A power sharing deal was reached last Thursday in Zimbabwe, opposition sources told me, and newswires are now reporting. South African President Thabo Mbeki, who mediated the talks, announced then that the agreement would be signed today — with the delay scheduled presumably to allow negotiators to see whether donor nations find the deal good enough to resume sending aid to Zimbabwe.
Details remain sketchy, but it appears that opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai will become prime minister and chair a council of ministers, while longtime despot Robert Mugabe will remain president and head the cabinet. Mugabe’s party, ZANU PF will have 15 ministers and Tsvangirai’s party, MDC, will have 16 ministries (including three from a breakaway faction of the MDC run by Arthur Mutambara).
Local reaction is naturally skeptical of any agreement, especially given that Mugabe may well retain control over the army . . . “or perhaps the army keeping control over him,” one worried Harare resident, who didn’t want to be identified, told me by phone last Friday. Given that the most powerful men in Zimbabwe are the generals, it is worrisome if Tsvangirai has no influence over them. While Tsvangirai may control the police, it is the army which killed most of the 200 MDC party workers in the period between the first round of the presidential election in March, which Tsvangirai won, and the second-round runoff in June, which Tsvangirai refused to contest because of violence aimed at this supporters. This left an uncontested Mugabe to take a sixth term as president.
MDC chairman and Zimbabwe’s parliamentary speaker Lovemore Moyo told the BBC that the deal was a compromise. “We wanted a titular head of state with an executive prime minister but that did not happen. So what we got at the end of the day perhaps was probably nearly a sister-sister power-sharing, so I’m saying it’s not exactly initially what we wanted.”
The suffering in Zimbabwe is tragic, millions have fled the country and thousands die weekly, defenseless against common diseases due to malnourishment. Most food aid is still unavailable to those in areas which have supported the opposition MDC. Property theft, reckless monetary policies, and total disregard for the rule of law have brought the economy to its knees. ZANU PF imposed price controls but this failed to dampen inflation and drove trading to the black market. Inflation still surges — officially annualized at over 11 million percent, though perhaps much higher say independent observers like local economist John Robertson — and has become so bad that the government resorted to dropping 13 zeros from its currency last month in order to allow ATM machines and calculators to handle basic transactions.
Mugabe’s ZANU PF party has consistently tried to pin the blame for the country’s collapsing economy on European and U.S. sanctions, profiteering businessmen, and even British neo-colonialism. And ZANU PF has consistently refused to allow the use of South African Rand, British pounds, or U.S. dollars in any exchange it has not directly sanctioned. But in a recent sign of desperation, Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor Gideon Gono announced last week that foreign currency would be allowed as a unit of exchange for at least 250 wholesalers and 1,000 retailers. It is also an attempt for ZANU-PF to access foreign currency, since the government will attempt to collect 25 percent of private companies’ export earnings. Whether companies will take advantage of the new freedom, given the promised tariff, remains to be seen.