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

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

Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/Ap
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.

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.

"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.

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.

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?"

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