and clouded by possible compression of exports due to the unfolding global economic slowdown, the risk of disorderly unwinding of vulnerabilities in the banking sector, downside risk in the agricultural sector, potential destabilising effects of (the) indigenisation programme on the economy, external vulnerability and uncertainty from the new electoral cycle.”

The World Bank noted Zimbabwe had not entered a sustained path to recovery, adding that growth in the mining sector was inhibited by limited exploration affected by increased fees for prospecting and exploration.

The mining sector accounts for more than 50 percent of the country’s exports.

A manufacturer in Harare said this week: “I think our statistics will show that the fourth quarter this year has been disastrous.

“We can see persistent decline in manufacturing to a level we last saw before the collapse in 2008 through hyper-inflation.” - Sunday Independent