Zimbabweans have seen a significant improvement in their quality of life in the past year since the Sept. 15, 2008, signature of the Global Political Agreement by the country's main political parties that ended a post-election stalemate and set the stage for the formation of a unity government this February, participants in a VOA panel on the GPA said Tuesday.
But they agreed that although Zimbabweans have found relief from deep economic distress and a complex humanitarian emergency combining widespread hunger and a cholera epidemic that claimed more than 4,200 lives between late 2008 and mid-21009, progress toward a democratic transition has been far more limited than many hoped by this point.
Relations between the long-ruling ZANU-PF party of President Robert Mugabe and the Movement for Democratic Change formation of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai have become increasingly bitter of late. The MDC asked the Southern African Development Community, a guarantor of the GPA, to assess adherence to the pact and intervene to resolve outstanding issues, but SADC declined to take up the issue at a regional summit last week.
A SADC troika or working group on Zimbabwe is to examine such issues in a few weeks, but in the meantime ZANU-PF and the MDC have been trading recriminations and Mr. Tsvangirai said he would consult his supporters on whether the unity arrangement was working.
"Not only do I think the power-sharing agreement has some very serious problems - although it's certainly better than what was before, I would acknowledge that - I think the jury is very much out on whether this is going to succeed or whether this is just another maneuver by Comrade Mugabe to yet stay in power for how many more years," said Tom McDonald, former U.S. ambassador to Zimbabwe from 1997 to 2001.
Africa Action Campaigns Director Briggs Bomba highlighted the dramatic stabilization of the economy and improvement in the quality of life for most Zimbabweans, noting that when he was in Zimbabwe in December 2008 a 10-kilogram bag of maize meal cost US$12.50, but by this July had declined in price to $US$3. Most food in stores came from South Africa in late 2008, but by this July more than half the products came from local industry, he said.
Local industries "are beginning to fire up," providing jobs where there were none for years, Bomba said. Public education and health care systems which virtually shut down in 2008 due to political turmoil and economic stress, are now recovering though facing many problems.
In contrast, the "greatest disappointment" has been on the political front, Bomba said. "I wouldn't want to say that you have not had any change at all," as there has been "some opening up." But, he added, "there are certain key issues which are fundamental in terms of having a permanent transition in Zimbabwe," where progress has been lacking."
Policy analyst Marian Tupy of the Cato Institute said the GPA had been "a reasonable way, the best way at the time...to achieve a temporary political and economic stabilization in the country, but I do not see the GPA as providing a basis for reconstruction."
In economic terms, "yes, progress has been achieved, but again only in stabilizing what was a runaway inflation, it did not provide a basis for sustained economic growth in the future and the gains that have been accomplished...are certainly reversible."
Tupy had praise for the quality of governance by MDC officials led by Prime Minister Tsvangirai and Finance Minister Tendai Biti, secretary general of Tsvangirai's MDC formation. "Here is a team of African leaders (that) really gets it. They really understand what is necessary to bring Zimbabwe out of extreme poverty but they are hampered by the fact that the power in Zimbabwe is certainly not in their hands," but in those of Mr. Mugabe and ZANU-PF.
As to the duration of the GPA and the unity government, Tupy argued that the best outcome would be new national elections as soon as possible. But Bomba made the case that it might be best for the country for the GPA to remain in place for as long as five year on condition that its terms are met by all parties and that it is a viable framework for progress.