Leading article: Beware a despot bearing gifts of shared power

The Zimbabwe opposition should not be fooled by symbolism

Share
Related Topics

The negotiations over Zimbabwe's political future have entered a sensitive and treacherous new phase. Many expected a power-sharing deal to be announced at the beginning of the week. But the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), Morgan Tsvangirai, has called a halt to the negotiations, amid rumours of a split in the opposition. Arthur Mutambara, the leader of a breakaway faction of the MDC, has been accused of doing an unofficial deal with President Robert Mugabe, heaping the pressure on Mr Tsvangirai to sign up to the offer on the table.

Yet Mr Tsvangirai is right to resist this pressure. It is important to remember that the MDC leader enjoys more political legitimacy than Mr Mugabe in Zimbabwe. Mr Tsvangirai defeated Mr Mugabe in the first round of the presidential elections in March. And he would almost certainly have done so again in the June run-off had it not been for a vile campaign of violence against MDC supporters by Mr Mugabe's thugs, which forced Mr Tsvangirai to withdraw. The MDC also won the most seats in the parliamentary elections earlier this year. Mr Tsvangirai should not allow himself to be bounced into signing anything. Moreover, there is a grave danger lurking in any power-sharing agreement. In 1987, Mr Mugabe entered a coalition with his great rival, Joshua Nkomo. It did not take very long for Mr Mugabe to turn Mr Nkomo into a political irrelevance. The Zimbabwean President, doubtless, hopes to perform the same trick again.

The temporary confiscation yesterday of Mr Tsvangirai's passport by state officials as the MDC leader was on his way to the Southern African Development Committee's meeting in Johannesburg tomorrow is a clear sign that Mr Mugabe has not changed. He still regards the MDC as impudent upstarts, to be harassed and bullied at every available opportunity.

Reports from the talks suggest that the proposed deal would make Mr Mugabe "founding president" and Mr Tsvangirai prime minister. But the opposition should not be taken in by such cheap symbolism. The critical question is who would have control over the state's instruments of violence. If Mr Mugabe retains control over the military and the police, it would be a disaster for the people of Zimbabwe. He would continue to use that power base to terrorise opponents and subvert the democratic process. Of course, if Mr Tsvangirai gained control over the economy that would be no small prize, especially if European Union and United States aid is delivered. But the real key is executive power over the security services. The only deal that Mr Tsvangirai should accept is one that allows him to call fresh elections within a reasonable period and also enables the MDC leader to bring under control the country's military and police chiefs.

Can he realistically secure such a deal? Strengthening Mr Tsvangirai's hand is the fact that the international aid Zimbabwe's basket-case economy so badly needs will only be delivered if he is given real power; but weakening it is the fact that the South African President, Thabo Mbeki, is in charge of the mediation process. Mr Mbeki is fatally compromised by his historic ties with Mr Mugabe and his personal dislike for Mr Tsvangirai. This bias is emerging as the main obstacle to progress.

The African heads of state attending the SADC meeting tomorrow should call on the mediation committee to be widened to counterbalance Mr Mbeki's influence. If Zimbabwe is to emerge from its prolonged nightmare, what it needs more than anything is an honest broker.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

In Sickness and in Health: 'I'm really happy to be alive and to see Rebecca'

Rebecca Armstrong
Supporters in favour of same-sex marriage pose for a photograph as thousands gather in Dublin Castle  

The lessons we can learn from Ireland's gay marriage referendum

Stefano Hatfield
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?