Mugabe officials bar UN mission from Zimbabwe

Ongoing fight may have cost the country $132 million in election funding, leaving officials struggling to pay for polls.

    Mugabe officials bar UN mission from Zimbabwe
    Zimbabwe's recent constitutional referendum has set the stage for elections later this year [Reuters]

    Harare, Zimbabwe - At the start of this year, Tendai Biti, the finance minister of this cash-strapped nation, claimed that the government's bank balance was just $217. The past decade has seen the country suffer hyper-inflation - with rates up to 231 million percent - and a crumbling infrastructure.

    This did not bode well for the elections expected this year, analysts and officials agreed.

    Now Zimbabwe has had to turn to its neighbours to help bail out its predicted presidential and parliamentary polls - expected by the end of October, following the adoption of a new constitution last month.

    Having reportedly requested funds from oil-rich Angola, Zimbabwean officials announced on Monday that South Africa had offered to step in with $100 million of funding to pay for the polls.

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    The country had appealed to the United Nations for some $132 million to bankroll the ballot, but this week refused entry to a UN team, after the international agency requested access to meet civic society groups.

    Zimbabwe's apparent reluctance to grant the UN the freedom of movement it had requested to assess election funding needs underlines the deep suspicion between the state and pro-democracy groups, analysts say.

    Paying for the polls

    The government of Zimbabwe made an official request to the UN in February 2013 for assistance in mobilising cash for the constitutional referendum held on March 16 and for "harmonised elections" later this year.

    In accordance with standard UN policy, the UN Focal Point for Electoral Assistance at UN headquarters in New York responded and advised the government that a UN Needs Assessment Mission (NAM) would ascertain how best the UN could assist.

    On April 4, the government wrote to the UN indicating its readiness to welcome its team.

    The UN mission was expected here in Zimbabwe's capital, Harare, on April 10 for talks with Zimbabwe electoral commission leaders, the registrar-general, political leaders in the ruling coalition representing President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and African and Western diplomats.

    But when the UN team tabled a request to meet with civil society groups, the trip was reportedly terminated by Justice and Legal Affairs minister Patrick Chinamasa and Foreign Affairs minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi - both senior members of Mugabe's Zanu PF party.

    "In the course of deploying the mission to Zimbabwe, it became apparent that there were different expectations on the modalities of the NAM," said UN resident coordinator Alain Noudehou.


    The unilateral cancellation of the funding request angered Finance Minister Biti and Prime Minister Tsvangirai - leaders of Zanu PF's coalition partner, Movement for Democratic Change - who insisted Zimbabwe could not raise money locally for the elections, especially given that the recent constitutional referendum had gobbled up $40 million.

    The finance minister reported he had raised that $40 million from a special "voluntary bond" sold to the local branch of international investment group Old Mutual and the state pension fund, National Social Security Authority (NSSA). Such a deal cannot be struck again, he said. 

    "The international community must come to our assistance," Biti added.

    Addressing reporters after a briefing session for diplomats on Tuesday, Chinamasa alleged the UN team intended to be involved with issues beyond election funding.

    "We agreed that their mandate, the mandate of their visit, would confine itself to coming to Zimbabwe to discuss with the registrar general and the Zimbabwe electoral commission about the election budget," Chinamasa said. "It was clear that the team wanted a broader mandate.

    "The UN avenue for sourcing resources for our elections is now closed. The UN team insisted on coming on their terms. The ball is now back in our court."

    Foreign minister Mumbengegwi, himself banned from entering Australia, Canada and the United States, said no UN team could be sent into a country without agreed terms of reference. 

    "The only time that the United Nations go into the territory of a member state is after a Security Council resolution under Chapter Seven of the United Nations Charter, those are the only circumstances," Mumbengegwi said.

    "In this particular instance, we have failed to reach mutually agreed terms of reference. We have rejected what they want to impose upon us. And we had insisted that they should come on our terms, not on their terms. We are a member state."

    Feuding over funding

    The declarations made by Chinamasa and Mumbengegwi were immediately rejected by Prime Minister Tsvangirai.

    "Chinamasa and Mumbengegwi are not the spokespersons of the [government] principals, the spokesperson of the principals is Morgan Richard Tsvangirai," said Tsvangirai's spokesperson.

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    "There was a lack of consensus among the principals [Mugabe and Tsvangirai]. But then they agreed as a way forward that minister Biti and minister Chinamasa must continue talking, engaging with the UN to find the best way forward."

    He added: "There is no way the principals can reject external funding when it is the same principals who have given permission [to] ... write a letter to the United Nations begging for money. This government scrounged for money for the referendum and definitely we don’t have the proper liquidity position to be able to fund an election."

    Mugabe's Zanu PF and Tsvangirai's MDC have been sharing power since 2009, and feuding - mostly over political reforms - has slowed the coalition's efforts to reverse the country's long decline.

    Chinamasa said Zimbabwe did not trust UN agencies, and was suspicious after an attempted 2008 Security Council Resolution - vetoed by Russia and China - after a bloody presidential run-off election that human rights groups say left more than 200 people dead and displaced many thousands more from their homes.

    "In the past we have been threatened with a UN Chapter 7 resolution on the basis that Zimbabwe was a threat to international peace and security. But just imagine, small as we are, whose security did we threaten, and do we have any capacity to threaten anybody?" Chinamasa asked. 

    Chinamasa said the countries that imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe were the dominant players in the Security Council, except for Russia and China.

    "All of them are the Fishmonger [Western] group," Chinamasa told reporters. "So it's very clear to us that, as Zimbabweans, we have to remain very alert to any attempts to manipulate our internal processes to influence our internal processes, to interfere in our internal processes. We will remain very alert."

    Chinamasa's deputy, Obert Gutu - a member of Tsvangirai's party - disagreed.

    "There is no money for nothing. It is an unmitigated absurdity for anyone to expect the UN to simply dish out money like confetti at a wedding," Gutu said. "Money always comes with a price tag. That's the way it is and that's the way it will always be."

    'Every effort'

    The UN resident coordinator said further efforts had been made by the UN to engage with the government and explain the purpose and scope of the NAM.

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    "As of now, no agreement has been reached on the modalities," Noudehou said. "The NAM is therefore not expected in Zimbabwe at the present moment.

    "The UN has been making every effort to respond to Zimbabwe's request. The UN will continue to engage with the government of Zimbabwe to determine if an agreement can be reached."

    Trevor Maisiri, senior analyst for Southern Africa at the International Crisis Group (ICG), said under the UN General Assembly mandate, the UN assessment teams have a template which they use to evaluate the political environment as well as specific funding needs.

    "This template includes engagement with various players; not only government and governing political parties, but civil society and other facets of society," Maisiri told Al Jazeera.

    "Zanu PF's resistance to a broad UN mandate inclusive of engagement with civil society is shaped by historical factors. The party has previously blamed civil society of bearing a 'regime change' agenda and is therefore not willing to have civil society input into a UN assessment process. The dysfunctional relationship between civil society and Zanu PF is one of the main causes of why the breakdown has taken shape."

    Dominating the narrative

    McDonaland Lewanika, director of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition - a conglomeration of more than 350 civic society groups - said Zanu PF was acting "like a guilty person".

    "It seems they believe that only themselves and those that are 'friendly' to them have sole proprietorship on the Zimbabwean narrative and the political state of play - as such they cannot fathom the UN team coming and speaking to a broad church of stakeholders or having access beyond the narrow mandate that serves their interest as a party, but do nothing for us as a nation," Lewanika said.

    "The UN modus operandi on such missions is standard - if it is good for the [other] countries that are UN members why should Zimbabwe be an exception?"
    Maisiri said political players could not negotiate special exclusive conditions for its Zimbabwean mandate outside of the UN General Assembly endorsed framework.

    "Zanu PF may be uncomfortable with the downstream effects of election observation mechanics that come out of the assessment mission," Maisiri said.

    "The assessment mission can find local political conditions to be so restrictive to a credible election that they can recommend issues like early observation of election, monitoring of the elections rather than mere observation, inclusion of international observers - and they may also even recommend certain key reforms be in place before an election is held. These are issues that Zanu PF would naturally resist. These factors are therefore the basis for why Zanu PF has repealed the UN funding process, and why we may have seen the last of the UN being considered to fund local elections this year."
    Chris Mutsvangwa, Zimbabwe's former ambassador to China and a Mugabe loyalist, said the UN was "vulnerable" to pressures from Western powers.

    "Clearly someone gave them (UN) a big chunk of money for Zimbabwe elections, people who have vested interests," he told Al Jazeera.

    "The UN is vulnerable to all sorts of pressures; they say he who pays the piper calls the tune. There is something called national pride, the core processes can't be outsourced. And if you can't sustain an election in your country, then there is something wrong."

    Follow Gift Phiri on Twitter: @giftphiri



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