Freelance Zimbabwean journalist based in Toronto
After almost a year of dithering like a reluctant bride, Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai finally relented to pressure from African leaders to consummate his forced marriage with President Robert Mugabe last week.
Like most arranged marriages, Zimbabwe's government of national unity between Mr. Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change and Mr. Mugabe's ZANU-PF party had a bumpy start and is doomed to end quickly and in heartbreak.
True to his character, Mr. Mugabe did not waste time to inflate his allocation of cabinet ministers, arrest an opposition cabinet nominee and refuse to release opposition officials from unlawful detention. It was a baptism of fire, Mugabe-style - and a warning to Mr. Tsvangirai that, although he may have been allowed into the inner sanctum, he will suffer the consequences if he doesn't play along.
Mr. Tsvangirai and his officials have tried to convince the world that the coalition government will work. But why is there no stampede by returning refugees at Zimbabwe's border points with South Africa, Botswana, Zambia and Mozambique? Why are there no spontaneous celebrations in Harare or Mutare?
The answer is simple. Zimbabweans wanted a non-partisan or neutral transitional authority, not a unity government. Common sense based on history would've been enough to dissuade the MDC from falling into Mr. Mugabe's trap.
This government is the same as the one that ZANU-PF entered into with the now defunct Zimbabwe African People's Union of the late Joshua Nkomo after Mr. Mugabe pulverized Mr. Nkomo's power base of Matabeleland in a military campaign dubbed Gukurahundi (washing away the chaff) that resulted in the deaths of more than 20,000 people.
The ZANU/ZAPU government began in 1987 as a union of equals but soon turned out to be a consolidation of Mr. Mugabe's rule. ZAPU officials opposed to the set-up were harassed into exile or simply bought off. In no time, ZAPU leaders were defending Mr. Mugabe's atrocious human-rights record and joining in the plundering of the economy.
Mr. Tsvangirai's meteoric rise as a trade-union organizer and his subsequent transformation into a political leader is a direct result of misrule by the ZANU/ZAPU government.
Much is made out of Mr. Mugabe's loss to Mr. Tsvangirai in the presidential election last March. Some argue that this loss forced Mr. Mugabe into a union with Mr. Tsvangirai. The truth is, Mr. Mugabe only relented to "persuasion" from fellow southern African leaders, especially those concerned with the regional ripple effects of Zimbabwe's instability.
These leaders may recognize the broad-based support that Mr. Tsvangirai and his party enjoy, but they have no respect for him as a political leader. They consider his ideology alien to an Africa still dominated by the anti-colonial ethos of freedom fighter movements.
In that respect, they advised Mr. Mugabe to make a show of accommodating Mr. Tsvangirai and relieve them of the pressure from Western donors threatening to punish them for associating with Zimbabwe's rogue regime. But therein lies another problem for Mr. Tsvangirai. For this government to work, it needs the financial backing of the international community. And that means Western democracies would have to recognize Mr. Mugabe, the man they have tried to push out for years. Such recognition, of course, would be embarrassing for them and an invaluable victory for Mr. Mugabe. Can the West afford that?
The new government is supposed to come up with a new constitution in about 18 months. This constitution is supposed to curtail most of Mr. Mugabe's power and punish him and his officials for the atrocities they have committed over the years. But who's going to draw up this constitution? A unity government led by Mr. Mugabe. Go figure.
Meantime, the two parties are supposed to be campaigning for a new election. How on earth are they going to work together when they are both eyeing the ultimate prize? In any case, the country's electoral machinery is still in the hands of the army and the intelligence agencies - the real power behind Mr. Mugabe. Ultimately, then, the coalition arrangement will simply allow Mr. Mugabe to continue to misrule the country.
Zimbabweans will have to survive from the scraps falling off the Mugabe/Tsvangirai dinner table, and those who live to tell the story might face another farcical election in about five years. It has happened before, and there are no reasons to doubt it will happen again.