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Zimbabwe: Has anything changed in one year?

Opinion: Mugabe still runs the show and Zimbabwe is like "an open air prison."

Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, addresses supporters at a rally in Bulawayo on Sept. 13, 2009. Tsvangirai voiced his frustration with the power-sharing government at the rally to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the founding of his party. (Emmanuel Chitate/Reuters)

HARARE, Zimbabwe — It is one year since President Robert Mugabe agreed to a power-sharing deal with his main election challenger, Morgan Tsvangirai, of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

Tsvangirai is now prime minister, members of his party are in parliament and cabinet. But many Zimbabweans are asking what benefits have emerged from the power-sharing government? Mugabe maintains an iron grip on the police, army and judiciary. MDC lawmakers and officials are routinely arrested on trumped up charges while institutional reforms, most notably freeing up the media, have been blocked.

"It is like living in a large open-air prison," one newspaper columnist said this week following the visit of a European Union delegation.

The visit enabled Mugabe to once again denounce sanctions and portray the dispute with the EU as a bilateral problem with an obdurate incumbent at Number 10 Downing Street.

But the EU MPs were careful to describe their visit as "exploratory." They stressed the need, as South African President Jacob Zuma did in August, to fulfill all aspects of the pact that would allow real power to be shared. The EU would only fully engage with Zimbabwe once the power-sharing agreement is fully implemented, which was "currently not the case," said the delegation's chief, Karel De Gucht.

Mugabe claims he has done that. But virtually all objective observers agree that huge holes in the agreement remain. Provincial governors from the MDC have yet to be appointed, although individuals have been named. MDC diplomats are being trained but not sent anywhere. A glaring example of Mugabe refusing fair treatment of the MDC is the case of Roy Bennett. Mugabe has dragged his heels in appointing Bennett, the MDC treasurer, as deputy minister of agriculture on the grounds that he faces what the president calls "serious charges." In fact identical charges against the current minister of home affairs were dismissed by a court three years ago and in Bennett's case the chief prosecution witness has refused to testify. Trumped-up they may seem, but the charges against Bennett are being used to prevent him from assuming office.

The most emblematic of the impasse in government is Mugabe's refusal to remove Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono and Attorney General Johannes Tomana who were appointed in blatant violation of the agreement's requirement that all senior posts first be approved by the three principals to the power-sharing deal.

That includes professor Arthur Mutambara as well as Mugabe and prime minister Tsvangirai. Mutambara, who is deputy prime minister, has infuriated the president's supporters by arguing Zimbabwe cannot rebrand itself for investment purposes so long as arbitrary arrests and other facets of misrule persist.