Morgan Tsvangirai's Dilemma

"[I]t is now time for us to assert and take our position as the dominant party in Zimbabwe.  In taking this path, we are guided by the fact that we are the trustees of the people's mandate and therefore the only one with the mandate to remain in government.<...> However, it is our right to disengage from a dishonest and unreliable partner.  In this regard, whilst being government, we shall forthwith disengage from ZANU-PF <...> until such time as confidence and respect is restored amongst us." (Zimbabwean prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai on his decision to suspend cooperation with the political party of President Robert Mugabe, 16 October, 2009).  

The dilemma faced by Zimbabwe's prime minister, Morgan Tsvangirai, is a thorny one.  He garnered the majority of votes in the first round of the presidential elections in March 2008 but chose to boycott the run-off due to the persecution of his supporters by the incumbent president, Robert Mugabe.  In January 2009, following the negotiations spearheaded by neighboring South Africa, Mr. Tsvangirai, 57, was persuaded to form a unity government with the 85 year-old Mugabe, who single-handedly ruled the country since it gained independence in 1980.  Mr. Mugabe's tenure was plagued by rampant corruption and deterioration of Zimbabwe's public health system, punctuated by mass emigration of its professional workforce due to spiking unemployment, starvation and, most recently, an outbreak of cholera.       

Mr. Tsvangirai reluctantly entered into a power-sharing agreement with his rival, claiming that it was his party--the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC)--that won in the elections, and not Mr. Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Unity-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF).  The truce between the long-time opponents have proved short-lived, and Mr. Tsvangirai announced his disengagement from ZANU-PF last week, accusing Mr. Mugabe of failing to honor his promises to form a fully functioning government and take steps to enforce the rule of law and strengthen the economy.  Reportedly, the last straw for Mr. Tsvangirai was the arrest of MDC's treasurer and Zimbabwe's Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Roy Bennett.  The arrest was one in a series of ZANU-PF military wing's continued assaults on Zimbabwe's white farmers, typically followed by the forced appropriation of their land lots by the government.  

Mr. Tsvangirai broke off the ties with ZANU-PF because he could no longer reconcile his human rights activist's agenda with ZANU-PF's despicable policies. He claims to still be a part of the government and continue pushing for his agenda to be implemented.  But -- and here is the dilemma, in my view-- it is clear that his political co-existence with Mr. Mugabe is virtually impossible.  Their artificial union failed to prevent a political crisis, as some had hoped, and it continues to hold back Zimbabwe's development since many foreign governments have been unwilling to provide aid and investment to a country with the main culprit of its misery still in power.  Is Mr. Tsvangirai really hopeful that real change is possible under the circumstances, or is he just doing his best to hold up his end of the bipartisan Global Political Agreement?


It seems to me that, in light of the last week's developments, the regional powers and western democracies will have to choose one of the two politicians to support.  While the United States is likely to favor dealing with democratically-minded Mr. Tsvangirai, South Africa has so far appeared to be backing Mr. Mugabe, possibly fearing that his demise would further escalate the exodus of the impoverished Zimbabweans and set loose the bellicose pro-independence war veterans, whom Mr. Mugabe nurtured and elevated to an elite class through his system of generous, taxpayer-supported handouts.  

Anyone has other thoughts on the possible outcome of this split? I'd be interested in learning what you have to say.

Africa, Morgan Tsvangirai, Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe