There is a perfect humanitarian storm in my country. The threats of AIDS, poverty, hyperinflation and malnutrition, and now cholera, combined with a regime that has given up on its people, add up to an all-but-untenable state of affairs. It is difficult to know where to turn, but it is clear that under such a barrage, a haven must be found. At the moment, that haven -- perhaps the only port in this storm -- is the transitional agreement inked in September by President Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.
It is hard to see daylight at times and all too easy to be discouraged by worldviews on the September deal that left Mugabe in power. The Bush administration has withdrawn its support and is calling for alternatives. Others recognize that the agreement is flawed and full of political termites. But focusing on the negatives distracts from the positives.
In essence, the agreement was to establish a transitional government under the shared leadership of all three major parties. Mugabe has chosen to ignore the spirit of the agreement and to continue his utterly dysfunctional and brutal rule.
Moreover, the potential fault lines are many. The powers bestowed upon the prime minister -- designated as Tsvangirai's transitional position -- are weak; transitional cabinet consensus looks dodgy at best and is probably impossible on touchy issues; the deal is not well supported internationally; and Mugabe's thugs are slated to retain all the significant "coercive" ministries despite having lost the March elections.
Despite these issues, the situation in Zimbabwe suggests that this imperfect setup may be the only option. The population is decimated and exhausted and desperately needs leadership. This country is not like those where internal pressures have forced the removal of despots; it is not a tinder box as such. And the porous borders with Botswana and South Africa have enabled Zimbabwe's best, brightest and most politicized young citizens to flee. Those who remain are hardly able to mobilize politically and shouldn't be expected to.
Waiting and hoping that Mugabe's own disingenuousness will bring down his regime is risky. Mugabe's removal in such a scenario may embolden militants and cronies who, seeing their privileges challenged, could try to seize control in a post-Mugabe vacuum. It is hard to imagine a scenario worse than the present, but that could indeed be a more terrible outcome.
There is no viable option but for the international community to press for full implementation of the September agreement and for my party, the Movement for Democratic Change, to join it. In doing so, the MDC must view the upsides:
First, the prime minister would have significant de facto power. The international development assistance and investment that are massing at our borders in anticipation of Mugabe's removal would flood into the country. The September arrangement envisages the MDC in control of the Finance Ministry.
Second, while Mugabe does hold the security departments, those that affect most Zimbabweans more directly will be controlled by the MDC (including the faction led by Arthur Mutambara). Education and health care, which account for two-thirds of the budget, would give the MDC a huge impact on the daily lives of Zimbabweans and a central role in the regrowth of the country's social infrastructure.
Third, the transitional arrangement is a step toward a more liberal and democratic political culture. Written into the agreement is a process leading to a new constitution within 18 months. This is firmly backed by major regional bodies such as the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union.
Mugabe will turn 85 in February. As much as his rule is a daily threat to the people of Zimbabwe, it is also a threat to its own future viability. His patronage system survives because no alternatives exist. It will begin to crumble under the strains of dealing with the transitional government.
A transitional government in Zimbabwe could take advantage of the positives embedded in the September agreement. While the pro-democracy factions in our government must be committed to supporting the deal, so must the international community. Without the backing and moral favor of the world's leading governments, government bodies and investors, the transitional government may well struggle.
Central to these supporters are the major African institutions, most important the SADC. It has pledged to underwrite the agreement and must be fully engaged with the process. A permanent SADC office and senior envoy should be established in Harare to ensure compliance with the letter and spirit of the agreement.
There is a way out of the crisis in Zimbabwe. Yes, the proposed transitional government has warts and blemishes, but this is not a beauty contest. It is time to move forward. This is the only viable, non-violent option.
David Coltart is a senator and member of Zimbabwe's Movement for Democratic Change.