5 February 2009
Washington — As the Zimbabwean parliament approves the power-sharing deal between President Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, the new administration of U.S. President Barack Obama says it will look for concrete change in the way the country is governed before deciding U.S. policy.
"The success or failure of such a government will depend on credible and inclusive power-sharing by Robert Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party," Robert Wood, acting spokesman for the White House, said on Tuesday.
"The international community must remain engaged and continue to scrutinise actions by Mr. Mugabe to ensure adherence to the letter and spirit of this agreement, including respect for human rights and the rule of law," he said.
"We urge (the Southern Africa Development Community) SADC to fulfil its obligation to guarantee that Mr. Mugabe proceeds on a new path toward reconciliation and genuine partnership with the MDC (Tsvangirai's party, the Movement for Democratic Change)."
Human rights and Africa activist groups here were somewhat more sceptical.
"I think it's a defective deal in many ways," said Briggs Bomba, director of Campaigns at Africa Action, a non-profit organisation. "It short changes people of Zimbabwe on the most basic aspirations that have defined democracy: human rights and social justice. It appears now as an opportunity for temporary relief of suffering that people are going through."
"Mugabe's game-plan is simple: squeeze the maximum gains from the agreement, put on a show of good behaviour until the sanctions are lifted and aid flows are resumed, plan for a successor, and then gradually resume the attacks on the MDC before the next series of elections," noted Jon Elliot, Africa advocacy director for Human Rights Watch (HRW).
The formation of the new government is the latest move in the nearly year-old crisis that was set off last March after the MDC's victory in the first round of national elections. Before the scheduled run-off elections in June ZANU-PF unleashed a wave of violence targeting mostly MDC supporters. Tsvangirai subsequently withdrew from the race.
Mugabe claimed victory, despite the conclusion of independent monitors from across southern Africa that the election was neither free nor fair due to ZANU-PF's campaign of intimidation and violence.
Over the following six months, SADC, led by South Africa, tried to negotiate an agreement between MDC and ZANU-PF that would lead to a coalition government, an effort which eventually culminated in the signing of a power-sharing agreement in principle on Sep. 15. The deal provided that Mugabe would retain the presidency, while Tsvangirai would serve as prime minister in a government in which the MDC would have majority in parliament.
Over the subsequent four months, however, the two parties failed to agree on the allotment of specific ministerial portfolios, with Mugabe insisting on retaining control of the army and security forces.
Meanwhile, conditions in Zimbabwe deteriorated dramatically, amid record hyper-inflation and a breakdown in the country's once-model public health system.
A cholera epidemic, which broke out in August, has spread. So far, it has killed more than 3,000 people and an additional 65,000 have been infected, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The U.N. Food Programme estimates that 7 million of the 9 million people remaining in the country will need food aid this month.
In July 2008, the administration of former President George W. Bush, along with the EU, strengthened its sanctions against Zimbabwe, though its efforts to impose sanctions through the U.N. Security Council were vetoed by China and Russia.
In mid-December, Bush, along with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicholas Sarkozy, called for Mugabe to remove himself completely.
"It is time for Robert Mugabe to go," said Bush.
Nonetheless, Mugabe defied the pressure, and last week Tsvangirai agreed to implement the Sep. 15 deal, bringing the MDC into the government. Thursday, parliament unanimously approved a constitutional amendment allowing Tsvangirai to become prime minister.
Many independent analysts here maintain that the deal is a poor one and may soon collapse.
"It's a question of when, not if, this thing will collapse," Sydney Masamvu, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group, told the New York Times last week.
"This new agreement does not reflect the will of the Zimbabwean people and is unlikely to produce a viable political solution unless the behaviour of ZANU-PF changes dramatically," said Jennifer Windsor, executive director of New York-based Freedom House. For now, most non-governmental groups believe Obama's wait-and-see stance is the correct one.
"The West need be in no hurry to lift the targeted sanctions or throw good money at a bad agreement," said HRW's Elliot. "A full and comprehensive programme of government reform and audit are also needed before a single U.S. tax dollar is handed over for reconstruction."
"Zimbabwe's humanitarian and health crises alone will need a huge international effort throughout 2009," he added. "That should be their sole focus for now."
Some groups believe that Bush's hard line may have been counter-productive and suggest that the new administration should be more respectful of the position of other states in the region as the situation develops.
It is "critical to move away from the counter-productive 'cowboy diplomacy' we saw under Bush, which really pushed to the wall a lot of critical players within South Africa," Bomba of Africa Action told IPS. The new administration "must be informed more by a lot of behind the scenes discussions and consensus building in SADC. So don't come out shouting."
Copyright © 2009 Inter Press Service. All rights reserved. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com).