Zimbabwe officials have complied with a supreme court order granting freedom on five thousand US dollars bail to opposition lawmaker Roy Bennett. The prominent politician, who is designated to serve as the country's deputy agriculture minister, must report to police three times a week and surrender his passport and deeds to his real estate. He may not leave the country, but is free to meet with colleagues and plan his legal strategy to have weapons and terrorism charges against him thrown out. Analyst Briggs Bomba of the Washington, DC lobbying group Africa Action explains that Bennett's release means Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai will most likely get his way and have Roy Bennett sworn in to the cabinet as soon as his legal worries are put behind him.
"I think he is going to assume his duties. I think he's going to be sworn in to that position (deputy agriculture minister) because that is the choice the MDC (opposition Movement for Democratic Change) has made, and according to the global political agreement, the MDC has the right to deploy the people that they choose for this government. There have been attempts to frustrate him, but as we have seen, with him being out of jail now, sooner rather than later, he is going to be sworn in and assume his duties," said Bomba, who was an activist during his early student days in Zimbabwe before attending university here in the United States.
Bennett was arrested February 13, two days after Zimbabwe's new unity government took office, and like many other opposition politicians who have been jailed in the former ruling ZANU-PF's crackdowns on dissidents, Bennett is hoping to see the charges against him dismissed by the courts.
"We've also known that cases such as Bennett's in the past, they always end up getting thrown out. A number of people, including Tendai Biti and Morgan Tsvangirai himself have been charged with treason or such charges and they have all been thrown out. And I see more or less the same thing happening with Bennett's case," says Briggs Bomba.
He explains that Bennett's legal team may even avoid raising deliberations over their client's guilt or innocence entirely by challenging the premises of the court's bail order.
"What normally happens in situations like this is that one goes back to apply for a relaxation of bail conditions. But because of the very weak nature of the state's case against Bennett, I even foresee his legal time going to actually apply to refuse bail completely. So that's how he may end up getting off if he is able to win a case of refusing to be put on bail and refusing to be put on remand completely, and the state will be forced to proceed maybe by way that some of these conditions will be completely relaxed," Bomba indicated.
As the unity government observed the anniversary of its first month in office this week, the Africa Action consultant argued that the outgoing government's jailing of Bennett constituted a holdover remnant of the divisiveness Zimbabwe had known for the past several years, which will hopefully contrast sharply with the shape of things to come.
"I think the detention of Roy Bennett himself simply reflected the serious tensions and factionalism within ZANU-PF, where one hard-liner faction wanted to do everything in its strength to undermine the inclusive government, they never calculated the MDC joining the government in the first place," he said.
Although he says it is too soon to tell if the new power-sharing arrangement is making a difference, Briggs Bomba says that beyond the typical chaotic conditions that most often accompany the installation of a new government, Zimbabweans are starting to notice some significant changes in the way their society has begun to snap out of it tumultuous stranglehold.
"Schools were completely closed. Teachers had been on strike for over a year. Now you are beginning to see a lot of those teachers going back to work and their students beginning to go back to school. The same as well with workers in the health sector. And we've also started to see even indications that there may be some form of international financial support coming in," he said.
Australia has just launched a $10 million grant to help Harare fight off its menacing cholera epidemic and transform water delivery structures. Bomba recommends that US policymakers, who are still withholding country aid while they review the progress being made by the new government, move away from their longstanding strategy of targeted sanctions to a policy of targeted support for the new government.