Few seriously believed it would,or could,really happen. On February 11th,almost a year after elections which saw Robert Mugabe’s ruling Zanu-PF party defeated for the first time since independence in 1980,Morgan Tsvangirai,leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC),was sworn in as prime minister. It is a post reinvented for the leader of the country’s main opposition party under a deal in which Mr Mugabe is meant to share power.
Up until the last moment,there had been doubts as to whether Mr Tsvangirai would actually agree to enter the unity government. Several of the conditions he had set for taking part in it had not been met,such as the release of about 30 MDC and human-rights people,abducted,tortured and detained. But in the end,he seems to have decided that a bad deal was better for Zimbabwe’s wretched people than no deal at all. He,unlike Mr Mugabe,refers to the government as transitional,regarding it as a precursor to fresh elections.
Under the power-sharing pact,which Mr Tsvangirai signed on January 28th,the MDC will get 13 cabinet posts in a 31-member government and Zanu-PF 15,though it holds fewer parliamentary seats. The remaining three posts go to an MDC splinter led by Arthur Mutambara,who also becomes a deputy prime minister. Thokozani Khupe,the MDC’s vice-president,was sworn in as another deputy prime minister. The hotly contested home-affairs ministry,which oversees the police,is theoretically to be shared between the MDC and Zanu-PF. Mr Mugabe keeps control over the armed forces. Tendai Biti,a fiery human-rights lawyer and the reputed brains behind the MDC,is handed the unenviable task of running the finance ministry.
Mr Tsvangirai’s decision to get into bed with the despotic Mr Mugabe has been much criticised,not least in his own party. There has been talk of a power struggle between Messrs Tsvangirai and Biti,who has openly opposed the deal. He says it was forced through by the Southern African Development Community,a 15-country regional group he accuses of gross bias in Mr Mugabe’s favour.
Outsiders,including most of Zimbabwe’s would-be donors and investors in the West,are sceptical too. How can two such bitter enemies ever work effectively together? Many fear the MDC leader will end up being used as a scapegoat for the country’s continuing ills,leaving Mr Mugabe,who turns 85 on February 21st,in control of all the levers of real power. Ominously,the pact gives the president the right to fire his prime minister for incompetence. A 12-member committee,consisting of four people from each of the three parties,is meant to monitor compliance with the deal and resolve any disputes. But it may prove toothless.
Small wonder that big donors like Britain and America say they want to see how the new government performs before deciding whether to resume aid. But without outside money,even with Mr Biti and the MDC in control of the finance ministry,the new government has the most daunting of uphill tasks.
© The Economist Newspaper Limited 2009