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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."

The MDC was warned by friends, the United States in particular, at the time of last year's agreement that Mugabe would be a major obstacle to change. Tsvangirai and the MDC were well aware of the pitfalls but reluctantly signed because they could not afford to forfeit the support of their regional backers in the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

They are now stuck with an unsatisfactory agreement and a regional body that has neither the will nor the capacity to compel Mugabe to adhere to the terms agreed. The new chair of SADC, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) president Joseph Kabila, owes his personal safety to Zimbabwean security personnel stationed at his palace. Mugabe intervened to prop up his father's regime in 1998. Kabila is unlikely to tell Mugabe what to do.

"While former South African president Thabo Mbeki pursued a policy of 'quiet diplomacy' towards Harare," University of Zimbabwe analyst Eldred Masunungure, SADC leaders postponed discussion on Zimbabwe until a future date at their recent summit in Kinshasa, the DRC capital. It was indicative of their fear of Mugabe's wrath, observers said.

For months Tsvangirai has tried to make things work and even went to the United States and Europe to try and convince those donors to grant substantial aid to Zimbabwe. They refused, insisting that restoration of the rule of law and respect for basic democratic rights must come first. For the first time Tsvangirai voiced his growing frustration, speaking in Bulawayo at the 10th anniversary of the MDC's formation.

"I am not going to stand by while Zanu-PF (Mugabe's party) continue to violate the law, persecute our members of parliament, spread the language of hate, invade our productive farms … ignore our international treaties," said Tsvangirai to thousands of supporters in Bulawayo. "I am not going to stand by and let this happen."

Tsvangirai made clear his aggravation: "I have done my part to promote reconciliation in this country. Even after winning the election, I have compromised for the sake of Zimbabwe. But don't misjudge me. You misjudge me at your peril." He added: "We want partners that are sincere. We want partners who are going to commit themselves to good governance principles. We cannot have partners of looters."

Tsvangirai said that he would consult with member of his party on how it should proceed in the coalition with Mugabe's Zanu-PF. "We are coming to you. Is this government sustainable? It is you, the people, who shall give us direction," said Tsvangirai.

Until Tsvangirai can find a more robust plan for confronting Mugabe, 85, and his generals, he will continue to play second fiddle to him.

Some comfort can be found, however, in the leaked results of a university-linked survey recently which suggest that only 10 percent of Zimbabweans would vote for Mugabe in a democratic poll. Tsvangirai still enjoys widespread support. But he does not have the strategy or the means to deal with crafty Mugabe and his well-oiled political machine.