Last week Morgan Tsvangirai, Prime Minister-designate of the Zimbabwean government was not in attendance at talks in Swaziland on the crisis in his country because, according to the New York Times "President Robert Mugabe, refused to give him a passport.”
This comes over a month after SADC sponsored power sharing agreements were finalized and signed, in what most observers, including Africa Action and then President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, deemed a historic moment and precedent in African mediated solutions for African problems.
Since the signing on September 15, this bright vision has dimmed each day, however, as the two main parties privy to the agreement, Zanu-PF (led by President Mugabe) and the Movement for Democratic Change (Morgan Tsvangirai) have deadlocked over the distribution of four key ministries: defense, foreign affairs, finance, and home affairs. The deal requires consensus over these ministries, yet critics predicted from the get-go that did not seem likely. This “limbo over key ministries” has only emphasized that the power-sharing agreement has really just come down to a power-getting battle.
According to an article from South Africa’s Business Day from early October when Mbeki was first called back to break the deadlock, analysts say that “what was evident in the Zimbabwe context was that the ‘key ministries’ were those that have something to do with power drawn from the security apparatus.”
When Tsvangirai, who was in fact issued an Emergency Travel Document for three days by current ruling party Zanu-PF did not attend the meetings Botswana’s president renewed his condemnation of the Mugabe-led regime, emphasizing the futility of allowing the despotic leader to continue to hold any power at all. This was exactly the response the MDC desired, reiterating the need for more political pressure on Mugabe. According to the New York Times article, “Opposition officials are clearly hoping that Mr. Mugabe’s refusal to give a passport to Mr. Tsvangirai, who is designated to serve as Zimbabwe’s new prime minister under the deal, will make it difficult for African leaders to deny that Mr. Mugabe is clinging to power.” However, top United Nations envoy Haile Menkerios, said in Ethiopia this week he is confident in the success of the deal. As of now, talks will still go on as planned this coming week.
In addition, the MDC has come out with a condemnation of Zanu-PF, holding that the ruling party has tampered with the official power-sharing agreement document that was signed by all parties. The alleged changes do not alter the balance of power however, but the point that the MDC seems to be making, is that they are fundamentally, changes, giving implications of not only forgery but “chicanery” that cannot be overlooked in a government attempting to expel corruption and legitimize transparency. According to the Zimbabwean Independent one diplomat said that "although these issues appear minor, the question is not the alterations per se, but the motive behind it. Who did it and why?"
As the Zimbabwean Independent pointed out, energy seems to be being misrouted: “Since the haggling over cabinet posts started, most Zimbabweans have been wondering what constitutes key ministries especially in a unity government whose major responsibilities would be to revive the economy and place the country on the path of recovery and democratization.”
The MDC is fighting for every ounce of power they can get, with the ultimate purported goal of bringing positive change to the country through economic growth and more open governance. But to what end are they willing to push this? Distrust and nonnegotiable ultimatums seem more and more petty as time goes on, and who knows how much more of this Zimbabweans can take.
The more Tsvangirai demands his share, the more stubborn and greedy he appears to the public—the more he resembles his nemesis. The distinction between the two grows smaller, and the MDC has not yet had a chance to prove its transparency or ability to govern, and has its own accusations of undemocratic practices to bear. In a country that has only seen one leader, one party, for almost three decades, it is easy to distrust the default opposition for lack of experience and hazy political motives. This is so especially with a current leader with such strong “liberation struggle credentials” as they are called in Southern Africa, as well as a monopolized mass media that is quick to remind the public of this, no matter how much time has passed. Mugabe’s grip on power is supported by by a powerful propaganda machine and the violent strong-arm of trained loyal veterans and unemployed angry youths.
Tsvangirai has a lot to lose in this stalemate he is co-fostering. Mugabe, has very little, because he is in fact doing exactly what he has been doing for almost thirty years: hanging on to power with every tooth and nail. And he is good at it. Contrast this skill with Tsvangirai's lack of experience at anything more than protesting the government. He has loyalty, but Mugabe holds people’s fear, and not just of him but of colonial oppression, which he brings up almost daily, as well as the instability and uncertainty that Tsvangirai represents implicitly. And few people, it has been found in governments across the world, can support something simply by opposing something else. People want concrete, progressive change, not the same old politics as usual. Will Tsvangirai give it to them? So far the jury is still out . In the short run, SADC’s patience will determine how much longer this will go on. The people, however, will ultimately make the difference.