Zimbabwe: No Time to Wait-and-See
Zimbabwe: No Time to Wait-and-See
Op-Ed / Africa 3 minutes

Zimbabwe: No Time to Wait-and-See

After nearly a year of post-electoral uncertainty, widespread violence, mind-spinning levels of inflation and massive economic misery, Zimbabwe finally has a political deal, to sighs of relief but also expressions of skepticism around the world.

Many will be tempted to second-guess the decision of Morgan Tsvangirai to become Prime Minister and his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) to join a power-sharing government as of mid-February with arch-rival and bitter enemy Robert Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party.

Four months of bad-faith negotiations by Mugabe to implement the 11 September political accord provided no sign that he accepts this deal as a step toward badly needed national reconciliation.  He continues his paranoid ramblings against perceived enemies foreign and domestic, as well as his repressive divide-and-rule tactics.  He repeatedly describes the new arrangement as one in which ZANU-PF remains in the driver's seat.

Even now, the deal remains dangerously vague.  It establishes two centers of power, with Mugabe as president and head of the cabinet, and Tsvangirai as prime minister and head of a new "council of ministers".  One key ministry -- home affairs, which oversees the police and the electoral process -- will be "shared" by ZANU-PF and the MDC.  Other top issues, including the fate of Mugabe's repressive Joint Operations Command and the tenure of his crony Gideon Gono as head of the reserve bank, are in the "to-be-determined" column.

Yet for all this uncertainty, the entry of Zimbabwe's major opposition party into a governing role is an encouraging and even a landmark development.  It has the potential to restore some kind of normality to this tortured country if all sides now move quickly forward and take bold steps to transform promises into reality.  Even if the MDC is only partially overseeing developments, it represents more oversight than the country has enjoyed in years.  For example, it is difficult -- although regrettably not impossible -- to see how a security force overseen in part by the MDC could continue the pattern of repression now in place. 

Further, the political accord brings commitments to an inclusive process with civil society to draft a new constitution, move toward new elections, and address dire concerns over the disastrous humanitarian situation, land distribution, political violence, and the free-falling economy.

The international community must show solidarity with this agreement and act quickly to shore it up.  This is not the time for foot-dragging because we do not like all aspects of the agreement and really would prefer to see Mugabe get his rightful comeuppance. 

The world's support should be whole-hearted, but with eyes wide open. Targeted sanctions on ZANU-PF obstructionists and others should remain in place for the foreseeable future to ensure that all are acting in good faith. The disbursement of large-scale development assistance should be tied to transparent projects and credible management. 

But there should be no delay whatsoever for the extensive humanitarian aid. Further, since it will take considerable time and tough measures -- including reducing subsidies and cutting government positions -- to squeeze multi-million percent inflation out of Zimbabwe's economy, steps should be taken now to address expectations of an immediate "peace dividend."

There should be international support for emergency projects to help move literally millions of people affected by Mugabe's displacement campaigns, repression, and the desperate economic conditions back to their homes. This will permit young people to return to school, health programs to take root and local economies to revitalize. These programs should include assistance to rebuild houses, establish micro-enterprises and reconstruct basic infrastructure.

The international community should help fund these immediate programs to create jobs -- paid in hard currency -- for the unemployed, especially young people.  
Similarly, programs to rebuild civil society groups should be launched to reverse Mugabe's divide-and-rule strategies that have polarized Zimbabwe over the past years and destroyed the nation-wide character of religious, press, labor, academic, women's and youth groups. Programs to resurrect Zimbabwe's proud legal institutions and legislature neutered under of Mugabe's pernicious abuse of executive power.

There is little doubt that Mugabe and his ZANU-PF hardliners will try to do everything they can to pervert and distort the power-sharing agreement to entrench their positions, marginalize the MDC, and blame it for the country's failings. But the proper response is not for the world to stand back and allow the government to fail, but to embrace it tightly -- faults and uncertainties and all. As Tsvangirai himself has said, this deal belongs not to Mugabe or Tsvangirai or their parties, but to the Zimbabwean people. It is they who will benefit if there is a successful government, and they who will suffer more violence, more displacement, more cholera, and more isolation if it falls apart.

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