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Can Zimbabwe agreement bring change?

Chamisa: "This is the best way to give the people a soft landing."

Zimbabwean opposition leader and Prime Minister designate Morgan Tsvangirai (L) is welcomed by party supporters at Harare International Airport on Jan. 28, 2009, upon arriving from a Southern African Development Community meeting in South Africa. Tsvangirai has said he agreed to form a unity government with President Robert Mugabe. (Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters)

The breakthrough agreement for opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai to enter into a power-sharing government with president Robert Mugabe has been welcomed as the first step to take Zimbabwe out of its current humanitarian disaster.

Tsvangirai announced Friday that he would be sworn in Feb. 11 as the prime minister of a new government in which Mugabe will remain president. The two rival leaders agreed that on Feb. 13 they will announce a cabinet that divides power between their two parties.

News of the deal comes as Zimbabwe's cholera outbreak has hit more than 60,000 people, killing more than 3,000, according to the World Health Organization. The outbreak has gone beyond the worst case scenario and is raging out of control, according to the WHO.

More than 7 million Zimbabweans need urgent food aid, according to the United Nations World Food Program, which said it has had to reduce its food rations because international donors have not given enough to adequately feed all of Zimbabwe's hungry.

Zimbabwe's economic tailspin has seen inflation go above 1 billion percent, according to independent economists. This week the Mugabe government took the drastic step of allowing the U.S. dollar and the South African rand to be used as legal tender, making the Zimbabwe currency even more worthless.

The only good news is the power-sharing agreement brokered by South Africa's interim president Kgalema Motlanthe and other leaders of the 15-nation Southern African Development Community, who met in a marathon 14-hour summit in Pretoria on Monday.

But many Zimbabweans are wary and suspicious of the deal, saying they do not trust Mugabe.

"Will this power-sharing deal make any difference? Will people stop dying of cholera? Will we have enough to eat? Will violence stop? These are the questions that people are asking," Idah Mandaza, a Harare resident, said in a telephone interview.

"People say we would be better off with Satan ruling our country than with Mugabe. We question if Mugabe will corrupt Tsvangirai the way he has others," said Mandaza, who added that she has family members who have been sick with cholera and her home has been without running water for weeks at a time.

The skepticism is strong even within Tsvangirai's party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

"This agreement puts us in a bad way. We are going to have to do a lot of work to re-establish our credibility, with our supporters and with the international community," said a top MDC official. "This agreement falls far short of what we demanded. It does not guarantee the immediate release of all our supporters who were abducted and continue to be held in terrible conditions."

According to the agreement, Mugabe controls the military and intelligence services that have kept him in power. Tsvangirai had demanded that he control the police, to offset Mugabe's power, but a compromise was worked out in which Tsvangirai will run the police for six months and then Mugabe will for six months. Many, even within Tsvangirai's party, say this is unworkable.

But MDC spokesman Nelson Chamisa told GlobalPost that Tsvangirai and other leaders of the party are convinced that the formation of a joint government is the only option they have to stop the suffering of Zimbabwe's people.

"Sure we have 'Doubting Thomases' but we are going to convince them with our leadership in the inclusive government," said Chamisa, a member of parliament. "This is the best way to give the people a soft landing out of the crisis. We are going to fight disease and hunger and inflation. We will build new bridges with the international community, not burn the bridges."

Tsvangirai is looking forward to cooperating with U.S. President Barack Obama, said Chamisa. "We will open new lines of communication. It is our desire to have good relations with the Obama administration," he said.

Chamisa said the new power-sharing government has an 18-month timeline to draw up a new constitution. "After that we will hold fully free and fair elections which will show the people's will," he said. "We are convinced this is the best way to lead our country back to democracy and prosperity."

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/zimbabwe/090130/can-zimbabwe-agreement-bring-change