This past weekend, Zimbabwe took a dramatic step towards national reconciliation. In an effort to improve the country’s difficult economic situation and bring about unity among its confrontational politicians, President Emmerson Mnangagwa officially launched the so-called Political Actors Dialogue (POLAD) in Harare.
In a country burdened with a lingering economic crisis, natural disasters and economic sanctions by the West, the main aim of POLAD is to provide a platform for the exchange of political ideas and opinions in a peaceful and respectful environment.
“Whatever our differences, we are all Zimbabweans,” Mnangagwa tweeted, urging all stakeholders to discuss collective strategies to address the challenges. “We will sink or swim together. Let us build our future in peace, love, and unity.”
Most Zimbabwean parties are participating in the initiative. Obert Gutu, vice president of the opposition party MDC-T, said they were committed to improving people’s lives.
“Although we are not in government, we believe that as a patriotic, progressive and people-centered political party, we should be afforded the opportunity to put across our views and suggestions regarding how the country should be governed,” he said.
“Where we disagree with the ZANU-PF-led government under President Mnangagwa, we will clearly and fearlessly articulate the areas.”
The initiative was also supported by the regional Southern African Development Community as well as the United Nations.
Standing in for the UN, World Health Organisation representative, Dr Alex Gasasira, applauded the Zimbabwean leadership for embracing principles of dialogue.
Noting that dialogue was important to deal with the reform agenda adopted by the government, he further added that it is “a long-term process requiring commitment from all parties.”
However, the main opposition party, the MDC Alliance, headed by Nelson Chamisa, decided to snub the initiative. In fact, the very day POLAD participants appealed for unity, peace and an end to economic sanctions, Chamisa deliberately seemed to broaden the chasm, openly calling for further protests, which in the past have led to violence.
Zimbabwe is at a crossroads. After 37 years of misrule by Robert Mugabe, the country was in ruins when Mnangagwa took over in late 2017 and was elected President nine months later.
He promised to crack down on corruption, resolve controversial land issues, restore relations with the West, and deliver economic reforms and democratic freedom.
He vowed to “re-engage the world” and “open Zimbabwe for business.” Yet the immediate challenges on the ground were near insurmountable, largely due to the grave mismanagement that had piled up during the Mugabe regime. In particular, a currency crisis that triggered a resurgence in inflation, a decimated farming industry in the wake of land reforms, and an underperforming mining sector.
The initial goodwill of the West dissipated following violent protests post-election, and over a hike in fuel prices early this year that resulted in deaths at the hands of Zimbabwean security forces, a remnant of the Mugabe era.
The events prompted President Trump to renew US sanctions against Zimbabwe in March, a decision that continues to hamstring the country’s economy.
It is also a lost opportunity, as Mnangagwa indicated an end to Mugabe’s “Look East” policy and seems ready to embrace the West.
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