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Biti said anything Mugabe touches is poisoned

Movement for Democratic Change secretary general Tendai Biti was sceptical about the Global Political Agreement that his party signed with the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front on 15 September 2008 because anything Mugabe touched was poisoned.

Biti was briefing the United States ambassador to Zimbabwe, James McGhee, on his views on the agreement, two days after its signing.

He said MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai had been tricked into signing an agreement that gave more power to the smaller faction of the MDC led by Arthur Mutambara and surrendered powers of the Council of Ministers which the negotiators had drafted.

Biti said that MDC negotiators let ZANU get its way on symbolic issues like sanctions and external interference, but made sure they held their ground on important issues of substance, like the process for the drafting of a new constitution.

On land, Biti argued that yielding to ZANU-preferred language on the characterisation of Zimbabwean history was of little importance compared to the significant measures the parties agreed to going forward: that land would be distributed to all Zimbabweans regardless of race, that a land audit would be conducted, and that land holders would enjoy security of tenure.

He said that provisions requiring the President to act “in consultation with the Prime Minister” meant that the Prime Minister effectively had a veto, since consultation, in the Westminster system, required consent.

Biti expressed bitterness about the South African mediation and the role of Mutambara faction secretary general Welshman Ncube. He said that MDC-T lost substantial ground at the last negotiating session on 11 September.

On September 10, according to Biti, the text gave real power to the Council of Ministers, granting it a substantive role in government. Mutambara and Tsvangirai initialled a draft, but President Robert Mugabe deferred a decision.

Early 11 September, ZANU-PF backtracked, insisting on a minor role for the COM. Mbeki convened the principals to work out the issue. Biti said Morgan Tsvangirai “gave in” and agreed to a COM with no real powers.

 

Full cable:


Viewing cable 08HARARE840, BITI PESSIMISTIC, BUT NOT WITHOUT HOPE

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Reference ID

Created

Released

Classification

Origin

08HARARE840

2008-09-17 13:35

2011-08-30 01:44

CONFIDENTIAL

Embassy Harare

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RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC

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RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA 1567

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C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 HARARE 000840

 

SIPDIS

 

AF/S FOR G. GARLAND

DRL FOR N. WILETT

ADDIS ABABA FOR USAU

ADDIS ABABA FOR ACSS

STATE PASS TO USAID FOR E. LOKEN AND L. DOBBINS

STATE PASS TO NSC FOR SENIOR AFRICA DIRECTOR B. PITTMAN

 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/17/2018

TAGS: PGOV PREL ASEC PHUM ZI

SUBJECT: BITI PESSIMISTIC, BUT NOT WITHOUT HOPE

 

REF: A. HARARE 747

B. HARARE 828

C. HARARE 837

 

Classified By: Ambassador James D. McGee for reason 1.4 (d)

 

1. (C) SUMMARY: During a September 17 meeting with

Ambassador, MDC Secretary General Tendai Biti said that the

Zimbabwean power sharing agreement is a reasonably good

document on paper, but will only succeed in creating a better

future if ZANU-PF exhibits good will. He is pessimistic on

this front, pointing to ZANU intransigence on the

distribution of cabinet positions. Biti said that the South

African facilitation essentially tricked Tsvangirai into

making concessions that provide the Mutambara faction

enhanced representation. Biti has not decided whether to

participate in the new government or look after his family’s

interests by pursuing a career outside Zimbabwe. If Biti

leaves, he will leave a hole that MDC-T will find difficult

to fill. END SUMMARY.

 

———————————

IT MIGHT LOOK OK ON PAPER, BUT…

———————————

 

2. (C) MDC Secretary General Tendai Biti called on the

Ambassador on September 17. Biti, who was one on the key

negotiators of Zimbabwe’s power-sharing agreement (Ref A),

characterized the document as not bad on paper, but suspect

in practice. He compared it favorably with the agreement

outlining the division of powers in Kenya, with the 1979

agreement that led to Zimbabwe’s independence, and with the

1992 agreement between Mandela and De Klerk that ended the

South African apartheid regime’s monopoly on power. Biti

said that MDC negotiators let ZANU get its way on symbolic

issues like sanctions and external interference, but made

sure they held their ground on important issues of substance,

like the process for the drafting of a new constitution. On

land, for example, Biti argued that yielding to

ZANU-preferred language on the characterization of Zimbabwean

history was of little importance compared to the significant

measures the parties agreed to going forward: that land will

be distributed to all Zimbabweans regardless of race, that a

land audit will be conducted, and that land holders will

enjoy security of tenure, meaning they will receive some form

of transferable title. He said that provisions requiring the

President to act “in consultation with the Prime Minister”

mean that the Prime Minister effectively holds a veto, since

consultation, in the Westminster system, requires consent.

 

3. (C) However, Biti was skeptical about the sincerity of

President Mugabe (“anything Mugabe touches is poisoned”) and

ZANU-PF–which will be essential for successful

implementation. He said current difficulties over the

distribution of Ministerial portfolios suggest that ZANU-PF

is not really ready to share power; ZANU wants all the

strategic ministries except Home Affairs, including the

Ministries of Finance and Foreign Affairs, which MDC-T

expected to hold. In contrast to what he described as the

euphoric, celebratory mood of his MDC colleagues, Biti said

he considered the chances of success to be less than 50

percent. Biti questioned MDC fitness to govern as well as

ZANU-PF commitment to sharing power.

 

——————————————-

TSVANGIRAI TRICKED IN END STAGE NEGOTIATION

——————————————-

 

4. (C) Biti expressed bitterness about the South African

mediation and the role of Mutambara faction Secretary General

Welshman Ncube. Although Biti was not fundamentally

 

HARARE 00000840 002 OF 003

 

 

dissatisfied with the text of the agreement, he said that

MDC-T lost substantial ground at the last negotiating session

on September 11. On September 10, according to Biti, the

text gave real power to the Council of Ministers (COM),

granting it a substantive (though somewhat duplicative) role

in government. Mutambara and Tsvangirai initialed a draft,

but Mugabe deferred a decision. Early September 11, ZANU-PF

backtracked, insisting on a minor role for the COM. Mbeki

convened the principals to work out the issue. Biti said

Morgan Tsvangirai “gave in” and agreed to a COM with no real

powers.

 

5. (C) Biti was disappointed by Tsvangirai’s capitulation,

but angry about what happened next. He said that he would

have expected that, at that point, the negotiators would have

assembled to put together a final text embodying the

principals’ agreement on the distribution of executive

powers. Instead, however, the South Africans kept the

principals together while they assembled a text. The text

was then signed by all three principals on the evening of

September 11, presenting their parties with a fait accompli.

The problem was that the text altered other agreed

provisions, in each case favoring the Mutambara faction and

disadvantaging the MDC-T. Biti attributed this to conniving

between Ncube and Mbeki advisor Gumbi.

 

6. (C) Although it was not the only measure, the most blatant

example Biti described involved Article 20.1.7, which allows

Mugabe to appoint eight senators, MDC-T to appoint three, and

MDC-M to appoint three. According to Biti, the agreement

between the negotiators on September 11 was to allow ZANU-PF

to maintain the five senatorial appointments it had already

made, but to balance these by giving MDC-T four appointed

senators and MDC-M two. Biti understood that Principals had

not negotiated to change this provision–Tsvangirai signed on

September 11 in the mistaken belief that, except for the role

of the COM, the text he was signing was the document his team

had negotiated.

 

——————

A PERSONAL DILEMMA

——————

7. (C) Asked what role he expected to play in a new

government, Biti said that he was torn. His lack of

confidence in the agreement (and his wife’s strong appeals)

led him to consider remaining out of the new government

altogether. He thought this would leave him untainted for

future efforts to effect change, but he knew that his

decision to withdraw would be used to weaken whatever chance

existed for successful implementation. He also considered

that he would need to leave Zimbabwe, and perhaps Africa, if

he chose to sit out the “inclusive government.”

 

8. (C) On the other hand, Biti said he believed that, even if

the new government was not entirely successful, it offered

opportunities to advance the democratic agenda in Zimbabwe.

He described the provisions for the drafting of a new

constitution as the best part of the agreement, and said he

thought he might be able to deliver tangible progress if he

served as the Minister of Justice. Biti also thought he had

a good grasp on what would be required to turn around the

economy, and suggested he would also consider an appointment

as Minister of Finance. Ambassador told Biti we hoped he

would stay and work from within government to try to bring a

better future to Zimbabwe.

 

——————–

WHAT CAN THE USG DO?

——————–

 

9. (C) Ambassador asked Biti what the USG could do to improve

 

HARARE 00000840 003 OF 003

 

 

the chances that the agreement will usher in real change in

Zimbabwe. Biti agreed with Tsvangirai that quick deployment

of humanitarian assistance will be critical both to address

severe food insecurity and to build credibility for

Tsvangirai. He was skeptical about widespread distribution of

inputs, noting that without correcting market distortions,

input distribution alone will not reverse declining food

production. He urged USG capacity building for new MDC MPs

as well as for the Speaker and his team.

 

——-

COMMENT

——-

 

10. (C) Biti’s pessimistic assessment of the good faith of

Mugabe and ZANU-PF corresponds with our own. His relatively

positive assessment of the substance of the agreement is

encouraging, though hardly surprising given that he was one

of its authors. We hope he will sacrifice personal

considerations and agree to serve in the new government. If

he loses Biti, Tsvangirai faces off against Mugabe with an

even weaker team on his bench.

MCGEE

(20 VIEWS)

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