Can a regional summit break Zimbabwe's crisis deadlock?
Leaders from Southern Africa began emergency talks in Swaziland on Monday.
Johannesburg, South Africa
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In reality, the troubled nation's top leaders have been deadlocked over how to share ministries for several weeks, worsening an economy where fuel and food are scarce and inflation stands at 231 million percent.
Last week, the long-ruling party of President Robert Mugabe, ZANU-PF, allotted itself all the chief financial and military ministries and left its opponents less-important ministries such as sports, arts and culture, and constitutional and parliamentary affairs. Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has dismissed this as unacceptable and warned that the Sept. 15 power-sharing agreement is in jeopardy.
On Monday, regional leaders of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) kicked off an emergency summit in tiny Swaziland to get the two sides to agree on a joint cabinet and a fair allocation of ministries. Newly inaugurated South African President Kgalema Motlanthe – the current chair of SADC, who is seen as less sympathetic to Mr. Mugabe than former South African president and Zimbabwe mediator, Thabo Mbeki – is leading a delegation to the summit, prompting fresh hope that talks can be revived.
"That is the last hope, for SADC to insist on a proper sharing of power. If Mugabe gets the military, then Tsvangirai should get the police," says Raymond Louw, editor of the Southern Africa Report in Johannesburg. "What alternative is there for Tsvangirai? The only other thing is to give up, and then Mugabe takes all the power."
Zimbabwe's seven-month-long political crisis has been a test of patience for ordinary Zimbabweans, who voted nearly 2 to 1 in favor of Mr. Tsvangirai against Mugabe in the first round of elections held on March 29, but who now struggle to feed their families. Few regional leaders seem to know how to break the impasse – the neighboring country of Botswana urges deep sanctions against Mugabe, while regional mediator Mr. Mbeki calls for patient negotiation. But a continuation of the crisis puts an unbearable economic burden on the entire region. More than 4 million Zimbabwean refugees have fled to other countries, 3 million of them to South Africa alone.