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Zimbabwe: Latest test of Africa's power-sharing model

Zimbabwe follows Kenya's path. Will international donors be as supportive?

By Scott BaldaufStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / September 18, 2008

Taking control: Morgan Tsvangirai, who was appointed as Zimbabwe's prime minister in a historic power-sharing deal, is tasked with restoring the rule of law.

Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/Ap


Johannesburg, South Africa

The power-sharing deal signed in Zimbabwe this week may seem nearly unworkable in a continent of one-party states and autocratic rulers. Within the week, talks to determine who will fill which cabinet ministry seat were broken off indefinitely, a sign that there is still much contention between the two sides. But Zimbabwe's coalition partners have a model to follow in Kenya, where a similar power-sharing arrangement was hammered out earlier this year.

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"Kenya showed how African partnership can work," says Wafula Okumu, a senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies in Tshwane (as Pretoria is now called), who has studied the Kenyan power-sharing government. "In Kenya, the continued presence and pressure of the international community was important. The international community, and particularly the African Union, invested heavily in Kenya to make sure that everything would work. They couldn't let it fail."

The same kind of sustained international pressure will be required to make Zimbabwe's power-sharing agreement work, Mr. Okumu says. But how much will the richer donor nations of the world be prepared to give Zimbabwe, when its government continues to have President Robert Mugabe as president?

On the surface, the two power-sharing deals in Kenya and Zimbabwe have much in common. Both countries had elections that ended in violent stalemates. Both came up with deals that created two centers of power. Both new governments were tasked with writing a new constitution in order to prevent such conflicts in the future. Yet the differences between Kenya and Zimbabwe – both their histories and their current power-sharing deals – are significant.

The Dec. 27, 2007, election in Kenya, between President Mwai Kibaki's Party of National Unity and Raila Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement, was one between politicians who had both worked as opposition leaders against the hated dictatorship of President Daniel Arap Moi. In 2002, Mr. Odinga actually worked for Mr. Kibaki's successful election campaign.

Kenya's police and paramilitary forces were called out to maintain the peace when ethnic violence broke out between Odinga's supporters and ethnic groups perceived to be Kibaki's supporters. The weakness and inability of both parties to control the violence at home – with a death toll that reached more than 1,000 – pushed them to welcome international mediation, led by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

In Zimbabwe, however, the March presidential and parliamentary elections occurred in an environment of intimidation and state violence. The violence was one-sided, with police and pro-Mugabe militias – fostered by nearly 28 years of Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF rule – attacking and killing opposition activists. Unlike in Kenya, these rivals have not worked together.