A stalemate over the allocation of Cabinet portfolios is threatening to undermine the fragile power-sharing deal reached last week between Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF, and Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). Fundamentally, we have a deadlock threatening the whole process, not only over the ministers but the [10 provincial] governors as well,” said Tendai Biti, MDC secretary general.
The fragility of MDC-ZANU-PF relations is evident in the fact that official state media continue to insult the MDC leadership despite prohibitions against such attacks in the accord. The abrupt resignation of South African president Thabo Mbeki, who has mediated the talks, will not help resolve the current impasse.
Democracy activists and foreign governments responded cautiously to the pact, reached after several weeks of talks. The pact is a “capitulation” by the MDC, as Tsvangirai will have only “cosmetic authority”, said Lovemore Madhuku, head of National Constitutional Assembly, a former grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy.
“The MDC must have control over key ministries responsible for restoring economic stability to Zimbabwe, facilitating the distribution of humanitarian assistance, and overseeing the country’s security and police services,” said a Freedom House statement last week. The democracy watchdog also called for transitional justice issues to be addressed, and for credible elections within two years, repeal of repressive laws, civil society involvement in constitutional revision and for monitoring parties’ compliance with the power-sharing deal.
But David Coltart, a senator affiliated with the Mutambara faction of the MDC, defended the agreement as the best possible deal in the circumstances. Opposition negotiators agreed to painful compromises because of the urgency of the humanitarian crisis and because of fears that Mugabe would be deposed by hard-line generals who would take the country “down to the level of a Somalia,” he told a Wilson Center meeting in Washington, DC. last week.
The deal entailed a “substantial transfer of power”, Coltart said, while admitting that a sizeable ZANU-PF Cabinet presence represented a “poisoned chalice” as they would do everything to sabotage genuine change.
The next three to six months will be characterized by instability, said Karen Alexander, an analyst with the Institute for Democracy in South Africa. Morgan Tsvangirai is perceived as the key to attracting Western aid and investment – “the man with the ATM card for the nation,” she told the Wilson center event. Recent events in Zimbabwe raise wider issues for African democracy, including the dangers of adversarial first-past-the-post electoral systems that generate “exclusionary” outcomes, and – as in Kenya – of accommodating post-electoral violence that subverts the democratically-expressed will of the people.
According to Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, a grantee of the National Endowment for Democracy, the fact that authority to govern derives from the will of the people means that the power sharing deal “in itself is a negation of the very fundamental requirement that assumption of office into national political leadership must be anchored in credible electoral processes.”
The national unity government represents a subversion of the national constitution, said another NED grantee, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions. “Only a Transitional Authority should be put in place with a mandate to take Zimbabwe to fresh, free and fair elections that will hopefully not be disputed by the parties. “
The role of the international community is crucial to the new unity government’s survival, writes Knox Chitiyo. The MDC is expected to deliver on foreign investment, but the European Union, United States, World Bank and International Monetary Fund are waiting for the new government to “prove itself”. These institutions are proving reluctant to hand over the ATM card until Cabinet positions are determined.
“Every day that passes without Prime Minister [Morgan] Tsvangirai being able to point to a tangible improvement in day to day life, the more threadbare the agreement, signed just a week ago, will look,” writes Africa analyst Michael Holman. “Books and medicines, agricultural inputs and spare parts, should have been on their way to Zimbabwe within hours of the deal being signed.”
It is easy to criticise Tsvangirai’s “inconsistent and erratic leadership”, he concedes. But “the fact is western governments have been outmanoeuvred” by Mugabe. Already under fire from his ZANU-PF base for conceding too much power, Mugabe will fiercely resist efforts to unshackle the media and restore the independence of the police and judiciary.
Southern Africa analyst RW Johnson believes the crunch will come when Tsvangirai moves to replace Gideon Gono as Governor of the Reserve Bank and to professionalize the security forces, especially if invites the British Military Assistance and Training Team (BMATT), which trained Zimbabwe’s army and police after independence. BMATT’s first order of business would be to help crack down on ZANU-PF’s murderous “war vets” and Green Bomber youth league, he writes.
The next few weeks will show whether Mugabe “intends to subvert the deal now reached – or whether he will be pushed aside by a determined opposition.”