Zimbabwe must move quickly to resolve its democratic challenges and take its rightful place as a center for Southern African economic growth, Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga told a congress of Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's party.
Officially opening the third congress of Mr. Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change formation in Bulawayo, Prime Minister Odinga said reforms were necessary if Harare was to hold credible elections for president and a new parliament.
Mr. Odinga advised the MDC not to participate in elections if they were not preceded by reforms to create an enabling environment for a free and fair ballot.
"You will have to dig deep into your reservoirs of tolerance and compromise to ensure that this happens, for the alternative would serve neither the MDC nor its partner in government," said Mr. Odinga, who has shared power in his country with President Mwai Kibaki since 2008. "It would only cripple the nation."
Mr. Odinga said multi-party elections were not enough to save Africa from authoritarian rule. He urged parties seeking to topple dictatorships on the continent to work together and share experiences.
"We have seen that the mere re-introduction of multi-party politics in Africa, after decades of single-party and military dictatorships, has not solved the governance problem," Mr. Odinga said. "We have seen that multi-party elections alone will not propel us from institutionalized authoritarian systems to more democratic modes of governance."
Mr. Odinga earlier had a closed-door meeting with President Robert Mugabe at State House in Harare before proceeding to Bulawayo to address MDC supporters.
“We had a very good meeting with his Excellency (President Mugabe). We basically compared notes about developments in Zimbabwe and Kenya as you know that the two countries have a number of things in common,” Mr. Odinga said.
Mr. Odinga said he had offered Mr. Mugabe Kenya’s help in constitution-writing as the country grapples with revising its basic document before the next elections.
“Kenya is slightly ahead of Zimbabwe in the constitution-making process and we have something to share," Mr. Odinga said. "We have offered to share some of the information that we have with Zimbabwe so that they can use whatever is useful to them. Circumstances can never be the same, they differ,” he said.
Mr. Tsvangirai told his supporters to desist from violence, blaming ZANU-PF for fanning some divisions and violence experienced by his party ahead of the congress. He urged vigilance by his supporters and rallied them to get ready for polls next year.
"The MDC will win the next elections and we will form the next government and we will take Zimbabwe into a new era of peace, prosperity, dignity and hope," he said.
Mr. Tsvangirai, whose leadership is not being challenged at the congress, said he’ll use the two-day congress to try and heal rifts within the party, reshuffling party leadership. He assured supporters that he still has the fire to end President Mugabe’s reign.
"Each of us has felt the weight of the oppressor's baton or the feel of his fist or booted feet. We carry the emotional scars from grieving for our fallen comrades and the trauma of seeing the sacrifices of our liberation heroes desecrated on the altar of political plunder and exploitation," said Mr. Tsvangirai, who founded the MDC in 1999.
The congress ends Saturday with elections to fill contested party positions.