Monday, November 10, 2008

No compromise in Zimbabwe

Leaders in southern Africa have failed another democracy test.

A summit of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) on Sunday called for Zimbabwe's leaders to share control over a key ministry within the government, effectively giving President Robert Mugabe another victory in his power struggle with opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai. It is another instance where leaders in the southern part of the continent have failed to stand up to Mugabe, who has impoverished his country in a desperate bid to stay in power.

In case you haven't been following the drama in Zimbabwe, a brief recap: Tsvangirai ran against Mugabe for the presidency earlier in the year. Though most observers thought Tsvangirai won the election outright, after weeks of delays the official government results showed that a runoff between Tsvangirai and Mugabe was necessary. Supporters of Tsvangirai's MDC party then suffered widespread attacks across the country during the runoff campaign, with dozens being killed in the process. Things got so bad Tsvangirai dropped out of the race for his own safety and the safety of his supporters, giving Mugabe a victory. But the international community was outraged and demanded the two men share power. Mugabe at first tried to keep all the real power to himself, while sticking Tsvangirai with the thankless task of fixing the country's ruined economy. Tsvangirai refused. After two months of negotiations (sponsored by South Africa) it was agreed that Tsvangirai would become Prime Minister (a newly created office) and their two factions would split the government ministries evenly. But again, Mugabe tried to keep all the power by grabbing the important government ministries and sticking Tsvangirai with ones like Sport and Science.

Tsvangirai wants control of Home Affairs, the ministry that controls the national police, whose job for the past decade has basically been to crush internal dissent to keep Mugabe in power. On Sunday though the SADC announced their idea for a compromise - that the two sides share control of Home Affairs.

To leave Mugabe's forces even partially in control of the Home Affairs Ministry (and the SADC had no suggestions on how two rival parties could possibly run one ministry) is to leave him as the de facto controller of the country. And this is where southern Africa's leaders have again come up short in their commitment to democracy. Regional leaders have been reluctant to speak out against Mugabe, who was a leader in Africa's fight against colonialism and was, when he took office, a fair and progressive president. But that was a generation ago and since then Mugabe has turned into the same kind of sad despot clinging to power at the expense of his people that has been all too common in Africa.

Rather than confronting Mugabe though, his neighbors have been satisfied to complain gently and propose compromises that really aren't compromises at all. Tsvangirai has again refused to sign onto a deal that will effectively leave him on the sidelines. Southern Africa's leaders, meanwhile, don't seem willing to pressure Mugabe to actually share power - probably why Tsvangirai is now taking his appeal to the UN.

Something has to be done for Zimbabwe. Tsvangirai is warning that up to a million people could starve this winter if conditions don't change drastically.
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