Mugabe is now poised to sign his own political death warrant
OPINION – However you look at it, Robert Mugabe is getting away with murder. The power-sharing deal he is expected to sign tomorrow with his arch-rival, Morgan Tsvangirai, will protect Zimbabwe's president and his cohorts from prosecution for their bloody campaign of killings and terror against opposition supporters and their leaders.
Mugabe will remain president, even though his claim of winning 90 per cent of the valid votes in June’s election was met with universal scorn after Tsvangirai pulled out because he did not want people killed going to vote for him.
The last time Zimbabwe’s voters had a chance to cast a ballot without a gun to their heads, in the first round of presidential elections in March, Tsvangirai won. And that was with millions of opposition voters in exile and a good deal of other kinds of intimidation by the ruling Zanu-PF party.
Now Mugabe will sit at the head of a cabinet half filled with men responsible for robbing Tsvangirai of that victory by murdering, beating and terrorising the supporters – and sometimes the families – of the other half of the cabinet. When they weren’t doing that, they were looting the central bank, stealing land and driving the economy into the ground through incompetence and cynicism, leaving millions on the brink of starvation.
So an agreement that persuades the opposition to recognise Mugabe as president and keeps Zanu-PF’s killers and looters out of jail might be viewed as a great victory for the old man. Yet the historic deal holds the elements to dismantle Mugabe’s 28-year rule and reduce the power of the only leader Zimbabwe has known until a clean election can be held.
Behind the scenes, Movement for Democratic Change leaders are calling the agreement a watershed. Some quietly realise that Monday could mark the end of their struggle to finish Zanu-PF’s abusive and sometimes violent political domination – the second liberation struggle, as one put it – and the beginning of the equally demanding challenge to take control of government.
If they can pull it off – and, in many ways, whether they succeed or fail lies within the MDC’s control, not Zanu-PF’s – then Mugabe’s pledge that Tsvangirai would never rule Zimbabwe, and his bloody strategy to try to ensure it did not happen, will ultimately have failed.
It is a complex arrangement, but the nuts and bolts of the agreement are that while Mugabe is president, Tsvangirai has day-to-day control of government as prime minister and head of a council of ministers. That is a considerable asset, even though many of his ministers will be from Zanu-PF. Tsvangirai will run the council of ministers without Mugabe present, but will sit in the cabinet chaired by the president.
Crucially, the two MDC factions have a majority of one in both bodies, as well as control of parliament, allowing the party to out-vote Mugabe and set policy. That will allow the MDC to dismantle the apparatus of repression which helped keep Mugabe in power long after his popularity crumbled. The government will be able to abolish legislation banning newspapers, locking up journalists and imposing severe restrictions on freedom of speech.
Tsvangirai is counting on the support of civil servants and others, who, like most middle-class urbanites, have long backed the MDC but have been afraid to say so in public. The devil may be in the detail, which won’t be made public until after the agreement is signed, but Tsvangirai’s aides say there are no hidden trip wires.
Much will also depend on the division of ministries, which the two leaders were wrangling over yesterday. Mugabe is expected to keep his hands on the military through a Zanu-PF defence minister, which the MDC can live with because it will help reassure the generals. Tsvangirai has pressed hard for control of the police, which is crucial if he hopes to assure people that they can vote as they wish in future elections. Both sides are pressing to run the justice ministry, but that may be one that Tsvangirai loses because of fears within Zanu-PF that if he controls the police and the justice system the MDC could hold the guilty to account.
Crucially, the MDC is likely to get the finance portfolio because foreign donors will not want to hand money over to a Zanu-PF minister. It is the prospect of that money that unlocked the prospect of agreement. Without power for Tsvangirai there will be no foreign aid, and without hard currency Mugabe had no means of turning around an imploding economy.
The numbers are staggering. Inflation is running above 20 million per cent a year. Unemployment is 80 per cent. A quarter of the population has left to look for work in South Africa and Britain.
The central bank knocked ten zeros off the Zimbabwe dollar at the beginning of last month because shops and banks could not cope with calculations in the trillions. When it was launched on 1 August, the new dollar was Z$4 to the pound, but the black market immediately offered Z$25. Since then, the currency has crashed so fast that the black market rate is Z$13,000 to the pound. The new banknotes are worthless and the government does not have the means to print new money. Last week, it announced that it would legalise the use of US dollars and South African rand, although these are already the de facto currencies.
This weekend, there were long queues for petrol after the pipeline from Mozambique was shut down over unpaid bills. Outside the cities, chronic malnutrition is on the way to becoming starvation. The World Food Programme says it will have to feed up to five million Zimbabweans in the coming months.
The new government will be desperate to see foreign money soon, so that Tsvangirai can show he can deliver some relief to a distressed population. But Western governments have said they want to wait and see if Tsvangirai is really wielding power, fearing that he may have been duped into a deal that allows Mugabe to outmanoeuvre him.
However, this will be a hard position for Britain and others to maintain. They face being accused of neo-colonialism if they fail to embrace what is being billed as an African solution to an African problem and endorsed by all the major political players in Zimbabwe.
Whether Tsvangirai actually does hold power will depend in large part on whether he can form a working relationship with the leader of the smaller breakaway faction of his party, Arthur Mutambara. That may prove too much for the two leaders who have not always put the country above personal or political interests.
Mutambara, a scientist, has scorned Tsvangirai as ill-educated and an incompetent political leader. Meanwhile, Tsvangirai’s followers see Mutambara as a political opportunist out for personal gain. Their fears have been reinforced by his willingness to play footsie with Zanu-PF because, although the Mutambara faction only won 8 per cent of the vote in the election, it holds the balance of power both in parliament and the cabinet.
But Mutambara has been reined in by his own MPs and will have to be careful not to overplay his hand. If he is seen by the voters to be extending Mugabe’s grip they will make him and his MPs pay at the next election.
Although Mugabe and Zanu-PF will attempt to widen the divisions between the MDC factions and buy off its ministers, the MDC’s future is in its own hands. If it puts the people before self-interest, and Tsvangirai and Mutambara can set aside their deep personal animosity, then it can set the agenda and transform Zimbabwe. Mugabe will not be without power, but he may be reduced to obstructing more than governing. He could probably bring down the new administration, but he is also only signing the agreement in the first place because he has no other options.
Meanwhile, a coalition government is likely to change the political equation for good. Power sharing worked well in smoothing the transition from white rule in post-apartheid South Africa, where a sunset clause meant there would not be an immediate wholesale purge of the former administration and those who served it.
That may be all the more important in Zimbabwe, where the deep loathing and suspicion between the two sides is personal, and Zanu-PF chiefs regard Tsvangirai with contempt for his lack of liberation struggle credentials.
Yet there are many in Zanu-PF who realise that if their party is to have a future it is without Mugabe as leader, and that crippling the coalition administration will do nothing to rebuild the party’s fortunes. Throughout all of this, Tsvangirai will have to stay focused on getting to another election swiftly and with his credibility intact.
The agreement plans a new constitution within 18 months. The MDC wants to see an election within two years or so. Unless Tsvangirai messes it up completely – and it’s hard to imagine that life will not improve if the foreign money comes in – then the voters will bury Mugabe.
Zimbabwe’s president will probably never be tried for his many crimes. But tomorrow he may well be signing the death warrant for his political career.
1922 The British South Africa Company ends rule of Southern Rhodesia and white minority rule begins.
1963 Central African Federation – S Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), N Rhodesia (Zambia) and Nyasaland (Malawi) – breaks up.
1965 Rhodesia’s Prime Minister Ian Smith declares independence. Zimbabwe African People’s Union (Zapu) and Zimbabwe African National Union (Zanu), whose secretary general is Robert Mugabe emerge.
1978 Smith yields to pressure for negotiated settlement but elections boycotted by Zanu and Zapu. New government of Zimbabwe Rhodesia fails to win recognition. Civil war rages.
1979 Peace deal is brokered.
1980 Zanu party wins election; Mugabe is Prime Minister. Joshua Nkomo is in the cabinet.
1987 Zanu-PF party is formed by Mugabe and Nkomo.
1992 Mugabe’s wife Sally dies.
1999 Economic crisis brings riots and strikes. Morgan Tsvangirai forms the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
2000 War veterans violently seize white-owned farms.
2002 EU imposes sanctions. Mugabe is re-elected in flawed elections.
2005 Mugabe razes slums, leaving 700,000 homeless. MDC splits.
2007 Photos of Tsvangirai and hospitalised MDC leaders, beaten by police, cause outrage. South African President Thabo Mbeki appointed to broker talks.
March 2008 MDC wins elections and Tsvangirai wins presidential poll. Riots break out. Mugabe ‘wins’ run-off poll. UN resolution on sanctions vetoed by Russia and China.
Aug 2008 Power-sharing talks begin.