February 3, 2009

Risky Business

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Over the past several years Zimbabwe has come dangerously close to becoming a failed state. Its economy is in ruin as the breadbasket of Africa has been transformed into a nation gripped by famine. In addition the country is experiencing hyperinflation that has been in the hundreds of thousands percent over the past year. On top of the economic crisis is a burgeoning health crisis brought on by the near-total collapse of all public services. What is most tragic of all is that these events are occurring in a country that until relatively recently was known as a model of development in a continent wracked by conflict and poverty. Exacerbating the economic crisis is a political one, with the fixing of elections, as well as the intimidation, arrest, and killing of opponents of the regime by Robert Mugabe and the ZANU-PF. There may be a spot of hope with the news this week that Mugabe will share power with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (the winner of the first round of the last elections) and its leader, Morgan Tsvangirai.

Mr. Tsvangirai will become Prime Minister under Robert Mugabe. Ideally, this government of national unity will be able to rein in the economic crisis and end the political terror that has on-and-off again gripped the country. Honestly, I am deeply skeptical. It seems to me that this is a coalition of uncomfortable necessity, based on the fact that neither ZANU-PF nor the MDC have the capability to defeat the other, so instead they are forced together. Unfortunately, Robert Mugabe seems to be the winner of this settlement, as he is co-opting his rivals while still retaining supreme power and control over the state security apparatus.

It seems unlikely that any group will be able to transform Zimbabwe’s situation quickly, and the prospect for deadlock in such a forced coalition makes it all the more unlikely that real progress will be made. In addition, the opposition may lose all credibility with Zimbabwe’s people. The MDC by participating in the government, will both be tacitly supporting Robert Mugabe, but will probably be tarred by any failures of the whole government. It will be impossible for them to be viewed as a real alternative to the ZANU-PF and Mugabe. So then although this move may be good for the stability of the country in the short-term, unless real progress can be made then the coalition will still lack credibility and Zimbabwe’s people will lack alternatives.