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Mission impossible

by Jennifer Dube
Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s president since independence, is not playing by the rules of an agreement he signed with his opponent Morgan Tsvangirai a year ago. Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai is therefore in a difficult position. [ By Jennifer Dube ]

Unlike other historic national events, there was no official event to mark the first anniversary of the “Global Political Agreement” (GPA) on 15 September. The GPA had paved the way for Morgan Tsvangirai of the MDC (Movement for Demo­cratic Change) to become prime minister of Zimbabwe in February, sharing power with President Robert Mugabe and his party ZANU PF (Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front).

Indeed, there was not much to celebrate last month. Contrary to the GPA, Mugabe has still not sworn in Roy Bennet, who is Tsvangirai’s choice for deputy agriculture minister. Instead, Mugabe had Bennet arrested in February on trumped up charges of terrorism.

Other appointments were contentious too. Mugabe unilaterally renewed the contracts of central bank governor Gideon Gono and attorney general Johannes Tomana. According to the GPA, Tsvangirai should have had a say in these matters. Both Gono and Tomana have a history, moreover. Under Gono, Zimbabwe’s inflation rate skyrocketed to more than an annual 200 million percent. And Tomana is responsible for the arrest and imprisonment of many MDC supporters.

To recapitulate, Tsvangirai’s MDC beat Mugabe’s ZANU PF in parliamentary elections last year, after which Tsvangirai came out ahead of Mugabe in the first round of presidential elections too. An orgy of atrocities followed, with ZANU PF thugs attacking MDC supporters. To stem the violence, Tsvangirai stepped down from the final presidential race. The election-related violence was internationally condemned, and under multilateral pressure, the two rivals negotiated the GPA.

Today, the prime minister remains a troubled man. Members of his own party are urging him to withdraw from his awkward coalition with the president. They have a point. The MDC’s parliamentary majority has been dwindling because of arrests of members of parliament (MPs). More than a dozen MPs are being detained.

In spite of such political manoeuvering, life has become better for ordinary Zimbabweans. The economy has improved after Tsvangirai discontinued the Zimbabwean dollar. International currencies like the US dollar and South Africa’s rand are in use now, so prices have stabilised, and stores are full of supplies once again. Though most salaries remain below the poverty line, and access to social services such as health care or transport is still difficult, living standards have improved a lot.

There was, however, hope for even more good news. The GPA was supposed to unlock western support for Zimbabwe. But Tsvangirai has only been able to raise an insignificant fraction of the aid funds he aspired. European and North American governments say they will only restart assisting Zimbabwe’s government once ZANU PF shows commitment to the GPA. The international community has been opting for humanitarian support through non-government organisations instead of support for the government.

Several GPA deadlines were missed. Various commissions that were supposed to start implementing reforms within one year of the agreement have not been formed yet. Zimbabwe still lacks a media commission, an electoral commission and a human rights commission.

The GPA envisioned a conducive environment for new media players. But, in lack of an operational media commission, several plans for new newspapers have not materialised yet. The government did allow the two international powerhouses CNN and BBC to broadcast from within the country, but conditions for journalists remain difficult, and nothing substantial has changed for Zimbabwean colleagues.

A number of constituencies fell vacant in the course of the year. According to the constitution, by-elections are to be held within three months, but that was impossible without an electoral commission.

Under pressure, Tsvangirai has embarked on a public consultation, saying the voters will best advise him on the way forward. It is unlikely that Zimbabweans would tell their prime minister to resign. Though frustrated by Mugabe’s dilly-dallying, most are scared of a possible return of food shortages, lack of money and widespread violence.