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Zimbabwe is caught in a classic Catch-22
Fletcher, The Times (UK)
February 11, 2009
Today is a momentous
day for Zimbabwe, a country all but destroyed by 29 years of increasingly
grotesque misrule by Robert Mugabe and his Zanu PF party. Morgan
Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change, will be
sworn in as Prime Minister, paving the way for a "unity"
Government in which MDC ministers will serve alongside the very
people who have spent the past decade abducting, beating, torturing
and killing their fellow activists. Mr Mugabe remains President.
The word "unity" is utterly inappropriate. The war will
continue, in another form. It will now be "hand-to-hand combat",
one MDC insider says, and only one party will survive. The problem
is, according to Western officials, it is likely to be Zanu PF.
If so, there is no hope for this beautiful, once bountiful country.
Sceptics argue, correctly,
that Mr Tsvangirai was forced to join this Government by overwhelming
pressure from southern Africa, which lacked the stomach to remove
one of the continent's last surviving liberation leaders, despite
his clear defeat in elections last year. They say that Mr Tsvangirai
has walked into a trap; that Mr Mugabe has no intention of sharing
power; that the wily octogenarian will easily outwit him and that
the Old Crocodile will corrupt and co-opt MDC politicians with money,
Mercedes and mansions. They expect the MDC to be swallowed up by
Zanu PF as surely as Joshua Nkomo's Zapu party was when it was forced
into a merger in 1987 after the Matabeleland massacres. Mr Tsvangirai
will have achieved nothing, they say, except to give the faltering
tyrant a lifeline and his regime a veneer of legitimacy that Mr
Mugabe will use to erode international sanctions. "It's sad.
What have the last ten years of struggle been for?" one asked.
There are plenty
of reasons for such scepticism. Mr Mugabe regards Zimbabwe as his
personal property and has never been known to compromise in his
life. "Zimbabwe is mine," he declared in December. The
Political Agreement (GPA) is vague, toothless and riddled with
ambiguities that offer Zanu PF ample opportunity to thwart MDC initiatives.
There is no clear division of power between Mr Tsvangirai and Mr
Mugabe. Zanu PF retains a large measure of control over the security
services, Zimbabwe's final functioning institutions, and the two
parties are locked in a bizarre compromise whereby they will jointly
run the hotly disputed Home Affairs Ministry, which controls the
police. Other contentious issues such as the future of Gideon Gono,
the Reserve Bank governor responsible for Zimbabwe's 5,000,000,000,000,000,000,000
(five hextillion) per cent inflation, are left unresolved.
Nor has the regime shown
the slightest intention of mending its corrupt and violent ways
since the GPA was signed last September. Its leaders have continued
to imprison MDC activists, harass white farmers, restrict Mr Tsvangirai's
movements and enrich themselves at the people's expense. It is far
from certain that the country's generals will deign to salute their
new Prime Minister after today's ceremony. Curiously some of the
MDC's most ardent proponents of unity government agree with much
of this. They know that the GPA is deeply flawed, and is far more
than Mr Mugabe deserves after using violence to subvert the election,
and far less than they deserve. But they argue that they have no
option and can no longer stand on the sidelines while Zimbabwe implodes,
and that if they are smart, determined and ruthless enough they
can destroy the regime. "We can fight and deliver at the same
time, which we've never been able to do before," a senior official
They argue that the international
community can start funnelling aid to some of the 13 ministries
- including finance, health, energy and water - that it will control;
that control of so many ministries will severely curtail Mr Mugabe's
powers of patronage, exacerbating rifts within Zanu PF; and that
the MDC can open the books to expose Zanu(PF)'s past misdeeds. MDC
insiders also believe that they can use their parliamentary majority
to great effect. They will seek to repeal repressive legislation,
including that which crippled Zimbabwe's independent media. They
can hold officials accountable, including the editors of newspapers
which incite hatred and division. The MDC also controls every city
council in Zimbabwe, and believes that with Western assistance these
can quickly begin restoring water supplies, mending roads and providing
other basic services that have largely collapsed. Finally the MDC
has in Mr Tsvangirai by far the most popular politician in Zimbabwe,
who should now be able to travel freely, attending meetings, addressing
rallies and winning airtime as he has never been able to before.
MDC officials talk of
a virtuous cycle whereby its support rises as it delivers real improvements,
securocrats and civil servants see which way the tide is flowing
and cast in their lot with the MDC, and the population becomes increasingly
emboldened as Zanu PF crumbles. "A dictator needs fear to stay
in power," an official close to Mr Tsvangirai said. "What
will happen if we can remove that element of fear?" There is
just one problem with the MDC's scenario. It depends crucially on
Western aid beginning to flow. Britain, the US and the EU say that
this will not happen unless the new Government demonstrates a genuine
commitment to reform - a development they find almost inconceivable
as long as Mr Mugabe remains President. It is, in short, a classic
Catch-22. If the MDC fails to deliver, Zanu PF will be quick to
shift the blame from its own lamentable performance.
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