Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Harare Rivals in New Standoff

Dispute over ministerial posts threatens to sink power-sharing deal, just days after it was signed.
By Hativagone Mushonga
The euphoria of the early part of the week over the historic power-sharing agreement signed on Monday, September 15, by Zimbabwe’s three rival political leaders is rapidly dissipating with the news that the trio have deadlocked over cabinet positions.

While some political analysts remain optimistic that the standoff over cabinet posts will be resolved through compromise by next week others believe the dispute may prove to be a deathblow for the fragile agreement.

Zimbabwe’s sole ruler since independence in 1980, President Robert Mugabe, and leaders of the fractured Movement for Democratic Change, MDC, prime minister-designate Morgan Tsvangirai and deputy prime minister, MDC splinter-group leader Arthur Mutambara, met on September 18 to discuss how the posts would be shared. Mugabe’s ZANU-PF will have 15 posts in the 31-seat cabinet, Tsvangirai’s MDC will have 13 and Mutambara’s MDC three.

However, after an all day meeting, the leaders failed to agree, with Mugabe evidently laying claim to key posts, including finance, defence, home affairs, information, industry and foreign affairs.

Mugabe, who told a meeting of ZANU-PF on September 17 that the deal was “a humiliation”, was quoted in the state-run Herald newspaper as saying, “We are still in a dominant position which will enable us to gather more strength as we move into the future. We remain in the driving seat.”

Political analyst Ernest Mudzengi believes Mugabe will have to make compromises if he and his party are serious about power-sharing - if he refuses to do so, the deal will fall apart.

Up to now, said Mudzengi, the MDC has made most of the concessions. If the party were to give in over the contested cabinet positions, he said, “they will be left with egg on their faces and will not be able to convince their supporters of why they should remain in the deal”.

“I personally don’t see the agreement going anywhere if ZANU-PF does not make concessions,” he told IWPR.

Constitutional lawyer Lovemore Mudhuku, already pessimistic about the success of the deal, said the deadlock was an indication of the difficulties inherent in the process. These were particularly likely to emerge in relation to policy formulation. “Perhaps it was premature to sign the agreement without ironing out some of these points,” he said.

Mudzengi concurred, and also pointed out that the parties should have discussed and agreed on the cabinet posts before they signed the agreement. He accused ZANU-PF, which, according to sources close to the meeting is to blame for the deadlock, of self-interest. If ZANU-PF were wholehearted about the deal, he said, “it should have no problems with giving the MDC equal power”.

Commenting on Mugabe’s reluctance to offer the MDC key positions, such as home affairs and justice to his political rivals, a former cabinet minister, who preferred not to be named, suggested this could be attributed to the desire to use them as a bargaining chip to protect former ministers who might be linked to allegations of torture and other human rights abuses.

“He might be willing to trade if it is agreed that there will be no prosecutions. It is also about power and proving who has the power,” said the politician.

An African diplomat approached for comment said the hiccups in the process were expected but should be resolved by next week. It was naïve, he believed, to have expected every stage of the process to go smoothly.

But such pragmatism is of little comfort to the mass of Zimbabweans, whose very survival depends on their leaders forming a government which will be able to deal with the country’s desperate economic plight and gain the confidence of the international community to whom it will have to look for investment.

One of them, Josphat Garaba, a fruit vendor who lost his job in 2007 after the food processing company he worked for closed shop, is hoping that the promise held out by a change of regime will encourage investment, thereby creating new jobs for the 85 per cent of adult Zimbabweans who are unemployed.

“Things just have to work out. I don’t understand why Mugabe wants to hold on to ministries like finance, industry and commerce when his policies have failed. If he gets them then nothing will change and things will deteriorate even further. Such a move will push Zimbabweans to finally act. Taking away this hope that has been created is dangerous,” he said.

Hativagone Mushonga is the pseudonym of an IWPR journalist in Zimbabwe.

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