September 15, 2008

South African Paper Says Success of Zimbabwe Powe-Sharing Deal Not Inevitable

Text of report by influential, privately-owned South African daily Business Day website on 15 September

[Editorial: "Zimbabwe's Deal"]

OPTIMIST that he is, President Thabo Mbeki said of the Zimbabwe power-sharing agreement reached last week that it was "inevitable that it will succeed".

As the broker of the deal, Mbeki can hardly be faulted for trying to sell it. But even he can't really believe there is anything inevitable about its success. Indeed, if Zimbabwe's leaders make this power-sharing arrangement work, it will be nothing short of heroic.

That's not just because of the challenge of managing the political and personal tensions between the parties. It is also because the arrangement itself is so cumbersome.

Details are still sparse ahead of the signing of the agreement this morning. But the deal will make Zanu (PF)'s Robert Mugabe president and head of state, with two deputies who will, apparently, be largely ceremonial. The Movement for Democratic Change's (MDC's) Morgan Tsvangirai becomes prime minister and head of the government, with two deputies, one from his own party and one from the breakaway MDC faction of Arthur Mutambara. Mugabe will chair the cabinet, while Tsvangirai will chair a council of ministers that will supervise the cabinet and supposedly govern Zimbabwe day to day.

But if that degree of complexity weren't enough already, the cabinet itself will number 31 members, about the size of our own cabinet, except that Zimbabwe has a population less than a quarter of the size of SA's. Of these, 15 will be from Zanu (PF), 13 from Tsvangirai's MDC faction and three from Mutambara's. The MDC, in other words, will have a majority, if its two factions work together.

What's crucial is that on paper at least, the deal does recognise the balance of power between the parties, reflecting the relative number of votes they gained in the March election - and breaking Zanu (PF)'s absolute authority over Zimbabwe for the first time in two decades. But there are real questions about how much power Mugabe has really given up. And the answers may become clear only once the new arrangement starts operating. The first time Mugabe's strongmen arrest an MDC cabinet minister for doing something they don't like, we'll know it was all a waste of time.

Hopefully that will not happen. But there is reason to be sceptical. Reports indicate Mugabe and his people are to retain control of the security apparatus, taking cabinet posts such as defence and intelligence and holding on to the feared Central Intelligence Organization.

Tsvangirai will, essentially, control the economy, putting his people into the finance, foreign affairs and public service ministries. He is the only one who can unlock the foreign assistance needed to stabilise Zimbabwe's devastated economy. But doing that will require tough economic cures that Mugabe's cronies may not like. The test will be if Tsvangirai has the freedom to implement these. If he doesn't, the Mbeki deal will do nothing to improve the lives of Zimbabwe's people.

International donors and investors have greeted it with cautious optimism, as they wait to see whether it will prove to be a genuine transfer of power away from Mugabe and his cabal. If it does, funds will flow and the economy could turn quite quickly. If it doesn't, Zimbabwe will be left in a kind of limbo, until the new constitution is implemented in 18 months' time and new elections are held after that. It's hard to imagine that the country and its people could tolerate more years of punishment.

Originally published by Business Day website, Johannesburg, in English 15 Sep 08.

(c) 2008 BBC Monitoring Africa. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.