Basildon Peta: Call this progress? Not if you care about Zimbabwe

I am desperately homesick after six years of exile from Zimbabwe. Yet yesterday's power-sharing deal between Robert Mugabe, Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara has not brought me any relief that I can re-enter a new democratic country in which the rights of citizens are respected.

I am not alone in posting this pessimistic view. There will definitely be no stampede of the millions of Zimbabweans in foreign lands going back to Mugabeland any time soon if my interviews with many of them are anything to go by.

For the avoidance of any doubt, I really want the deal to work, for the benefit of the long-suffering people of Zimbabwe. I just don't see how it will. What Zimbabwe desperately needs is a complete re-birth. A complete break with Mr Mugabe's political and economic insanity. This required a settlement in which he is not involved. But he remains in the driving seat.

You cannot teach an old dog new tricks. At 85, Mr Mugabe has not suddenly transmogrified from a murderous tyrant into a true democrat who will respect and care for his subjects.

His long, incoherent and rambling acceptance speech yesterday confirmed my worst fears. There was nothing in it to exemplify any vision for the reconstruction of his embattled country. Messrs Tsvangirai and Mutambara were more compelling about their vision for Zimbabwe.

Mr Mugabe remained stuck in his favourite, but hugely irrelevant, subjects: colonialism, blaming Britain for everything wrong in Zimbabwe and eulogising the 1970s liberation struggle. Not a word about how to move Zimbabwe forward from the dark dungeon into which he has plunged the country.

Mr Mugabe is still not taking responsibility for Zimbabwe's demise, despite that owning up to one's mistakes should precede any viable corrective action. In Mr Mugabe's own words, the power-sharing deal can only last as long as all the parties uphold certain "salient principles" that he holds dear. These are the non-reversibility of his land seizures, "empowerment" policies, upholding Zimbabwe's sovereignty, etc. And therein lies the problem.

How will Mr Tsvangirai revive Zimbabwe's agro-based economy without reversing Mr Mugabe's destructive land reforms and taking land back from incompetent cronies and redistributing it among Zimbabweans who can actually farm, both black and white.

How will Mr Tsvangirai persuade investors to come, without entirely repealing unsustainable empowerment laws which prescribe majority shareholding by black Zimbabweans in all firms? How will Mr Tsvangirai endeavour to accommodate international donor prescriptions for aid without being accused of compromising on national sovereignty?

Until yesterday, the power-sharing agreement itself was a status symbol. You could not access a copy unless you were Messrs Tsvangirai, Mbeki, Mugabe or Mutambara, or one of their few close associates involved in the negotiations. The outcome of the talks is hardly based on the will of the people. It is not dependant on the masses, but on the extent to which the elites who packaged the agreement are willing to cohabit with each other – a potential recipe for disaster.

There is something nauseating, if not tragic, about African politics. It happened in Kenya. Now in Zimbabwe. A bad precedent is being entrenched. After losing elections, incumbent dictators bludgeon their opponents and find their way to the negotiating tables and thereafter cling to power.

Even after withholding results for over a month, Mugabe was confirmed as the loser of presidential and parliamentary elections on 29 March. He then rigged his way into a bloody run-off which he contested against himself.

As Kofi Annan has noted, the Africa Union should have refused to give Mugabe a seat at its summits and only recognised the 29 March outcome. But that did not happen. Even if this deal somehow does work and brings relief to Zimbabweans, it has entrenched a disturbing trend in Africa where ballot-based regime change is being trashed.

Then there are the the nitty-gritty issues of the deal itself. Even though Mr Tsvangirai has won some power, there is no doubt that Mr Mugabe remains in the driving seat, with substantial power as head of state and cabinet.

You have to believe in miracles to be confident that Mr Mugabe will leave adequate room for Mr Tsvangirai to manoeuvre, and that their different philosophies will combine into any kind of common, prosperous vision for Zimbabwe. Let's wait and see. I am not holding my breath.

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