|September 12, 2008
Rivals strike a bargain to share power – but will it work?
President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and the opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai struck a power-sharing deal on Thursday, Sept 11, after more than a month of wrangling, but it was still far from clear how the bitter foes would divide the authority to govern.
The agreement, brokered by President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, signals that Mr. Mugabe may be willing to cede some authority to Mr. Tsvangirai, loosening the tight grip on power he has maintained for nearly three decades and easing the political crisis that has engulfed Zimbabwe for months. They did not spell out how the deal would work, but Mr. Mbeki said the details of the agreement would be released Monday at a signing ceremony. Officials in both the governing and opposition parties described an arrangement that seemed to leave neither man clearly in charge. That may reduce the chances that the accord will bring stability and attract the foreign aid needed to rebuild the country’s ruined economy.
Under the agreement, officials said, Mr. Tsvangirai would become prime minister and oversee a council of ministers that would formulate and carry out policies. Mr. Mugabe would retain his title of president and would lead a cabinet of the ministers that would supervise the council. That arrangement appears to give both men the power to oversee the same group of ministers. Asked who would lead the government, Nelson Chamisa, a spokesman for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, did not name one man or the other, but instead replied, "This is an inclusive government." He said executive power would be shared by the president, the prime minister and the cabinet. Zimbabwe has faced political stalemate since Mr. Mugabe, 84, held onto the presidency in a June runoff that was widely denounced as a sham. The country is now crippled by an almost unfathomable inflation rate and traumatized by an election season in which thousands of opposition supporters were beaten by state-sponsored enforcers, human rights groups say.
If the agreement does produce a functional power-sharing arrangement, it will be a significant turning point for Zimbabwe, which has become increasingly poverty stricken and isolated in recent years under Mr. Mugabe’s authoritarian rule. But it will be no small task for Mr. Mugabe, a liberation hero, and Mr. Tsvangirai, a 56-year-old former trade union leader and a persistent rival, to work together harmoniously after the enmity that has accumulated in recent months. Even on Wednesday, as the talks neared their conclusion, the opposition released a statement denouncing a "plot" by the governing party, ZANU PF, to topple its newly elected leader of Parliament. And on Monday, as the talks were getting under way again, the political editor of the state-run newspaper, a mouthpiece for Mr. Mugabe, accused the opposition of "a cancerous connection with Britain and other Western countries."
And there are also crucial questions not yet resolved in this deal. Mr. Mugabe, Mr. Tsvangirai and a third, lesser player, Arthur Mutambara, leader of a small breakaway opposition faction, have still not decided how to divide the ministries, Mr. Chamisa said. They are supposed to turn to that task on Friday. Mr. Mugabe and Mr. Tsvangirai have been testing each other, with Mr. Mugabe threatening to appoint a cabinet of ministers unilaterally and Mr. Tsvangirai saying he would prefer no deal to a bad deal. President Mbeki of South Africa, the mediator in the conflict whose own reputation as a peacemaker has become entwined with the violent, intractable conflict in Zimbabwe, spent the past four days making a last-ditch push for a settlement at a hotel in Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital. As he came out of the hotel, Mr. Tsvangirai told reporters, "President Mbeki will address you, but I just want to tell you, we have a deal."
Mr. Mbeki emerged from the talks after Mr. Tsvangirai, but offered no details of the deal, either. He said that African leaders would gather on Monday in Harare to witness its signing and that only then would a document laying out its terms be released. "We hope the rest of the world will respect the decision of the leadership of Zimbabwe," Mr. Mbeki said. Under Mr. Mbeki, whom Zimbabwe’s opposition has viewed as an ally of Mr. Mugabe’s, South Africa has fiercely resisted Western efforts in the United Nations to impose international sanctions on Mr. Mugabe’s government and insisted that Africans will solve this crisis on their own. Jendayi E. Frazer, the American assistant secretary of state for African affairs, said Thursday that neither American nor United Nations officials had been briefed on the contents of the final deal — a situation she said was unlike any other mediation in Africa, including those involving Congo, Liberia and Kenya. "We don’t know what’s on the table, and it’s hard to rally for an agreement when no one knows the details or even the broad outlines," she said. She reiterated the American position that Zimbabwe voted to change its government in March and that any settlement should reflect that reality.
Much hangs on the shape of the deal. Zimbabwe’s economy is in an ever-accelerating implosion. Hyperinflation has rendered the salaries of teachers, doctors and working people virtually worthless, and the widespread scarcity of basic goods, from food to medicines, has led to terrible hardships. The country’s international credibility is in tatters, and the United States, Britain and other European countries have said they are willing to provide billions in aid only if Mr. Tsvangirai, who outpolled Mr. Mugabe in the last credible election in March, is in charge of the government. Mr. Tsvangirai had resisted pressure from leaders in southern Africa, including Mr. Mbeki, to accept an earlier deal that would have made Mr. Mugabe chairman of the cabinet of ministers and commander in chief of the armed forces, leaving Mr. Tsvangirai as prime minister and a deputy head of the cabinet, answerable to Mr. Mugabe, opposition officials said. Mr. Tsvangirai won a presidential election in March, but not by a wide enough margin to avoid a runoff. Mr. Mugabe won the June runoff only after Mr. Tsvangirai boycotted it, citing brutal, state-sponsored violence against his supporters. Independent monitors from across Africa concluded that the runoff was neither free nor fair.
In an interview last month, Mr. Tsvangirai said he would not consent to a deal that did not give him the authority to govern the country. To do so, he said, would be to commit political suicide. His supporters expected more for their suffering, he said, after thousands were beaten during the election season and more than 100 were killed. Mr. Chamisa, the opposition spokesman, said the party believed that Mr. Tsvangirai would have "sufficient authority" to carry out policies to deliver progress on the bread-and-butter issues of jobs, hunger and peace. "It’s not the best, but it’s the most attainable," he said of the deal. "The focus now is to rebuild our country." Another person close to the opposition, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he had been told about the deal in confidence, acknowledged that the lines of authority were murky. "There’s a lot of fudging going on there," he said. "I’m worried it may be muddled. But Morgan has been adamant that he have the power to implement measures that address the problems facing Zimbabwe. Without that, he’s dead in the water. I have confidence that if he’s signed it, he believes he can deliver on health care, humanitarian assistance and jobs."