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The unity government's 100 days in the doldrums

A Zimbabwe asylum seeker queues outside the offices of ther Musina home affairs offices
(Guy Oliver/IRIN)

The first hundred days of Zimbabwe's unity government were given the seal of approval by the Southern African Development Community (SADC), which dismissed any notion that the fledgling government was facing difficulties - a view not shared by Western donors. 

SADC executive secretary Thomaz Salomao told IRIN the regional bloc was pleased by the strides achieved, and that "Any deadlock is yet to be communicated to us formally, but we are happy with what they [unity government] have achieved so far."

The unity government emerged from the violent 2008 elections, when the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) won the majority of votes in both presidential and parliamentary elections. According to analysts, the deal brokered by SADC relegated the victors to junior partners, while ZANU-PF, the former ruling party led by President Robert Mugabe, retained a wealth of power.

After months of bickering, the Global Political Agreement creating the unity government was signed on 15 September 2008, and MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai was installed as prime minister on 11 February. On 21 May he appealed for intervention by SADC, claiming that Mugabe was failing to respect the deal.

Tsvangirai told a media briefing that agreement had been reached on the issue of Mugabe's unilateral appointment of ambassadors and permanent secretaries, but a dispute over the reappointment of Gideon Gono as central bank governor on 26 November 2008, and Johannes Tomana as attorney-general on 17 December 2008, would be referred to SADC.

"There is a deadlock on the status of the two individuals in question ... [the MDC] will now refer this matter to SADC," Tsvangirai said.

The continued arrest of MDC and human right activists, and the ongoing disruption of commercial farms by ZANU-PF supporters - all contrary to the agreement - have also ensured that political temperatures remain high.

''It's a standstill government; it's limping heavily because the involved partners are pulling in the opposite directions ... there is little this unity government can claim credit for''

Mugabe's 2000 fast-track land reform programme, in which white-owned farms were redistributed to blacks, has been widely blamed for once prosperous Zimbabwe's precipitous economic and agricultural collapse: more than half the population relies on food aid, hyperinflation has driven the local currency into extinction, and unemployment is at 94 percent.

Political analyst John Makumbe, of the University of Zimbabwe, told IRIN that while the MDC had shown commitment to unity government, retrogressive elements in ZANU-PF, beyond the control of Mugabe, were frustrating the process.

"It's a standstill government; it's limping heavily because the involved partners are pulling in the opposite directions ... there is little this unity government can claim credit for," he said.

Unity government failing

"Rights abuses are still rampant and democracy remains a mirage. Reconstruction is essential, but it cannot be achieved if President Mugabe and his comrades continue to violate the unity accord and refuse to compromise on issues that the SADC, as the guarantor of the global political agreement, said should be negotiated further and mutually resolved. Referring back these issues to SADC shows that the unity government is flawed and defective," Makumbe said.

Only the absence of an alternative prevented the collapse of the unity government, but Zimbabwe would lose a lot if it did, "so I think it will be propped up, it will be cranked and pushed until it gets started and starts running," he said.

Western donors, particularly Britain and America, remain unconvinced that the necessary reforms have been achieved and they should release a billion-dollar rescue package.

Mugabe remains a stumbling block

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told American media that it would be in "the best interests of everyone" if Mugabe stepped down. "We're encouraged by the new unity government that has been created. We are not yet ready to change our policy, but it is under review."

The US and European Union have refused to lift targeted sanctions, including banning travel and freezing assets, imposed on Mugabe and members of the ZANU-PF ruling elite.

is the time when we should be talking job creation and reconstruction,
but unfortunately we are still negotiating power sharing

"There are fundamental inequalities that need to be addressed to put Zimbabwe back on the path of democracy and recovery," Nicole Fritz, director of the South African Litigation Centre, told IRIN. "There hasn't been any significant shift in power dynamics, and that's not good for a country that desperately needs assistance from countries that insist on human rights and equity in power sharing."

Nelson Chamisa, MDC spokesman and Minister of Information Communication Technology, said: "This is the time when we should be talking job creation and reconstruction, but unfortunately we are still negotiating power sharing. We now need an umpire to adjudicate, so that we can move forward, and that is why we have called in SADC and the AU [African Union]. There is a lot of work waiting for us."

Jameson Timba, deputy minister of media, information and publicity, said the unity government had saved Zimbabwe. "Before we joined the administration there was no food in supermarkets, but now there is. The new inclusive government has managed to get more than US$1 billion worth of credit lines in the first 100 days," he told IRIN.

"The new government has managed to pay civil servants an allowance, and managed to negotiate with teachers to return to work. What is important is ... that the new government has created hope for the people of Zimbabwe."


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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