It's been nearly five months since a power sharing deal was signed between the Zimbabwe ruling party and the opposition in September, but until now none of it has been carried through. On Friday the opposition agreed to join a unity government with Robert Mugabe's ruling ZANUPF party -- this is looking positive again -- the big question however is; will the deal be carried out this time?
Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) on Friday announced that it will join Robert Mugabe's ruling Zanu-PF party in a unity government in an attempt to force the regime to release its members from jail aware of the suffering the people of Zimbabwe are confronting.
This joint government does not mean that the party's struggles with the opposition are over. They are rather far from over according to the party leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who also wants to see political detainees released and also he wants some of the appointments reversed.
Under the power-sharing arrangement, Mugabe, who turns 85 next month and who has ruled Zimbabwe for 28 of those years, will remain President. Tsvangirai, who won more votes than Mugabe in a presidential election last March, will take the new post of Prime Minister by Feb. 11, presiding over a government comprising an equal number of ministers from the MDC and Zanu-PF.
Control of the of the Home Affairs Ministry -- which controls the police force that has, until now, been deployed on behalf of the ruling party against the opposition -- will be shared between the two parties, after which all ministerial appointments will be reviewed.
The MDC will be placed in a strong position with its equal standing in the cabinet and its majority in parliament and most local authorities -- on paper, at least. But until now, such formalities have meant little in the face of the muscle wielded by the ruling party. Mugabe's security forces massacred thousands of supporters of a rival liberation party in the mid-1980s. After the MDC won the general election in March, the security forces unleashed another wave of violence against the opposition, in which nearly 200 people were killed.
That repression forced Tsvangirai's withdrawal and allowed Mugabe to win a second round presidential run-off unopposed. For reasons he never explained, at his inauguration Mugabe unexpectedly reversed course, announcing he was prepared to share power with the MDC. Although South African mediation efforts managed to secure agreement over forming a unity government, the process quickly stalled when it came to allocating cabinet positions, with the ruling party reluctant to cede significant control. Friday's announcement by the MDC may have opened the way to ending the stalemate -- if Mugabe respects the deal.
Whether or not the arrangement secured by the MDC results in a genuine sharing of power, the opposition knows that a national unity government is the key to rescuing Zimbabwe from a slow-moving catastrophe. As the politicians have battled over power, Zimbabweans have been suffering under the burden of poverty, hunger and disease, amid 80% unemployment. After years of hyper-inflation, Zimbabwe on Thursday finally abandoned its own currency in favor of the U.S. dollar and other neighboring currencies. Millions of Zimbabweans have fled the country in search of a better life elsewhere.
The World Food Program warns that around 7 million Zimbabweans are in need of food aid. Even more urgent is a cholera epidemic, spawned by the collapse of the water, sewage and public health systems in the capital, which the U.N. says has infected 60,000 people, and has killed more than 3,000.
A genuine political power-sharing agreement has become the vital first step to reversing the country's catastrophic decline, because international donors and investors are unwilling to help a Mugabe regime clinging to power against the will of its electorate.
Zimbabweans are hoping the new agreement will bring the relief workers, aid and investment from abroad needed to revive a nation that, until a decade ago, had been deemed a developing world success story by measure of its economy and health and education services.
For the meantime, Zimbabwe needs to deal with the reality of the situation.