Tsvangirai enters into his Faustian bargain

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 February, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 February, 2009, 12:00am

Last Wednesday, in Harare, Morgan Tsvangirai drank the poisoned chalice, knowing that it was poisoned. He was sworn in as prime minister of Zimbabwe, in a government that is still controlled by his deadly enemy, President Robert Mugabe.

'We are not joining Mugabe,' he said bravely. 'This is part of a transitional relationship, negotiated. Mr Mugabe has executive authority. I have executive authority.' But Mr Mugabe has exclusive control over the army and the police, which are regularly used to harass, imprison, torture and kill Mr Tsvangirai's colleagues and supporters. He also controls the courts, through the justice ministry.

Few Zimbabweans foresaw this outcome when the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) unexpectedly won a majority in parliament and Mr Tsvangirai won more votes than Mr Mugabe in the election last March. It was an accident that only happened because Zanu-PF, the overconfident ruling party, was less thorough than usual in intimidating the voters and rigging the count, but the apparent defeat of Mr Mugabe's 30-year-old regime awakened hope in the hearts of despairing Zimbabweans.

The hope was premature. The regime declared that Mr Tsvangirai's majority was not big enough to avoid a second round of voting, then launched a campaign of terror against MDC officials and supporters that killed more than 200 and injured thousands. Shortly before the second vote, Mr Tsvangirai withdrew from the race to save MDC voters from a bloodbath on election day, and Mr Mugabe was 're-elected' as president of Zimbabwe unopposed.

Foreign investors are famously ignorant about the distant places they invest in, and easily panic if something bad seems to be happening in the vicinity. The other members of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the nine-country regional organisation, had to do something about the catastrophe of Zimbabwe because they were all at risk of being tarred with the same brush by those ignorant foreigners. So the SADC intervened - sort of.

Their intention was to force some sort of deal that ended the mess in Zimbabwe, but they had no real plan - and they were in awe of Mr Mugabe's history as one of main heroes in the liberation struggle a generation ago.

So the SADC, rather than supporting Mr Tsvangirai's complaint that Mr Mugabe had stolen the election, forced him last August to accept a 'national unity' government in which he would inevitably be the junior partner.

Mr Tsvangirai's vision for how this might succeed, insofar as he has one, seems to be that his presence in the government will unleash a flood of foreign aid that will rescue the nation from its desperate plight.

It isn't going to happen. Western aid donors have been giving Zimbabwe nothing except food relief because they assume that Mr Mugabe's cronies will steal anything else - and they see no reason to change their minds.

Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries