Zim's uneasy power-sharing nears end

2013-07-31 17:01
(Picture: AP)

(Picture: AP)

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Harare - Whatever the result of Zimbabwe's election on Wednesday one thing is for sure: four years of uneasy power-sharing between President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai will end.

As Zimbabweans streamed to the polls, the unity government partners sighed with relief at the close of their "painful", "disappointing" union.

The forced marriage was arranged by the international community to avoid further violence in the wake of suspect and blood-soaked 2008 elections.

Tsvangirai won the first round, but was forced to drop out of the second round amid the killing of 200 of his supporters.

He then became prime minister as a reluctant partner in the unity government alongside Mugabe, the former guerrilla who has ruled since independence from Britain.

While the power-sharing deal which took effect in 2009 prevented full-scale conflict, critics today deplore its failure to achieve much-needed democratic reforms and kickstart the economy.

"It has been a major disappointment," Rugare Gumbo, spokesperson for Mugabe's Zanu-PF party, told AFP.

But communications minister Nelson Chamisa, spokesperson for Tzvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), said the government had achieved some victories.

"It has been difficult, difficult, painful but useful for the people of Zimbabwe. People's lives have improved," he said. "We are excited that we are coming out of the blast furnace."

The arrangement was aimed at creating a "genuine, viable, permanent, sustainable" solution to the crisis.

Absolutely awkward

But in its early days, Mugabe could not hide his discomfort.

"I feel awkward in a thing like that, absolutely awkward," he told mediator President Jacob Zuma of South Africa at the time.

Ex-finance minister Simba Makoni, who was not part of the unity deal, branded the Mugabe-Tsvangirai government "pathetic" and "dismal".

And analysts said the deal had failed to set a democratic framework for fresh elections.

Days before the Wednesday vote, the country was "still grappling with issues of reforms, the timing of elections, issues of sporadic violence and intimidation," said Trevor Maisiri, a researcher with the International Crisis Group.

"It has not fully served its primary purpose because the idea was to create a transitional mechanism that would lead to a credible election," he said.

Initially the unity government was to last just two years but it had to be extended as delays plagued the formulation of a new constitution that would lay the basis for credible polls this time around.

The MDC "regrets, definitely that quite a number of reforms did not move as we had wanted," said Chamisa, highlighting a lack of revisions of the media and security sector.

Civic rights coalition Sokwanele, which kept an eye on the government's performance, traced 22 482 violations of the agreement - 90% by Zanu-PF.

The rivals still strongly disagree on the economy, and bitterly blame each other for Zimbabwe's slow recovery.

Talking to each other

Unemployment still hovers on the wrong side of 50% while millions of people are still economic refugees in neighbouring countries.

Once a net food exporter known as Africa's breadbasket, Zimbabwe's reformed agricultural sector is yet to produce enough to feed the country.

"There were many programmes that we were going to carry out, but our colleagues acted like they were an opposition party instead of carrying themselves as part of the government," the Zanu-PF's Gumbo claimed.

The MDC said it opposed "ill-conceived" black economic empowerment schemes that forced foreign companies to cede a majority of their shares, saying it drove away investors.

But some say the power-sharing agreement was not all bad.

The government rescued the moribund economy by abandoning the Zimbabwean dollar, ending rampant inflation that peaked at 231 million percent.

Politicians who previously had not seen eye-to-eye suddenly were forced to run the country together, which may explain the peaceful run-up to Wednesday's polls.

Just being able to talk to each other in parliament or in cabinet "has really been helpful," said Gumbo.

The coalition "brought about some sanity, peace and stability. We are not fighting as we used to. Even campaigning is being done in a peaceful, orderly manner," he said.

Chamisa also said the unity government was a healthy exercise.

"The past four years showed that another Zimbabwe is possible. A Zimbabwe where we can realise, appreciate and celebrate the cross-pollination of ideas," he said.


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