The long road into the jungle, with the ageing, starving tiger

HARARE – In what has been hailed as a momentous but "painful compromise", Zimbabwe's rival leaders signed a power-sharing agreement which would have President Robert Mugabe's decision-making powers tempered by his Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, who will chair the newly-formed Council of Ministers.\r\n

Mugabe, Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara, leader of a faction that broke away from Tsvangirai’s party, all pledged with passion to make the deal work. But long-simmering and bitter differences between the two sides and the nation’s worsening economic collapse are expected to put the power-sharing deal under intense pressure.

Western nations, whose aid and investment could mean the difference between the success or failure of the unity experiment, reacted cautiously. Millions of dollars in aid are expected if Mugabe proves genuine about sharing power and working to end Zimbabwe’s economic and political crisis.

The European Union welcomed the deal, but officials said it was still too early to ease sanctions against Mugabe.

While Mugabe still wields enormous power as chair of Cabinet, the deal created a Council of Ministers, giving Tsvangirai authority to drive and implement policy.

The same ministers who constitute Mugabe’s Cabinet will convene as a council and report to Tsvangirai on policy formulation and "assess the implementation of Cabinet decisions".

This is in contrast with the previous deal, rejected by Tsvangirai, in which Mugabe would have been in charge of security ministers and the Movement for Democratic Change leader responsible for economic and social cluster ministers.

Tsvangirai initially refused to sign the deal because he wanted executive power and to co-chair the Cabinet.

At yesterday’s signing ceremony, President Thabo Mbeki, who mediated the deal, was praised for his "heroic efforts".

The ceremony was attended by 10 heads of state to give political weight to a deal that has been acclaimed as a first step towards national healing, political reconstruction and economic recovery.

While the current deal vests the executive authority in the Cabinet, both Mugabe and Tsvangirai "shall exercise executive authority subject to the constitution and the law".

Tsvangirai is deputy chairperson of the Cabinet and a member of the National Security Council, which will replace the notorious Joint Operations Command.

Zimbabwe’s presidency will now comprise President Mugabe, Prime Minister Tsvangirai, current two vice-presidents Joice Mujuru and Joseph Msika, and deputy prime minister and MDC faction leader Mutambara. There will be another deputy prime minister, believed to be Tsvangirai’s MDC vice-president – Thokozani Khupe.

Tsvangirai and Mutambara admitted that the deal was "a painful compromise" aimed at putting the national interests first.

"What we have here today is a compromise document … which is the best short-term measure to extricate our country from its worst situation," Mutambara said.

Tsvangirai in his speech tried very hard to convince his supporters why he appended his signature to a deal that appeared to have left Mugabe in charge.

"I’ve signed this agreement because I believe it represents the best opportunity for us to build a peaceful, prosperous, democratic Zimbabwe.

"I’ve signed this agreement, because my belief in Zimbabwe and its people runs deeper than the scars I bear from the struggle. I signed this agreement because my hope for the future is stronger than the grief I feel for the … suffering of last year," he said.

"The agreement we signed today, it’s a product of painful compromise. It does not provide an instant cure for the ills that befall our country and our society. The road ahead will be long, and it will not be easy," Tsvangirai said, appealing to both his and Zanu-PF supporters to unite and translate their signatures into a peaceful Zimbabwe.

However, hardly minutes after the signing, supporters of both parties were at each other’s throats outside the venue, throwing stones and attacking one another. But there were no serious casualties.

Tsvangirai, who has been accused of being backed by the West, spoke authoritatively as prime minister-designate and appealed for financial and moral support.

"A new beginning will be built more quickly, with the support of the international community … We appeal to our regional leaders and international community to assist us in rebuilding our nation," he said.

As new leader of government business, he outlined his economic and financial priorities. "First, we will stop the
devastating food shortage in the country … the first priority of this government is to unlock food accessibility to our country. We need doctors, medicines back in our hospitals. We need teachers back in our schools … we need electricity … water … and (to) be able to withdraw
cash,” he said.

The agreement provides for the establishment of a national economic council to advise the government on how to restore the stability of an economy already on its knees.

Tsvangirai was more reconciliatory, but warned that public acknowledgement of past wrongs was the best form of healing.

A humiliated Mugabe reminded an unimpressed audience that the MDC was controlled by “colonial powers”.

“Our African neighbours, our African compatriots, our
African comrades. I don’t see any British among them, there is no American amongst them.

“They are Africans because Zimbabwe is African. Zimbabwe for the Zimbabweans. This is what we have been talking about, that African problems must be solved by Africans,” he said.

“Why, why, why is the hand of the British … Why, why, why is the hand of the Americans here?” Mugabe said, and was greeted by heckling and a chorus of boos.

He, however, slightly gained the audience’s confidence
when he said he was “committed to the deal”. “We will do our best,” he said to applause.

Although the document reaffirmed the amended laws
on security, an electoral commission and communications and the constitution that were agreed upon last year, it included compromise clauses to accommodate both parties.

The agreement sets out a timetable for drafting a new
constitution that would include input from civic groups. The consultation process is to begin within a month and a referendum on the constitution is slated to take place within two years.

The deal also promises the start of a process of re-registering and licensing media organisations under eased press laws in an “open media environment”.