Connect to share and comment

Zimbabwe: Deal or no deal?

Confusion and acrimony were the result of the summit on Zimbabwe held in Pretoria, South Africa. The leaders of the 15-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) tried to hammer out a power-sharing deal between President Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

After a 14-hour meeting, South African president Kgaleme Motlanthe emerged at dawn Tuesday and announced that an agreement had been reached in which Mugabe would remain as president and Tsvangirai would be sworn in as prime minister on Feb. 11, once parliament passes a constitutional amendment to create the post.

But Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) quickly — and hotly — denied that the deal had been sealed. The agreement falls "far short of our expectations" said the MDC in a statement received by GlobalPost.

Tsvangirai and the rest of the MDC's leadership will meet over the weekend to decide what to do next.

Even though the summit was behind closed doors, it is clear that South Africa and other regional leaders put heavy pressure on Tsvangirai to accept the deal. But they did not address the MDC's stated demands that Mugabe and Tsvangirai would equitably share cabinet posts and that the dozens of MDC members and civic leaders who have been abducted in recent months should be immediately released without charges.

The fact that those much-publicized demands were not addressed leads many observers in Harare to believe that the MDC will reject the SADC offer.

A spokesman for Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF party made it clear that no concessions are being contemplated by the 84-year-old dictator.

"The dialogue about a unity government has been closed," said Bright Matonga, deputy minister of information. "We will not be taking any more of their demands. They have been shifting goal posts for months." He reiterated Mugabe's threat that he will go ahead and form a new government, with or without Tsvangirai and the MDC.

Zimbabwe has been drifting without a government for nearly a year — since the elections last March, in which Tsvangirai won the most presidential votes and the MDC won a parliamentary majority. Just to remind you, Tsvangirai was forced into a runoff because he narrowly missed getting an outright majority. He pulled out of the second round citing widespread state violence which he said killed 180 of his supporters. Mugabe claimed victory unopposed and got himself sworn into another term, but he has not yet formed a new government.

That means Zimbabwe has gone for more than a year without a budget. Not that a budget can help much when inflation is in the billions and the government cannot print currency fast enough. It has just issued a Zimbabwe 100 trillion dollar note. It is best used as a curiosity. Virtually all goods sell for U.S. dollars or South African rands. 

That leaves Zimbabwe mired in misery. The latest cholera figures, released Monday, show that deaths have climbed above 2,900 and total infections have spread to 56,000. Most telling is Zimbabwe's death rate, which is more than 1 out of 20 infected, whereas with most large outbreaks the death rate is less than 1 in 100 infections. That speaks volumes of how low the current government has allowed Zimbabwe's water and sanitation services to sink. (For an analysis of why Zimbabwe is suffering the cholera outbreak click here.)

The main hope is that the new Obama administration will bring fresh energy to the Zimbabwe situation in international diplomacy. Some have suggested Susan Rice, the new U.S. ambassador to the U.N., will press for increased international sanctions. But other African specialists urge the Obama administration to go further and get the U.N. Security Council to authorize an investigation of Mugabe for crimes against humanity