Connect to share and comment

At last, some good news from Zimbabwe

Inflation falls, cholera slows but new power-sharing government must pass other tests.

Food is returning to store shelves in Zimbabwe and prices falling after years of rocketing inflation. Here a couple uses a calculator to add up their purchases. (Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters)

HARARE, Zimbabwe — At last, some good news from Zimbabwe. Inflation has plummeted and prices now appear stable. And the cholera epidemic has peaked, although it has already taken more than 4,000 lives and is expected to kill hundreds more before it is fully controlled.

The progress in taming inflation is a result of the government abandoning the Zimbabwe dollar and adopting the U.S. dollar and the South African rand. The fight against cholera has been led by international agencies, such as Doctors Without Borders, but has been helped in recent weeks by the return to work of many Zimbabwean medical personnel, who have been paid by the new government.

These developments are widely viewed as positive achievements for Zimbabwe’s landmark power-sharing agreement between President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), led by Morgan Tsvangirai.

The uneasy coalition must still pass a number of tests, however. 

On its surface, the agreement would appear to be holding up reasonably well, partly as a result of improved relations between the two principal players, Mugabe and Tsvangirai. But a closer inspection reveals several obstacles that are impeding progress towards solving Zimbabwe's pressing economic, political and humanitarian crises.

Mugabe’s prompt attendance, with his wife Grace, at Tsvangirai’s hospital bed March 6 — following a road accident that left Tsvangirai injured and his wife Susan dead — enhanced an increasingly cordial relationship that just six weeks earlier was palpably hostile. Grace, who during last year’s bitter election campaign denounced the opposition leader in vitriolic terms and swore that he would never occupy State House (the official presidential residence), reportedly sobbed uncontrollably at Tsvangirai’s bedside within two hours of the accident.

Mugabe and his wife subsequently attended a memorial service for Susan Tsvangirai, and the government assisted with the funeral arrangements. For his part, Tsvangirai made a public statement saying he believed the fatal car crash was, indeed, an accident, dampening rumors that Mugabe had engineered the incident.

Another barrier to improved relations was removed with the release of MDC treasurer Roy Bennett on March 12, which fulfilled a pledge Mugabe made to regional leaders in January that he would release all political prisoners.

In a sign of the times, prison officers asked Bennett for one thing when he was released — “Free Roy” T-shirts.

But Mugabe on March 25 refused to swear Bennett into office as deputy minister of agriculture, saying that the white former farmer faced serious charges of purchasing arms to disrupt the government. The charges are widely regarded as spurious. The same charges, pressed against Giles Mutsekwa, were thrown out of court for lack of evidence. Mutsekwa is now minister of home affairs, in charge of police. Yet Mugabe refuses to allow Bennett take up office.

This is more than just a fit of pique by Mugabe, it is evidence of a refusal to return Zimbabwe to the rule of law. As such, it is one of the many obstacles to Zimbabwe getting the kind of international economic aid that it needs to get this country back on its feet.