Making the deal work

Will any of this work? As the opposition senator David Coltart said, the deal signed yesterday means that virtually all of the cabinet members nominated by the two factions of the Movement for Democratic Change have now to sit down with the very people who ordered them to be brutalised.

For those seeking justice for the hundreds killed, the thousands injured, and the tens of thousands who have lost their homes, this was always going to be hard to swallow. Mr Mugabe has got away with murder, at least for the time being. But if the two factions of the MDC can work together – and that is a big if – the former liberation fighter turned autocrat will still have lost, and lost disastrously.

He retains the army, but the generals will abide by the constitution. The MDC gains control of the police, which is vital if elections are to be held in two years time. No one is in any doubt that if free elections were held, Zanu-PF would be wiped off the map. The issue is what happens between now and then. Zanu-PF are expected to retain control of the prisons and the prosecuting authorities. They fear that prosecutors, unleashed from their control, would do to them what they did to the MDC. But that still leaves the MDC not only with finance (they will be the conduit of the foreign aid package) but also the ministries which spend money, like health and education.

This puts the former opposition movement into a position where power and influence will naturally flow to them. They will be the ones distributing food and relief to the hardest hit rural areas. No longer will Zanu-PF be able to starve villagers into submission. That, in itself, is change.

There is much that can sour. Mr Mugabe’s power lies in his ability to exploit the personality differences between the two factions of the MDC. Everyone remembers what his close embrace did to Joshua Nkomo’s Zapu. But this is a power which the MDC can resist, if they set about the business of government collectively. As the MDC’s power grows, life will become progressively more difficult for hardliners in Zanu-PF who face the threat of a free press and private prosecutions. That is the optimistic scenario. But it still remains the case that this settlement is the MDC’s to wreck. They have the support of the people, control of the coffers, and the confidence of foreign governments. The question is whether they can deliver.