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  • Zimbabwe is caught in a classic Catch-22
    Martin 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 so-called Global 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 said.

    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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