How team of rivals could still save Zimbabwe
Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai agreed last Friday to form a power-sharing government with longtime President Robert Mugabe.
JOHANNESBURG, South africa; AND HARARE, zimbabwe
If old habits are hard to break, how will Zimbabwe's two warring parties – one led by opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, the other by longtime President Robert Mugabe – work together in a coalition government, as Mr. Tsvangirai agreed to do last Friday?Skip to next paragraph
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The good news is that after nearly a year of political stalemate and economic collapse, these enemies may have no choice. Mr. Mugabe's long rule has left the country bankrupt, hungry, disease-ridden, and in desperate need of foreign aid. Tsvangirai may not have troops, but he has things Mugabe desperately needs: access to foreign donors and expertise that can make Zimbabwe function again.
It may not be a match made in heaven, but Tsvangirai – the presumed junior partner in a coalition government – can still make a difference in setting priorities – ending the cholera epidemic, fixing basic systems of water and sanitation, and rebuilding the economy – that would give him political leverage in the long term.
"They will work together because of circumstance and not because they want to," says Simon Badza, a University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer. "There is too much pressure on the two parties, locally from the starving masses and fromthe region who want a resolution of the Zimbabwean crisis."
Where does a new government begin to rebuild a country as neglected and self-destroyed as Zimbabwe? Tsvangirai's best chance at political survival may be in making a few decisions that immediately affect the lives of Zimbabweans. Once regional leaders, especially South African President Kgalema Motlanthe, realize Tsvangirai can deliver on his promises, they might begin to take him at least as seriously as they do Zimbabwe's combative and elderly head of state, Mugabe.
"The leverage that Tsvangirai has is his access to international resources," says Adam Habib, deputy vice chancellor of the University of Johannesburg. While few foreign donors would give aid to a regime as repressive as Mugabe's, many are lining up to give funds to a government led by Tsvangirai, with a parliament controlled by his party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
"If he uses that access to capital in a way that begins to address the national crises, you start to shift the ground underneath Mugabe. Regional leaders look at Tsvangirai again and say, 'This guy is working.' And you begin to isolate Mugabe from his base," Mr. Habib continues.
One priority that could be dealt with quickly is the spreading epidemic of cholera. Years of neglect, and a cash crunch that made water purification chemicals too expensive, have made Zimbabwe's public water supply too dangerous to drink. Tsvangirai could hire engineers from South Africa, Europe, and beyond to sort out the problem in very little time.