x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Zimbabwe pact has much to prove

When Zimbabwe's power-sharing agreement was signed a year ago this week after months of negotiations the atmosphere was heady with optimism.

The Zimbabwean prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai and the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) greets supporters upon his arrival at the White City stadium in Bulawayo on September 13, 2009 to celebrate his  opposition party's 10th anniversary.
The Zimbabwean prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai and the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) greets supporters upon his arrival at the White City stadium in Bulawayo on September 13, 2009 to celebrate his opposition party's 10th anniversary.

JOHANNESBURG // When Zimbabwe's power-sharing agreement was signed a year ago this week after months of negotiations that had followed an election in which hundreds of opposition supporters were killed and thousands forced from their homes, the atmosphere was heady with optimism. Hundreds of people packed the grounds of the Rainbow Towers hotel in Harare for the ceremony, as Members of the Movement for Democratic Change were able for the first time to celebrate openly without fear of police brutality. Their leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, spoke about the future. Robert Mugabe, the octogenarian who has led the country since independence in 1980 and who was confirmed as president despite losing the first round - and after violence forced Mr Tsvangirai to withdraw from the runoff - focused on the past. Twelve months on, some things are radically different in Zimbabwe, and others remain unchanged. Most notably, the country's spectacular hyperinflation, which peaked at 79.6 billion per cent a month in November, is no more. However, according to Steve Hanke of the Cato Institute in Washington, this had less to do with economic prudence from the coalition than the fact that policies were no longer sustainable and de facto dollarisation took place, which the authorities were forced to acknowledge.Inflation is now low - sometimes in the negative - under the finance minister and MDC member Tendai Biti, and goods are reliably available in shops, instead of shoppers being confronted with rows of empty shelves. For ordinary Zimbabweans, prices remain high as a consequence of the move to the US dollar - all government employees are paid a fixed $100 (Dh367) a month, to the growing frustration of many trade unions allied to the MDC. The key difficulty the unity government faces is its own internal functioning - demonstrated by the fact that it took five months after the signing ceremony for it to be formed as the parties argued over the allocation of ministries. Even as pens were being put to the Global Political Agreement, as the document is known, sceptics expressed concerns that Mr Mugabe would seek to cling to power by marginalising the MDC from within government. One year on, the opposition is still complaining about alleged violations of the deal by Zanu-PF, while analysts say power is not being shared, but divided. The reserve bank governor, Gideon Gono, widely seen as responsible for the economic chaos, has been reappointed by Mr Mugabe, as has the attorney general, Johannes Tomana, an ally of the president, while opposition MPs and supporters remain liable to violent attacks. As MPs convicted of serious criminal offences automatically lose their seats in the legislature it appears Zanu-PF is trying to whittle away the MDC's parliamentary majority. Progress on a new constitution, which is required before fresh elections can be held, has stalled. No formal events were held to mark the anniversary - possibly a symbol in itself - but last weekend Mr Tsvangirai addressed tens of thousands of supporters at a rally to commemorate 10 years since his party was formed. "We have faced enormous challenges over the past decade," he told them. "We have stood up to, defied and denounced a political regime that was intent on impoverishing the entire nation to retain its brutal grip on power. The process of change that began in 1999 is irreversible." He admitted that coalition governments "require certain compromise on policy", but said the MDC would not compromise on principle. "For the past seven months we in the MDC have shown respect, conciliation and understanding to Zanu-PF and what have we got in return? Nothing. They continue to act with arrogance, forgetting that it was they who lost the March election. They continue to violate the law, persecute our people, spread the language of hate, invade productive farms, ignore our international treaties and continue to loot our national resources. "This must stop now. The Zimbabwe that so many millions of our people have struggled for, believed in and voted for has not yet been achieved." Mr Mugabe has described the coalition as a "situation we should and could have avoided". Last weekend, the first high-level EU mission in seven years went to Zimbabwe. Karel De Gucht, the bloc's development commissioner, said Mr Mugabe had a very "legalistic" view of the agreement, demanding it be observed to the letter, while Mr Tsvangirai had a more "ideological" stance, concentrating more on his end goals. "There's a government of national unity and he [Mugabe] is a part of that," said Gunilla Carlsson, a Swedish government minister who was part of the delegation. sberger@thenational.ae