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Zimbabwe's split personality

Contradictory leaders highlight country's dichotomy.

Zimbabwe's Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai addresses workers gathered at Gwanzura Stadium Highfield, Harare, to commemorate May Day. The event was organized by The Zimbabwe Congress Of Trade Union. (Philimon Bulawayo/Reuters)

HARARE, Zimbabwe — Zimbabwe's power-sharing government has marked its first 100 days in office, but few find anything to celebrate.

On Feb. 11, bitter rivals President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai joined the same government, which more than three months later presents a political version of a split personality in which one part of the government does one thing and the other does the opposite.

"This is a schizophrenic government — it takes one step in one direction and then it goes in the opposite way," said one Harare analyst, who did not want to be named for fear of retribution. "No sooner does Morgan Tsvangirai say one thing than Robert Mugabe contradicts him. This is at the top but this conflicting pattern is repeated at all levels of government."

Nothing more clearly illustrates the dichotomy in Zimbabwe’s political leadership than  statements emanating from the "government of national unity" over the past week.

Last week Tsvangirai held a press conference to announce a breakthrough in talks with Mugabe on the impasse between the two main parties, Mugabe's Zanu–PF and Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), as well as the smaller branch of the MDC headed by Arthur Mutambara.

The inertia of the government is illustrated by the fact that it took nearly four months of negotiations for the leaders to agree that they would share the appointments of provincial governors and senior diplomats. Mugabe also agreed that the MDC’s Roy Bennett would be sworn in to office as deputy minister of agriculture, something the president had strenuously refused to do for months. 

But even this new agreement left unresolved the crucial appointments of the head of the central bank and the attorney general. Both incumbents are highly partisan supporters of Mugabe who were appointed to office despite an agreement last September stipulating that all senior appointments in government should be agreed on among the three principals.

The bipolar nature of this coalition government was highlighted just a few days after Tsvangirai's announcement of the hard-won compromises when an unrecalcitrant Mugabe said he would not budge on the appointsment of the central bank director and the attorney general.

Faced with a continuing lack of cooperation, Tsvangirai appealed to the 15-nation regional body, the Southern African Development Community (SADC), to arbitrate in the dispute over the two outstanding posts.

The agreement, announced last week by Tsvangirai, revealed a further chasm between the two main parties. The state-run media declined to carry a single word of Tsvangirai's statement the next day, presumably because it reflected concessions made to the MDC. Only on Sunday did a sanitized version of the agreement appear in the state press.