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Dashed hopes

by Mufudzi Moyo


President Mugabe is backed by the security forces

President Mugabe is backed by the security forces

Zimbabwe’s coalition government is not working. It started promisingly in early 2009, but initial reform momentum collapsed fast. People now fear a rerun of the election violence that rocked the country in 2008. By Mufudzi Moyo

After a few positive steps forward, Zimbabwe’s coalition government started to move backwards again. Two and a half years ago, President Robert Mugabe formed a government with Morgan ­Ts­vangirai of the Movement for Demo­cratic Change (MDC). Tsvangirai became prime minister. Leaders from neighbouring African countries had brokered this agreement after massive election violence had undermined the democratic process in Zimbabwe. After the MDC had become the strongest party in parliamentary elections in 2008, Tsvangirai was forced to drop out of the presidential election because Mugabe’s thugs kept killing MDC supporters.

The odd coalition did bring about a level of economic stability, stopping hyper-inflation early on. The government scrapped the national currency and replaced it with the US dollar and the South African rand. Today, shops are full of imported consumer goods. However, Zim­babwe’s poor cannot afford them, and unemployment remains high. Manufacturing did not revive. Some 100 companies in Buwalos, the nation’s second largest city, had to close down this year alone.

The coalition government was supposed to hold a national land audit and put a check on Mugabe’s land reforms that have undermined the country’s agriculture. No progress was made. Only recently, people with links to Mugabe seized two prominent dairy farms. The state of Zimbabwe’s infrastructure has not improved either.

Other hopes were dashed too. At first, the public was given the impression that the coalition would last for two years and draft a new constitution to allow free and fair elections. But the constitution has not been completed and the parties keep tussling over the process.

The sense of tolerance Zimbabwe enjoyed in early 2009 did not last. Today, political opponents are at each other’s throat once more. Hate speech has become common again. Some military leaders belittle Tsvangirai in public, stating he will never rule the country. Mugabe warned Tsvangirai and his party to stay away from the security sector. The former opposition leader feels that this is where reforms are needed in particular.

In late July, a meeting was called in parliament to discuss the establishment of a new Human Rights Commission. According to the coalition agreement, this is one of four statutory commissions that are to be set up. The meeting was aborted, however, after rowdy Mugabe supporters assaulted journalists as well as members of parliament. Police officers watched, but did not intervene.

Obviously, Mugabe’s party Zanu PF is not sincere about enforcing human rights. It is stirring fears among independent journalists, political opponents, civil society organisations and the citizens in general. And of course, people remember well the suffering of 2008 when hundreds were killed.

Morale remains low among civil ser­vants like teachers and nurses, whose remuneration has not changed much since the dollarisation of the economy. As national revenues from the export of diamonds have risen, civil servants have demanded more money. However, Finance Minister Tendai Biti, an MDC politician, says he does not even know how the diamond revenue is handled.

At the same time, it has become evident that the national budget is funding some 70,000 ghost workers in the public sector. These people are mostly Zanu PF supporters. Voter registration is a mess too. The rolls are full of anomalies with numbers bloated by the inclusion of babies and dead people, while thousands of eligible voters feel disenfranchised.

It is evident that the coalition is not working. Mugabe’s Zanu PF insists the only way out is to have an early election. The MDC, on the other hand, argues that all systems should be put in place first to ensure free and fair elections. Most ­people are not keen on a rerun of the 2008 tragedy either. The big question is how long the MDC can stay in a coalition in which it is not achieving its goals and increasingly falling victim to the insincere and violent arrogance of its supposed partner.