THE issue of whether a National Transitional Authority (NTA) might provide the best solution for a way out of Zimbabwe’s worsening crisis has received increasing interest and comment in the past month or so. In part this seems to have been precipitated by the position outlined by the Platform for Concerned Citizens (PCC), but others have waded into the debate, and there was an animated discussion at the Sapes Policy Dialogue Forum last week.
I will outline the very general position of the PCC, but first would like to consider more generally the idea of political transition and an NTA.
Firstly, there is the question of why such an entity should be needed. It should be noted that countries defined as “partial democracies” with “faction fighting”, and where the “big man” has been in power for more than 13 years, are significantly more likely to be unstable with high risk of consequent violence. Such states are frequently described as “authoritarian”, but there is wide variation in the type of authoritarian regime.
Table 1: Type of Authoritarian regime
Instability has a very wide range of consequences, from civil war through to civil disturbances, and will include the kind of political-economic crisis that we see today in Zimbabwe where the state becomes unable to function (Civil war has been rare since 1990). Instability becomes the major reason why a transitional authority becomes a solution in most of these situations, and is a way more common than many people in Zimbabwe assume: South Africa would be a good example of the way in which a transitional authority overcomes instability.
A few other observations are perhaps helpful. Since 1990, there have been 59 countries that have moved from one or other form of authoritarian rule, with more than half doing this through some form of negotiation. More than half (54%) of these were negotiated transitions led either by the regime or were half with opposition-led: opposition-led transitions were more common in Africa (26%) than in the rest of the world (21%). Transitions occasioned by civil war, domestic overthrow or regime-collapse were less frequent, but, in Africa, domestic collapse was much more common than in the rest of the world. It is worth commenting that where the transition takes place after very serious violence, such as a civil war, these are more successful when supported by external scaffolding: here think of Namibia or the 1980 process in Zimbabwe. The GPA could also be seen as an externally-scaffolded arrangement, but this seems to have been less successful than the Lancaster House arrangement.
Table 2: Type of Transition
Emergence from Civil War
African countries are too often as regarded as exceptional, but when it comes to the nature of states undergoing transition they are little different to the rest of the world, except that military-individual states are more common.
Table 3: Type of Authoritarian regime, Africa compared to the rest.
As for the type of transition, there again is very little difference between African countries and the rest of the world, except that domestic overthrow seems more common.
Table 4: Type of Transition,
Africa compared to the rest
Emergence from Civil War
The key to most transitions seems to have been amnesty, in nearly 90% of transitions there were amnesties. Here again, African countries are little different to the rest of the world.
Table 5: Pre-transition justice mechanisms, Africa compared to the rest
Domestic Criminal Prosecutions
Foreign criminal prosecutions
So transitioning from authoritarian rule or serious instability that comes from state failure is very common indeed, and hence the mechanisms by which a transition can occur is interesting.
I make these points to illustrate that we face high risks, but we can also draw comfort that it is common for transitions to take place.
The position of the PCC is not prescriptive in any way, but a framework for discussion. However, we do offer some views about what could happen.
A Zimbabwean NTA
So why does Zimbabwe need an NTA?
Firstly, there is a crisis in governance and the economy that is evident for all Zimbabweans to see, and requires urgent attention lest the nation suffer domestic collapse. There is political economy paralysis: economic reform requires political reform, but political reform requires that governing party be coherent and not fractured.
Secondly, there is profound alienation of the citizens of Zimbabwe, who have lost faith in governance, political parties, and leadership in general. This needs little explanation.
Thirdly, there is a critical need for transformative reforms that will pre-empt elections or any other elite processes or pacts, and/or succession arrangements, not underpinned by crucial reforms that prioritise the interests of the citizens.
The process towards the establishment of the NTA requires consultations across the nation and abroad, with a regional and global “buy-in”, or external scaffolding, to ensure a peaceful and smooth transition, as happened at Lancaster House and the Global Political Agreement. The NTA is thus nothing new in Zimbabwe’s political life, but the process and form may be an improvement on the previous attempts at a solid political settlement.
The NTA will need expert inputs towards its design, and the ensuing legal instrument will then be submitted to parliament as a Bill that can be passed by a simple majority. The constitution will remain in place and already offers all the framework necessary for an NTA to carry out its work of reform and lead the country to genuine elections.
The NTA framework
A primary purpose for the NTA is to heal and nation and embark on a limited political and economic reform agenda. The NTA cannot solve all the problems that afflict the country, but will provide the necessary first steps to move the country to international legitimacy and deeper democracy.
The debate has already begun and is evidently controversial.
The political parties have responded, broadly accepting the idea. Civil society is engaged in serious consultation as evidenced by the Sapes Trust’s Policy Dialogue Forum last Thursday, 18th August: the large turn-out, reflecting a healthy curiosity about and interest in the idea of the NTA; the general consensus that this could be a “soft landing” that could save Zimbabwe; and the assertion by many that the situation is very serious and requires urgent action; and that no to take action is highly irresponsible.
However, there remains scepticism in some quarters.
Three reasons have been given for this being a bad idea. The first was that there was already a legitimately elected government and all patriotic Zimbabweans should throw their energies behind this rather than seek new solutions. Well, clearly Zimbabweans do not think much of the solutions offered by the government, and also it is increasingly clear that there is no coherence party in charge any longer- are there two, three, four, or five factions struggling for power in the succession battle within ZANU PF?
The second was that no elected government, and especially ZANU PF, would ever concede to devolve power against its own narrow, and not national, interests. As I pointed out above, there are many examples of negotiated transitions not occasioned by civil war or state collapse: governments often negotiate themselves out of power, and amnesty is a common sweetener.
The third was that it did not seem possible that such an entity could emerge as a constitutional body, and that it matters more that we be constitutional than solve pressing problems: in short, a slide into illegality is unacceptable. This too seems less worrisome and Tendai Biti pointed out at SAPES that managing the legalities is straightforward – done in 1980 and in 2008/2009.
On our part, we are encouraged by the favourable feed-back from the various political persuasions across the board, including the leadership therein. The effect is that the idea of the NTA is already being considered, even though there is yet no consensus towards the following principles which the PCC outlined in the position paper mentioned above. Here the PCC outlined a set of critical reforms:
Adherence to the constitution and institutionalising the principles of constitutionalism;
Reform of key institutions that impede the above:
Reform of the electoral process, to create conditions for genuinely free and fair, elections, and devoid of all controversy;
Stabilising of the economy and the setting in place of an Economic Reform Agenda aimed at the following:
Debt management, and recovery of misappropriated assets, nationally and internationally;
Comprehensive macro-economic fundamentals;
Land policy and property rights;
Revival of productive sectors;
Mobilising the diaspora into the economic life of the country.
The PCC also outlined a set of suggested principles for the operation of the NTA:
No political party will hold a position within the NTA, neither shall the Convenors of the PCC, Ibbo Mandaza and Tony Reeler;
All members of Parliament (the House of Assembly and the Senate) will hold their position until the declaration of a national election;
The judiciary will continue as an arm of the state;
The NTA will act in accordance with such legislation as enacted by Parliament;
The members of the NTA shall be non-partisan and professional;
The members of the NTA will be selected according to agreed criteria and procedures, from amongst the candidates put forward to an independent body, selected from amongst churches and other civic bodies;
The NTA shall be composed of not more than 18 members;
The NTA may apportion responsibilities for the management of government and the overseeing of all state bodies through a system of sub-committees.
So, in concluding there are a number of points that can be made:
a NTA is not a novelty, but is a common practice when states become unstable, and instability is a wide-ranging concept;
a NTA for Zimbabwe can be constructed that can meet most criticisms and reservations, and can operate fully within the constitution and the existing laws;
a NTA can be brought about if there is both the political will in political actors and has the buy-in of the broad citizenry;
a NTA will probably work best if there is external scaffolding
Tony Reeler is the Co-Convenor, Platform for Concerned Citizens (PCC)