ZANU-PF seemed willing to engage in talks for short-term political gain, presumably with a view to stalling or ultimately co-opting the opposition as it had done with the Zimbabwe African People’s Union.
The MDC, on the other hand, had devoted most of its efforts to inducing its adversary to the table, without appearing to have a well-defined plan after that.
Viewing cable 03HARARE1976, TAKING STOCK OF TALKS
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 HARARE 001976
DEPT. FOR AF KANSTEINER, DUNLAP; AF/S FOR DELISI, RAYNOR
NSC FOR SENIOR AFRICA DIRECTOR J. FRAZER
LONDON FOR C. GURNEY
PARIS FOR C. NEARY
NAIROBI FOR T. PFLAUMER
E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/28/2013
SUBJECT: TAKING STOCK OF TALKS
Classified By: Political Officer Win Dayton, under Section 1.5(b), (d)
¶1. (C) SUMMARY/INTRODUCTION: With signals from ZANU-PF and
MDC suggesting that they may be preparing to resume
negotiations, Embassy offers this inventory of factors likely
to play on each party's negotiating posture during the run-up
to and in the conduct of talks. To date, neither party
appears to have a long-term strategy for negotiations.
Mugabe's party seems willing to engage in talks for
short-term political gain, presumably with a view to stalling
or ultimately co-opting the opposition. The beleaguered MDC
has devoted most of its efforts to inducing its adversary to
the table, without appearing to have a well-defined plan
after that. Under these circumstances, negotiations may
prove a slippery slope on which either could lose traction
quickly. Notwithstanding the severe imbalance of power
between the parties, where they go may depend on the
negotiators' ability to find an unprovocative process away
from the public glare and to decouple personalities and
shrill positions from actual interests. END
Talks on Talks
¶2. (C) The parties in recent months have been behaving
somewhat more civilly to each other publicly and privately.
This can be attributed in part to an increasingly important
contest for international opinion. ZANU-PF,s immediate
objectives are two-fold: a lifting of Zimbabwe's suspension
at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in
December, and re-engagement by international financial
institutions that will be critical to the recovery of
Zimbabwe's collapsed economy. The MDC leadership is trying
to foster atmospherics conducive to induce ZANU-PF to return
to the negotiating table, its only potential path to
political power. At the same time, it is actively courting
greater sympathy among regional African leaders who have been
the mainstay of Mugabe,s limited international support.
¶3. (C) The intrinsic significance of merely starting talks
complicates the process of getting the parties to the table.
The ruling party's ambivalence toward talks stems from
competing insecurities: it is desperate to retain its
historical control in the face of waning popularity, even as
it tries to burnish its international image. It views talks
both as an unwarranted threat to its power and a means to
enhance international recognition. As a result, the party
sends mixed signals on its enthusiasm for talks; most
observers feel it intends to time the commencement of talks
to maximize benefit from the international community, fully
intending to stymie any meaningful subsequent progress.
¶4. (C) While the MDC is pushing publicly to get the talks
re-started, its enthusiasm is tempered by fears among rank
and file that the party could be swallowed in a "government
of national unity" by ZANU-PF, just as ZAPU was. The MDC
has rejected ZANU-PF preconditions for talks and asserts that
all issues presented by each side should be on the agenda.
¶5. (C) Two recent developments cast a pall over gradually
improving atmospherics: the government's closure of
Zimbabwe's only independent daily newspaper, and government
efforts to bring international humanitarian food relief
efforts under its control. While not linked directly by
either to prospects for talks, the developments undermine the
government's credibility on its willingness to brook
alternative bases of authority within the country.
¶6. (C) A number of events ahead on the calendar may further
affect the parties' posture on talks:
-- ZANU-PF,s Party Congress, currently scheduled for
December, and local intra-party elections to be conducted in
the run-up to the Congress, could have an impact on the
party's posture toward inter-party talks with the MDC,
especially if they address leadership succession issues.
-- Resumption of Tsvangirai's treason trial (now scheduled
for October 27) and adjudication of the MDC's election
petition (November) may further have an impact on prospects
-- The bishops continue their efforts to facilitate
resumption of talks, recently pushing party representatives
to join in a retreat. Although neither party seems prepared
to have the bishops act as formal mediators, the parties use
them to pass messages and to promote confidence-building.
-- The parties also are engaged in periodic discreet talks on
a new constitution that would be elemental to any overarching
resolution of issues addressed by inter-party talks.
¶7. (C) The ruling party's assessment of its own interests is
inextricably linked with its sense of identity: a liberation
party continuously ruling the country for all of its 23 years
of existence. Its rapidly eroding popularity presents a
world too radically different for many party members to
absorb. At one level, the party's centralized leadership by
one man means that its perceived interests are intertwined
with Robert Mugabe's. Chief among his personal objectives
are physical and financial security, the continued supremacy
of ZANU-PF, and "survival of his liberation legacy" -- all
are interrelated. Re-engagement by the international
community -- especially international financial institutions
-- is a ruling party priority, but secondary to its continued
political dominance. Looming larger as a priority for party
members is arresting the economy's disastrous slide, which
imperils the party's tenuous popularity and the welfare of
the members, their families, and their constituencies.
¶8. (C) The five-year old party's umbrella covers a host of
disparate interest groups united principally by opposition to
continued ZANU-PF rule. Accordingly, the MDC's imperatives
at this stage generally are political, and its economic and
social agendas remain rather unspecific, secondary, and
dependent for now on achieving its immediate political
objectives. While a new election conducted freely and fairly
is foremost among party objectives in the short and long
term, assurances of the proper political and electoral
environment are even more important than setting a very early
election date. Much of the party's short-term objectives
revolve around public relations at home and abroad, physical
safety concerns, and fighting rear-guard actions against
ZANU-PF legal and media attacks.
ZANU-PF Party Discipline
¶9. (C) The party's historically rigid party discipline
hinges on Mugabe's unchallenged authority atop the party and
on a siege mentality vis--vis the outside world. The few
who have challenged party orthodoxy in recent years found
themselves quickly cast outside any circle of influence.
Such career- and fear-motivated discipline has proven a
double-edged sword: it has fueled unswerving loyalty to the
boss's word while stifling potentially constructive debate
over courses of action that Mugabe is perceived to favor. As
formidable as the discipline has been historically, the
extent to which it would survive Mugabe's passing remains an
open question. Indeed, growing obsession over succession
complicate party discipline as pretenders to the crown
posture and seek to undermine each other's credibility before
Mugabe and within the party.
MDC Party Discipline
¶10. (C) Like ZANU-PF, the MDC has a top-heavy structure, and
nobody stands as a potential challenger to Morgan Tsvangirai.
ZANU-PF efforts to contribute to party divisions secretly
and in clumsy media campaigns do not appear to be having
meaningful impact. Nonetheless, the party's relative youth
and breadth make it much less disciplined than ZANU-PF.
Confidentiality appears to be a particular challenge, as when
the party significantly set back the so-called bishops,
initiative by leaking its own agenda prematurely to the
press. A similar leak on constitutional discussions was
another instance of MDC difficulties over confidentiality.
Complicating party discipline is tension between the
leadership and rank-and-file over whether to pursue
negotiation (favored by the leadership) or to take more
provocative measures such as stay-aways and demonstrations.
Tsvangirai has publicly warned that the party could take to
the streets again if the government continues to avoid coming
to the table; however, the MDC leadership remains wary about
repeating the disappointing stay-away efforts of early June.
Balance of Power
¶11. (C) Challenging the prospects for meaningful
negotiations will be a severe imbalance of power. At
ZANU-PF,s disposal is an ability to pass and implement laws
to perpetuate its command of the levers of power through its
control of the legislature and ministries. Its use of
government machinery for political purposes is comprehensive;
it has politicized everything from academic tenure to food
distribution. The party strongly influences the judiciary
and can control the progress of key political cases, if not
always their outcome.
¶12. (C) No match for the ruling party on resources, the MDC
nonetheless has something ZANU-PF craves: popular domestic
support. In spite of intimidation, economic duress, and
manipulation of voter rolls, the MDC spanked ZANU-PF in the
August mayoral and urban council elections. Signaling
potential trouble for MDC leverage, however, was very low
voter turnout and apparent public apathy. Another key card
in MDC's hand is its connections to the international
community, particularly among donor nations. There is a
sense among players on both sides that the MDC would be able
to "deliver" international re-engagement with Zimbabwe upon
some degree of rapprochement.
Separating People From the Problem
¶13. (C) Deep polarization throughout society here and a
personalization of political issues are major impediments to
the negotiating environment. Both sides have contributed to
this, with the two sides, vying media outlets often favoring
rhetoric, exaggeration, and personal vilification over
objective substantive analysis. Indeed, the politics of
personal attack -- evidenced by MDC's petition to have
Mugabe's election overturned and the Tsvangirai treason trial
-- are central to each side's overall game plan. Many on
both sides view their contest as a winner-take-all zero-sum
game, reinforcing a pervasive distaste for compromise. For
many in the MDC, any discussion of specific issues is
secondary to the imperative of Mugabe's removal from power.
Others appear willing to accept some face-saving transition
and focus on shaping institutions to assure a system of
functioning checks and balances after Mugabe has departed --
whenever that may be. For its part, ZANU-PF,s posture
toward the MDC has been dominated by personal animus toward
Tsvangirai and his challenge to Mugabe's and ZANU-PF,s claim
of the right to rule based on its liberation credentials.
Much of this probably is strategic, as the MDC lacks other
figures who command national stature.
Quest for Common Ground
¶14. (C) The issues raised by each side employ charged
language in the domestic political context and are inherently
polarizing. Nonetheless, conceptually they should be
susceptible to finesse and face-saving resolution if the
parties can muster the political will. After shedding some
of the biased premises from each side's issues, the parties,
longer term objectives do converge in many ways --
redistributive justice under land reform, for example.
Potentially useful objective criteria for progress may
revolve largely around adjustment of key laws, such as the
Electoral Law, media-related laws, the Public Order and
Security Act (POSA), as well as the leadership of organs
charged with implementation of such laws.
¶15. (C) The discreet efforts underway on a new constitution
would offer ground for additional important measurable
foundation-laying in a relatively uncharged environment. The
current constitution provides for an executive-dominated,
winner-take-all system. Both sides claim to favor
constitutional reforms that could give parliament and other
institutions greater influence and make Zimbabwe a more
pluralistic environment for a multi-party system. Such
reforms could be structured to better protect and empower a
non-ruling party through its roles in parliament and local
¶16. (C) Ironically, an interest shared (if not binding)
across party lines is a desire to move Zimbabwe beyond
Mugabe. While many in ZANU-PF are anxious about their
party's prospects after Mugabe, most recognize that Mugabe's
continued leadership is a liability for the country and the
party. This is not to suggest that they are prepared to take
action overtly against the strongman who holds them together
in important ways, but they increasingly are receptive to a
process that will usher him into history. While it is
doubtful that any seriously intend to embark on a process
that could meaningfully diminish the party's grip on the
country, they may be edging toward a slippery slope.