[DEBATE] : Opposition Party to Join Zimbabwe’s Government
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Sat Jan 31 14:36:17 GMT 2009
January 31, 2009
Opposition Party to Join Zimbabwe's Government
By CELIA W. DUGGER
JOHANNESBURG — After months of resisting intense pressure from leaders
across southern Africa, Zimbabwe's opposition leader, Morgan
Tsvangirai, announced Friday that he would do as they had insisted and
join a coalition government as prime minister with his nemesis,
President Robert Mugabe.
The opposition party's decision on Friday to form a government with
the ruling party, ZANU-PF, will usher in a new phase in its
decade-long struggle against Mr. Mugabe, 84, who has firmly held onto
power since 1980, most recently by claiming victory in a bloody,
discredited presidential runoff election against Mr. Tsvangirai in
Mr. Tsvangirai now faces the daunting job of sharing control of the
nation's police, reviving Zimbabwe's moribund economy and rescuing an
increasingly famished, sick and impoverished population with a
partner, Mr. Mugabe, whose security forces have viciously beaten Mr.
Tsvangirai and thousands of his supporters over the past two years.
Even as the power-sharing talks were taking place, Mr. Mugabe's
government abducted dozens more opposition supporters, many of whom
said they had been tortured.
Mr. Tsvangirai first agreed to form a joint government in September,
but then refused after Mr. Mugabe claimed control of all the
ministries that control the repressive state security forces,
including the police.
But at the insistence of the Southern African Development Community,
the 15-nation regional bloc overseeing the negotiations, the current
deal calls for shared oversight of the police — a compromise Mr.
Tsvangirai had initially rejected.
Acknowledging the ambivalence of many of his supporters — and perhaps
his own, as well — Mr. Tsvangirai said in a statement that the fight
for democracy "is neither easy nor straightforward, and often we have
had to change the fronts on which we wage the struggle."
Political analysts said he would have risked the scorn of South
Africa, the dominant regional powerhouse, and other neighboring
nations, had he pulled out of the deal that they had, with increasing
impatience, been pressing him to accept.
But their decision to push for a power-sharing arrangement, even
though their own monitors concluded that the presidential runoff was
neither free nor fair, has stirred deep unease beyond Zimbabwe's
Botswana's president, Seretse Khama Ian Khama, said in a rare
interview that allowing leaders to keep power through negotiated deals
after fraud-ridden elections, as in Kenya last year and now in
Zimbabwe, set a terrible precedent.
"These power-sharing agreements are not the way to go on the
continent," said Mr. Khama, whose government is the only one in the
region now openly criticizing Mr. Mugabe's party for employing
intimidation, violence and killings against its opponents. "You can't
have a situation where a ruling party, when it senses it may lose an
election, can then manipulate the outcome so they can stay on in
The hunger for change in Zimbabwe was manifest on Friday in the throng
of thousands that gathered outside Harvest House, the headquarters of
the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, in Zimbabwe's capital,
Harare, as word spread that the party was deciding whether to join or
stay out of a government.
When Mr. Tsvangirai came out and stood on the bed of a pickup truck
with a bullhorn in hand, the crowd fell silent waiting for word of his
decision. A wave of cheers rolled over him when he said he would be
prime minister, his spokesman, Joseph Mungwari, said.
Mr. Mungwari said the party was confident that it would soon get
legislation adopted to place all the state security services, not just
the police, under the supervision of all parties, including a small,
breakaway faction of the opposition.
He also predicted that by Feb. 11, when Mr. Tsvangirai is scheduled to
be sworn in as prime minister, the authorities would release the
dozens of abducted opposition and human rights activists now
languishing in filthy, overcrowded, cholera-ridden prisons.
But when asked whether Mr. Tsvangirai would refuse to join the
government if the imprisoned activists were not freed and the
legislation was not passed, he declined to comment.
Diplomats and opposition officials who have spoken recently with Mr.
Tsvangirai said he felt a sense of urgency about going into the
government because of the extreme human suffering in Zimbabwe.
Mr. Khama described Zimbabwe as a country that has "literally become
like one big refugee camp, full of people who are living lives of
A cholera epidemic is spreading from cities to rural areas where the
most basic health services are lacking. More than 60,000 people have
gotten the disease since August, and more than 3,100 have died.
Beyond that, the country's economic crisis has worsened so suddenly
and sharply that the number of people needing food aid in the next two
months has risen to 7 million from 5 million of the country's 12
million people, the United Nations World Food Program reported
In order to reach more of the needy, the agency is halving monthly
rations, which are already insufficient, to 11 pounds of corn per
person, hoping the hungry can scavenge enough in wild fruits and other
foods to survive until the next harvest.
"People will certainly be more malnourished and vulnerable to disease
than if they were getting a full ration," said a spokesman, Richard
The United States and Europe have prevented famines in Zimbabwe for
years with infusions of food aid, but their willingness to lift
sanctions against Mr. Mugabe and senior members of his government and
to donate substantial sums for the reconstruction of the country will
not come automatically with the formation of a coalition government.
British and American diplomats said they would be awaiting evidence
that democracy, human rights and the rule of law were again respected
in Zimbabwe — and they doubted Mr. Mugabe would agree to such changes,
which would almost inevitably threaten his hold on power.
Some analysts, diplomats and civic leaders worry that Mr. Tsvangirai
has thrown Mr. Mugabe a political lifeline just as the governing
party's ability to sustain its patronage machine was crumbling and the
international outrage against his rule was increasing.
Some doubt the coalition between such unlikely partners can last,
especially considering Mr. Mugabe's insistence that "Zimbabwe is
mine," as he recently declared.
"It's a question of when, not if, this thing will collapse," said
Sydney Masamvu, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group,
a nonprofit group. "The government will be hobbled by a fight for
Others, like Brian Raftopoulos, research director for Solidarity Peace
Trust, a nongovernmental organization, contended that joining the
government was the opposition's best option, in part because its
long-term survival as a party depends on its relations with regional
powers such as South Africa.
But none see any easy resolution of Zimbabwe's political agony.
"There's going to be no quick fix for the removal of Mugabe," Mr.
Raftopoulos said. "That, unfortunately, is the reality."
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