From The Guardian (UK)
Six months on from the agreement by Mugabe and Tsvangirai to swallow their differences, the country is at a crossroads.
Schools and hospitals returning to life. Food in the supermarkets and queues at the tills. Investors flying in and refugees coming home. Independent newspapers due for launch and international media broadcasting openly. Book fairs, poetry slams and jazz festivals drawing crowds. A president and prime minister laughing together as they call for national healing. This is Zimbabwe in August 2009.
Politically motivated beatings turning families against themselves. Villagers bartering chickens in the absence of a new currency. MPs, lawyers, journalists and students under arrest. Corruption rampant and another cholera outbreak predicted. A president rebuilding his tools of oppression and a prime minister said to be in danger of assassination. This, too, is Zimbabwe in August 2009.
Six months after Robert Mugabe and his arch-rival, Morgan Tsvangirai, publicly swallowed their enmity and tried to speak with one voice, southern Africa's problem country is still a contradictory and confusing place. "We are at a fork [in the road]," said Tendai Biti, Tsvangirai's most powerful lieutenant. "Going left could be going towards a new Zimbabwe. Going right could be doing a cul-de-sac and going back to square zero."
At the centre of the intrigue is the game of political chess between Mugabe and Tsvangirai, who describes it as "the only game in town" if Zimbabwe is to survive. The Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader believes there is no alternative to the power sharing agreement salvaged from last year's general election. Robbed of victory at the ballot box, Tsvangirai was sworn in as prime minister in February in a compromise that allowed Mugabe to extend his 29-year rule.
It has been trench warfare ever since between the MDC, which runs ministries such as education and health, and Mugabe's Zanu-PF, which still controls the army, police and judiciary. "It's purely a marriage of convenience," said one Harare residents' activist. "Don't expect any babies soon."
The results were summarised by a regional newspaper as the good, the bad and the ugly. Perversely, the unity government was blessed in inheriting a country at a nadir after eight years of degradation, meaning that almost anything it tried would represent improvement. Hyperinflation of 89.7 sextillion per cent had killed the Zimbabwean dollar, but the adoption of the US dollar and some prudent policies have since helped stabilise the economy, forecast to grow 3.7% this year.
An MDC official said that tax returns to the treasury had risen from $4m (£2.39m) a month in January to $60-70m now, still some way short of the $120m needed to run the country. Among foreign donors, Britain alone is providing $100m of targeted aid this year. Supermarket shelves that were once bare are stocked high again, though 94% unemployment means many people cannot afford to shop.
Some 2.8m pupils are back at school as teachers finally receive a monthly wage, albeit just $100-$165 to work in crumbling classrooms. Zimbabwe University came back to life last week after six months in darkness. Hospitals and clinics are functioning again, with doctors and nurses back at work.
But the revival comes with caveats. About 70% of the population does not have access to clean water and the cholera outbreak that killed more than 4,000 people is widely predicted to return with the rainy season towards the end of the year. The decay of agriculture appears to be slowing but farm invasions continue. Some villagers are forced to barter to survive because the US dollar is so rare.
The law of unintended consequences has brought another threat to Zimbabwe's streets. Residents of Harare speak of rising crime, particularly armed robberies and carjackings. They blame army deserters, who have training and weapons, or returning refugees who have "learned the tricks" from crime capitals such as Johannesburg. The malaise in the banking system – cash machines are defunct and credit cards useless – forces people to hoard US dollars in their homes.
Raymond Majongwe, general secretary of the Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe, said: "Every other day you hear of a robbery and a shoot-out. In South Africa, you can be sure that the victim has a gun and a lot will fire back. Here the victims are not psychologically prepared, so it is a walk in the park. We don't want to see the violence in South Africa going on in Zimbabwe. We must deal with it decisively once and for all."
A national "corruption pandemic" is also deepening, according to the watchdog Transparency International Zimbabwe. Mary-Jane Ncube, its executive director, said that bribery was widespread in the police and law courts, MPs of both sides were implicated in corrupt land deals, and payments intended for teachers and nurses were being rerouted via "ghost workers" to Zanu-PF militias. "There is no one who is not on the take. The unity government is making no difference."
Nor should the headline victories in the economy and public sector be mistaken for political reform. Last month, Mugabe and Tsvangirai presented a harmonious façade as they called for a South African-style process of national healing and reconciliation. Behind the scenes, however, the fight is ugly and, in the words of one activist, "Mugabe still holds the reins to the right horses".
Last year, an election year, there were 203 politically inspired murders, according to figures compiled for the MDC. The Zimbabwe Human Rights Forum gives the more conservative estimate of 107. In the first six months of this year, the MDC says, there have been 30 such deaths, most from injuries sustained last year. The forum puts this year's death toll at one.
And yet a steady flow of reports of assaults and intimidation continues. Zanu-PF strongholds assert that MDC supporters are not welcome and that the unity government is a Harare phenomenon they do not recognise. There are conflicts within families: Ebba Katiyo, an MDC activist, said she survived an axe attack by a Zanu-PF gang led by her own uncle.
Kennedy Mhuri, 39, a teacher, was accused of denouncing Mugabe to his pupils at a primary school in the town of Kwekwe in Midlands province. He said that the local Zanu-PF leadership planned to break down his door in the middle of the night and abduct him. He fled and has been on the run ever since.
"At first I panicked," he said. "I walked for 20km to avoid public transport so no one would see me. I am now dodging from city to city and constantly looking over my shoulder. I'm sure they won't stop until they get me. Then I don't know what they'd do. They'll torture me until I accept I actually did what they say I did. These people can do anything, including taking people's lives."
The leadership is not immune. Tendai Biti, the finance minister praised for choking off Zanu-PF's sources of funding, received a live bullet in the post and his gardener was beaten up outside his gate. Many Zimbabweans still find it hard to believe that the March car crash that hurt Tsvangirai and killed his wife was a mere accident, even though Tsvangirai himself has described it as such.
Media reform is also one step forward, one step back. The BBC and CNN have been allowed back into the country and there are slow moves to license two daily independent newspapers. But the state-owned Herald continues to pour bile on the MDC.
Eddie Cross, policy co-ordinator for the MDC, said: "We never thought this would be anything but a fight. We've certainly not been disappointed." He rejected the criticism, coming from the MDC's own ranks, that Tsvangirai has been seduced by office and is firmly under Mugabe's thumb. "This is an immensely strong man. The loss of his wife and grandson [also killed in an accident] hit him like a poleaxe but he's picked up the pieces. He has incredible resilience."
But it is 85-year-old Mugabe who has recently taken to reminding the population that he is still "head of state and government", "commander-in-chief of the Zimbabwe defence forces" and now "supreme leader" of Zanu-PF. The hope that he will go quietly appears wishful thinking. Raymond Majongwe said: "The most important thing Tsvangirai has realised is that Mugabe is part of the solution. Anyone who thinks that the problem can be resolved without Mugabe is a dreamer."
Some observers believe it is in the interests of both protagonists to delay the constitution making process, and therefore the next election, for as long as possible. Another divisive ballot could plunge the country back into anarchy and reverse the unity government's fragile gains.
"If you were to have an election in the near future, it would be the same disaster as last time," said one diplomat. "This is bigger than Mugabe now. Zanu-PF and the MDC have a common interest in rebuilding the economy. And there's a lot to be said for the view that there are worse figures than Mugabe in Zanu-PF."
Few would dare to predict a winner in the elaborate chess game between Zimbabwe's rival kings. For now, it seems, the best anyone can hope for is a stalemate.
Sunday, August 09, 2009
From The Guardian (UK)