For the first time since Zimbabwe's independence from Britain 28 years ago, President Robert Mugabe has loosened his tyrannical grip on the government by agreeing to share substantial power with his bitter political opponent and personal enemy, Prime Minister-designate Morgan Tsvangirai. The accord, which will divvy up the Cabinet, ministries and security forces, doesn't bring about the regime change Zimbabwe needs, but it's a step in the right direction -- and given Mugabe's intransigence, it is probably the best that can be hoped for.
Under the deal, Mugabe stays president and keeps control of the military. He loses control of the parliament and the Cabinet. His government will oversee 15 ministries, and the opposition will head the remaining 16; still to be determined is which leader will control intelligence, police and other security services. That's a significant question because Mugabe has used the police to bully the populace and cow opponents.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday, September 18, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 39 words Type of Material: Correction
Zimbabwean leader: An article in Wednesday's section A about the power-sharing agreement in Zimbabwe incorrectly identified Morgan Tsvangirai as the nation's prime minister. He has been designated prime minister under the deal, but his appointment is not yet final.
Tsvangirai, who has been beaten, jailed and charged with treason, bested Mugabe in the March general election, winning 48% of the vote to the president's 43%. With a handshake Monday, however, Tsvangirai called for an end to hostilities, saying the welfare of the country takes precedence. That was in heavy contrast to the remarks from Mugabe, who turned to his usual script, brushing off the country's severe economic problems and blasting Britain and the United States for fueling the opposition movement against him. Never mind Zimbabwe's rampant unemployment and inflation or the near-starvation of its people.
The new deal effectively ends the debate over Mugabe's theft of the presidential election and shifts to the shaping of the new government. Only time will tell whether this power-sharing arrangement will lead to progress, or whether these longtime foes can put their contempt for each other aside. But any lessening of Mugabe's power is cause for hope.
Months ago, Mugabe said that only God would remove him from office. Many are still praying.