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

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

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And unlike Kenya, Zimbabwe's leaders did not welcome international "interference." But Mugabe did accept the mediation efforts of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), a body that he created under the leadership of South African President Thabo Mbeki. Some within SADC accused Mr. Mbeki of favoring Mugabe, but the deal finally succeeded when the opposition's Morgan Tsvangirai accepted the position of executive prime minister. According to the Sept. 15 deal, Mugabe will remain president, while the two rival Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leaders, Mr. Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara, will be prime minister and deputy prime minister respectively.

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The Kenyan scenario – which has yet to produce a constitution – clearly shows the positive effects of international pressure and African support. But the Zimbabwe scenario shows how a strong leader can buck international opinion – at least for a while.

"Mugabe gave away less than [Kenya's president] Kibaki did," says Marian Tupy, an Africa expert at the Cato Institute in Washington. "In the end, Kibaki was not willing to see his country go to the pits to maintain his own executive power. In Zimbabwe, the leaders have not responded to American pressure for some time."

But observers say it will take more than international pressure to keep the countries on track for lasting reform.

Kenya's civil society organizations and human rights groups played a key role in holding their leadership accountable. A recent report by the Kenyan National Human Rights Commission, for instance, has named top politicians (many of them in the opposition) as having urged constituents to violence after the Kenyan elections, possible evidence of complicity in ethnic attacks.

Parliamentarians, too, have used their elected offices to hold their own party leaders accountable, particularly on issues of corruption.

But international pressure could prove complicated in Zimbabwe. Major donors such as the United States, Britain, and the European Union have said that aid would flow to Zimbabwe once Mugabe was out of power. His continuation as president complicates matters. Okumu worries that international players may prefer to work with one faction of the government – Tsvangirai's – to undermine the other.

"They might begin to see two parallel governments, and hope that one of them will eventually gain enough power to push the other out," says Okumu. "The danger to that is that Tsvangirai, if he is going to succeed, needs to have the experience of people who have governed before, and that's the ZANU-PF of Mugabe."

But even if it is flawed, Zimbabwe's power-sharing deal offers breathing space for the country to rebuild. If Tsvangirai's party takes control of the ministry of interior, or at least the police and parts of the ministry of justice, then the rule of law can be restored. If there is some check on Mugabe's cronies and their control of the economy, then business can start again.

"What the country needs now is a return to the rule of law," says Mr. Tupy. "Who knows what can happen in a year?"