D-Day – Zimbabwe talks to resume

HARARE – Six weeks ago, African leaders came to Harare to celebrate the signing of a power-sharing accord meant to end the country's political turmoil. Today, they return to prevent the deal from falling apart.

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai signed a pact on September 15 agreeing to form a unity government, with eight African leaders on hand to hail the pact as a way to haul the country from political unrest and economic collapse.

But the optimism surrounding the agreement quickly faded as talks bogged down over control of powerful ministries, including finance and home affairs, which oversees the police.

At least three key leaders from the 15-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) are set to return Monday to Harare to meet with Mugabe and Tsvangirai in hopes of rescuing the deal.

"SADC potentially does have the power to break the deadlock, but only if it is willing to apply some form of sanctions – either diplomatic or economic – to force Mugabe to end his intransigence," said Laurence Caromba, of the Centre for International Political Studies in South Africa.

Broker a settlement

"Until now, most countries in the bloc have been unwilling to do this, which is unfortunate."

SADC first began trying to broker a settlement between Mugabe and Tsvangirai seven years ago, after the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) emerged as the first serious challenge to the ruling Zanu-PF since independence in 1980.

Then, like now, the MDC accused Mugabe of using political violence to intimidate the party’s supporters to ensure his grip on power.

But now Tsvangirai is playing a stronger hand. The MDC has relegated Mugabe’s party to the minority in parliament for the first time ever, while Tsvangirai won the first round of the presidential election in March.

He pulled out of a run-off in June, citing violence against his supporters that left more than 100 dead.

After months of political turmoil, former South African president Thabo Mbeki brokered the unity accord, which would keep 84-year-old Mugabe as president while making Tsvangirai prime minister.

The deal left unresolved the formation of a cabinet, except to declare how many posts each party would receive, and that ambiguity threatens to sink the entire deal.

Four weeks after the deal was signed, Mbeki flew back to Harare to try to broker a compromise. After four days of talks, the two sides agreed to bring their dispute to SADC’s security organ, currently headed by Swaziland.

Boycotted summit

But Tsvangirai boycotted the summit last Monday in protest at receiving his travel documents at the last minute, which he said betrayed a lack of sincerity by Mugabe in the talks.

After initially threatening to skip this Monday’s summit as well, Tsvangirai has agreed to attend, but warned that his party will not accept a bad deal for the sake of furthering Mbeki’s so-called "quiet diplomacy."

"We have a high respect for SADC and regional leaders," Tsvangirai told a rally on Saturday. But he warned: "Quiet diplomacy has its limits."

Analysts said that Tsvangirai has little choice but to push ahead with the deal, if the MDC hopes to have any chance of reforming the government or salvaging the economy, which is beset by the world’s highest inflation rate, believed to be at least 231 million percent.

"By attending the summit, this is a realisation by the MDC that despite all the obstacles being put in place by Zanu-PF hardliners, it is important to change things from within," said political analyst Bornwell Chakaodza, a respected former newspaper editor.

"They already have their legs in the door since they signed that agreement," he added.

– AFP