Power-sharing deal is reached in Zimbabwe, but doubts remain

McClatchy NewspapersSeptember 15, 2008 

NAIROBI, Kenya — President Robert Mugabe's 28-year grip on Zimbabwe loosened slightly Monday with a deal that makes his archrival, Morgan Tsvangirai, the prime minister, but there are major doubts that the complicated power-sharing arrangement will end the southern African nation's economic crisis.

Under the agreement, which both men signed at an awkward ceremony in Zimbabwe's capital, Harare, Mugabe remains head of state, with the authority to choose the 31-member cabinet. He also retains control over the army, which is blamed for brutal attacks on thousands of Tsvangirai's supporters in the run-up to a widely discredited election in June.

The full agreement, brokered by South African President Thabo Mbeki after weeks of often-rancorous negotiations, was not immediately made public. According to media reports, Tsvangirai will supervise the day-to-day work of the government, a potentially significant job in a country where years of economic mismanagement have produced one of the highest inflation rates ever recorded — an estimated 11 million percent.

But analysts said the arrangement would be uncomfortable at best, given the years of acrimony between the two men. During the election campaign, Mugabe vowed never to cede power to his rival, and experts believe that the 84-year-old president will try to thwart Tsvangirai at every turn.

"He's been forced into this. I think he recognizes that he has no choice," David Coltart, a lawmaker from an opposition faction, said of Mugabe.

"I have no doubt that he's going to probably try to buy time. And I think that it's going to be a very difficult arrangement for Morgan Tsvangirai to manage."

Tsvangirai won more votes than Mugabe in a first-round presidential election in March, but withdrew from the June runoff after security forces launched widespread attacks on opposition supporters. Tsvangirai's party, the Movement for Democratic Change, said that more than 100 of its members were killed.

Tsvangirai — who's been beaten, jailed and tried for treason until a court dismissed the charges — said Monday that he struck the deal despite misgivings.

"I have signed this agreement because my belief in Zimbabwe and its people runs deeper than the scars I bear from the struggle," he said.

Government farm seizures beginning in 2000 have caused widespread hunger, and after a poor harvest this year, aid agencies estimate that 5 million people — more than a third of the population — need emergency food aid.

Western countries, which pledged to help rebuild Zimbabwe's economy if a deal was signed, eyed the agreement cautiously. Britain, the former colonial power in Zimbabwe, said it would consider lifting longstanding sanctions on Mugabe and his allies only if the deal was faithfully implemented.

Mugabe, for his part, refused to acknowledge Tsvangirai as prime minister. In meandering and unscripted remarks, he returned to a familiar theme: that Zimbabwe's problems are the result of meddling by Western countries.

"The problem we have had is a problem that has been created by a former colonial power," he said, his clipped voice rising to a shout. "Why, why, why the hand of the British? Why, why, why the hand of the Americans here?"

Under the deal, Mugabe retains control over the defense and justice departments, analysts said, and his ZANU-PF party holds a plurality of cabinet posts. Tsvangirai is to chair a new "council of ministers" — made up of all the cabinet ministers, excluding Mugabe — that will implement policies and supervise government functions.

Analysts called the arrangement "complicated" and "confusing" and deemed its viability uncertain.

"It looks like two parallel governments, and it remains to be seen if they will come together," said Tiseke Kasambala, senior researcher with Human Rights Watch.

To many Zimbabweans, the agreement recalls another time that Mugabe brought a rival into his government, when he gave opposition leader Joshua Nkomo a cabinet post in 1982. Nkomo later fled into exile after being wrongly accused of plotting a coup, and Mugabe sent an elite, North Korean-trained military brigade into Nkomo's Matabeleland homeland, where soldiers reportedly slaughtered more than 20,000 people.

Kasambala said that Mugabe was likely to hand Tsvangirai some authority over the shattered economy — a "poisoned chalice" that, if things don't improve, could prove to be Tsvangirai's undoing.

Activists said that the agreement doesn't offer justice for victims of election violence and few guarantees of safety for thousands of opposition supporters who fled the country in recent months.

"It doesn't hold anyone accountable for the violence that has been inflicted," said Elinor Sisulu, a Zimbabwean activist living in South Africa. "There is no recourse for people who have suffered and who are still suffering."

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McClatchy Newspapers 2008

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