In case you missed it, there has been a flurry of important political developments in Zimbabwe over the past week. It has been hard to ignore reports of the raging cholera epidemic (latest death toll: over 3,300) and the desperate economic crisis (which has been called a “death spiral,” and which the term hyperinflation does not do justice.)
Amidst the chaos, over four months after a power-sharing agreement was signed and after numerous fits, stalls, and re-starts in the talks, Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of Zimbabwe’s leading opposition group, the Movement for Democratic Change, or MDC, pulled an about face and signed a new agreement to join a “unity government” with President Mugabe. This was a surprising development considering that in early January Mugabe appeared ready to form a new government without the opposition, and on January 18, less than two weeks before Tsvangirai’s latest move, his party’s spokesman declared that the MDC “would not commit political suicide” by entering into a government with Mugabe without clear power-sharing mechanisms in place.
When news of the “unity government” broke at the end of last week, most observers weren’t holding their breath that the arrangement would last. Today, the agreement is already showing potentially fatal signs of distress, as Zimbabwe’s parliament delayed debate on a law that would reform the constitution to allow the creation of a unity government. Reports of a “fresh dispute” indicate that Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF part may be backtracking on the deal.
The international community’s role in the tumultuous and protracted negotiations over Zimbabwe’s future since the disastrous 2008 parliamentary elections has not been impressive. South Africa’s continued reticence to take a hard-line with Zimbabwe, coupled with the Southern African Development Community’s tacit support for Mugabe throughout the negotiations, has enabled Mugabe to maintain a shred of credibility in his dealings with the international community, a lingering status quo that is inexcusable.
The Obama administration has already come out swinging on the Zimbabwe crisis. When President Obama took the time to call South African President Kaglema Motlanthe in advance of the African Union summit last week, the conversation likely touched on Obama’s intent to take a tougher stance on Zimbabwe and how South Africa should play a role in this effort. Meanwhile, the State department announced that it won’t consider easing the targeted sanctions on Zimbabwe until they see “evidence of true power sharing as well as inclusive and effective governance.”
N.B: Samantha Power, as usual light years ahead of everyone else, wrote a fascinating Atlantic Monthly piece about Mugabe’s destructive policies way back in 2003 titled “How to Kill A Country.” Definitely worth a read as Power skillfully lays out exactly how Mugabe drove his country into the ground.