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Innocent Madawo

How Robert Mugabe laid his trap Add to ...

The decade-long political crisis in Zimbabwe reached a desired turning point on July 21 when President Robert Mugabe signed a "memorandum of understanding" with bitter rival Morgan Tsvangirai.

The resultant power-sharing negotiations are the home stretch of a gruelling political process that has left hundreds dead, thousands maimed, millions exiled and turned a once-vibrant economy into any economics student's worst nightmare.

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But the opposition will not achieve its ultimate goal - ridding the country of Mr. Mugabe and his cronies once and for all.

The talks, being facilitated by South African President Thabo Mbeki, are reportedly coming up with a hybrid regime - a combination of a government of national unity and a transitional authority. However, the consequences are not good, because it will mean that Mr. Mugabe and Mr. Tsvangirai will have to work together.

The opposition Movement for Democratic Change might avoid the fate of the now-defunct Zapu party of the late Joshua Nkomo - which folded into the ruling ZANU-PF party under the 1987 Unity Accord - but it will, nevertheless, be forced into becoming a partner with no independent power to control anything.

When Zapu joined Mr. Mugabe's government 20 years ago, Mr. Nkomo and his officials were forced by the letter and spirit of the unity accord to defend the actions of the government before they joined it - that included the killing of more than 20,000 people during the infamous Gukurahundi era, when a brutal army brigade was unleashed to suppress an insurgency by former freedom fighters aligned to Zapu.

The MDC could have avoided the trap.

After the March 29 election, Mr. Tsvangirai and his MDC had Mr. Mugabe and ZANU-PF beaten in the first round of voting, but through a series of amateurish blunders, the opposition failed to rally the electorate for the kill.

For a few days, Mr. Tsvangirai got on his high horse and demanded that Mr. Mugabe crawl to him and hand over power. He disregarded the fact that Mr. Mugabe's power was underwritten by the security forces and war veterans. While Mr. Tsvangirai was posturing, these forces took the initiative to undermine his victory.

Mr. Tsvangirai then went into a brief, unforced exile where he flip-flopped on whether to participate in a presidential election runoff. He only came back when his safety was guaranteed by U.S. Ambassador James McGhee, in effect making himself a Western "lackey."

By then his supporters were being killed, tortured and displaced by army-led violence, and at funerals, disillusioned MDC members sang, "Tsvangirai, where are you when we are being killed?"

Mr. Tsvangirai tried to campaign, but the army and ZANU-PF militia sensed he could be pushed off the track and they harassed him until he quit and fled into the Dutch embassy.

It was checkmate for Mr. Mugabe, who went ahead with a second poll even after Mr. Tsvangirai withdrew from the runoff. All of this had echoes of the Nkomo scenario - a national crisis, a violent ruling party and a president who would not yield to anyone or anything, combining to bring back the legitimacy Mr. Mugabe had lost.

Zimbabweans are now weary of the political bickering. They are ready for any government (even with Mr. Mugabe at the helm) as long as the decimated economy is fixed and normal life returns.

Mr. Tsvangirai seems to have accepted his fate already. Whereas a few months ago he described Mr. Mugabe as "inhuman" and talked of handing him over for prosecution, he now says Mr. Mugabe is "as human as us all" and wants the outcome of the negotiations to allow an "honourable exit" for his nemesis.

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