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Tensions Remain One Year After Zimbabwe's Multi-Party Political Agreement


One year ago, Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, then opposition-leader Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara, leader of another small opposition party, signed a political agreement that led to the formation of a unity government. Its purpose was to end a political stalemate after controversial and violent elections, but one year later tensions and rivalries continue to hinder the accord.

The so-called Global Political Agreement was an interim set of rules to normalize the tense political situation, and to set the country back on the road to normality through a revised constitution and eventually new elections.

For most of the year, life had been difficult for most Zimbabweans.

There was no government, the currency was worthless and usually unavailable; and, there was little food in the shops.

Few children were at school and most government hospitals were closed. President Robert Mugabe swore himself into office for a new five-year term in June after then opposition-leader Morgan Tsvangirai pulled out of the run-off election because of violence against his supporters.

After difficult and lengthy negotiations, the Southern African Development Community's mediator, then-South African president Thabo Mbeki, shepherded the three leaders into concluding the agreement (on September 15), which produced a government of national unity in February of this year.

Mr. Mugabe, signing the accord on behalf of the ZANU-PF party, called it a historic event. "History makes us walk the same route. We may disagree on that route and this is what we were doing. But now there are areas where find ourselves in agreement," he said.

Mr. Tsvangirai, who became prime minister in the new government, called for reconciliation between ZANU-PF and his Movement for Democratic Change. "I call on all supporters of both ZANU-PF and MDC to unite as all Zimbabweans to put the interests of our nation and our people first and to work for a new Zimbabwe. Divisions, polarization and hatred belong to the past," he said.

Nevertheless, violations of the agreement take place every day, such as the predominantly pro-ZANU-PF coverage in the government-dominated media, and acts of intimidation against commercial white farmers by ZANU-PF militants.

Most observers and political analysts blame Mr. Mugabe for the lack of progress. They say they are not sure whether the agreement will ever be fully implemented. And say they are unsure whether there will ever be a normalization of Zimbabwean politics, given ZANU-PF's 30-year domination of the country.

They add the political climate is still risky and anything could happen, but for the moment there is no alternative to the agreement and the power-sharing government it created.

A senior delegation from the European Union visited Zimbabwe on Saturday, the first time in seven years.

A Western diplomat close to the EU meeting in Harare told VOA it is clear that Mr. Mugabe is blocking full compliance with the political agreement in order to buy time to rebuild ZANU-PF, which has been weakened by internal quarrels and a loss of popular support, even in its traditional strongholds.

Zimbabwe Political scientist Brian Raftopoulos says ZANU-PF's loss of support makes it more dangerous than ever before. He said he doubts whether ZANU-PF will ever allow free and fair elections. Like many Zimbabweans he fears that ZANU-PF will resume its campaign of violence if and when any elections are scheduled.

Mr. Tsvangirai acknowledges the agreement was defective. He says he signed it to try and prevent further disintegration of the country's infrastructure and was prepared to take the political risk to try and move Zimbabwe forward.

He is praised in many political and social circles in Zimbabwe for his tolerance. Even so, some of his supporters have questioned whether he has gone soft on ZANU-PF.

Western governments say many elements of the agreement have not been complied with. They add that until full compliance is reached, they will not expand aid, which is currently restricted to purely humanitarian programs. And they will not lift visa and business restrictions on senior ZANU-PF officials.

The MDC accuses Mr. Mugabe of failing to reverse appointments of allies to key political and administrative posts. Mr. Mugabe complains that Mr. Tsvangirai has failed to persuade western governments to lift the targeted sanctions.

A political scientist at the University of Zimbabwe, Eldred Masunungure, says the police are the most serious offenders of the political agreement and the hard core of top officers are determined to hang on to power for as long as possible.

For this reason he says there are selective prosecutions. MDC supporters and activists are arrested on minor charges, while not a single ZANU-PF supporter has been arrested, despite the 150 murders of MDC supporters last year.

Last week an MDC supporter was killed for allegedly singing a pro-Tsvangirai song in a bar.

After the political agreement was signed scores of MDC supporters and rights activists were kidnapped and held in secret locations for weeks and months. The kidnappings, most observers believe, were designed to pressure Mr. Tsvangirai to pull out of the political agreement. He did not and slowly terrorism charges against those kidnapped have begun to evaporate.

Nevertheless, one year after the political agreement, there has been some progress. Despite some recent boycotts of classes by teachers seeking pay raises, many children have attended school this year.

Most hospitals have re-opened. A small strike by some junior doctors at three state hospitals ended after Mr. Tsvangirai spoke to them.

The Zimbabwe dollar was abandoned after the inclusive government was formed, and Zimbabweans now mostly use U.S. dollars or South African rands for their business dealings.

Most journalists say they work with less fear than they did one year ago. Civil servants, who earn about 100 U.S. dollars a month, can buy staple foods. Supermarkets are full, though largely with imported products that are too expensive for the majority of the population.

The political agreement led to extraordinary compromises for the MDC, considering Mr. Tsvangirai's popularity and Mr. Mugabe's age and poor human-rights record.

Mr. Mugabe and Mr. Tsvangirai meet regularly, but little emerges afterwards beyond a rhetorical commitment to the agreement.

On balance most commentators say the political agreement is a deeply imperfect set of rules, which it is hoped may eventually produce a better Zimbabwe.

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