Mugabe to Form Zimbabwe Cabinet; Opposition Calls for Boycott

By Karin Brulliard
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, November 11, 2008

JOHANNESBURG, Nov. 10 -- Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe indicated Monday that he would move quickly to form a government, despite the collapse one day earlier of a new round of power-sharing talks that have stalled over the allocation of ministries.

Speaking on state television, Mugabe said a cabinet would be formed "as soon as possible." The main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), said it would boycott the move.

The back-and-forth followed a special one-day summit here of southern African leaders, who recommended early Monday that Zimbabwe end the impasse by immediately forming a unity government and splitting control of the disputed Home Affairs Ministry between Mugabe's party, the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), and the MDC.

The MDC rejected the proposal by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) as unworkable and in defiance of the power-sharing agreement signed Sept. 15, which allocated 16 of 31 cabinet seats to the opposition but did not assign specific ministries.

"SADC approached this summit without any concrete strategy and did not have the courage and decency of looking Mr. Mugabe in the eyes and telling him that his position was wrong," opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai said in a statement.

Patrick Chinamasa, ZANU-PF's chief negotiator in the talks, said Mugabe planned to invite the opposition to submit nominees for ministries but would "go ahead with the formation," no matter what.

The opposition has insisted on control of Home Affairs, which oversees a police force that human rights groups say has ignored state-sponsored attacks on opposition supporters. The MDC sees the ministry as a crucial counterbalance to the defense and intelligence forces that negotiators have agreed would be assigned to Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe for 28 years.

Tsvangirai said he would call on the African Union for help. But in an interview Wednesday, an MDC spokesman said that negotiations were "dead" and that the opposition parties would "watch from afar" if Mugabe formed a new government without their approval.

The Sept. 15 agreement was viewed as a major breakthrough for an economically devastated nation that had been in political crisis since spring, when Tsvangirai outpolled Mugabe in the first round of presidential elections. Tsvangirai withdrew from a runoff after a bloody government crackdown on his supporters.

But analysts said Monday that it appeared unlikely the deal could be salvaged without the intervention of the African Union or the United Nations. Even then, Mugabe has shown little willingness to submit to outside pressure, despite international donors' promises to provide aid money only if a true unity government is formed.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Robert A. Wood called the SADC proposal "just another example of the Mugabe regime's attempt to subvert the will of the Zimbabwean people." He said the United States might consider additional sanctions against Mugabe and his allies if the power-sharing deal dies.

The situation for average Zimbabweans, meanwhile, is growing more dire with each day of stalemate, aid groups say. In a nation where inflation is officially 231 million percent and staples are nearly nonexistent, millions of Zimbabweans are going hungry.

Political violence has also continued, human rights groups and opposition members say. At least 163 opposition supporters have been killed since the spring, according to a report last week by Human Rights Watch.

The report warned that a move by Mugabe to form a government would create a "serious risk" of renewed and widespread state-sponsored violence. Other observers, however, say Mugabe could face a backlash if he defies the power-sharing deal.

"The bottom line is that with the implosion which is happening on the ground -- there's no water, there's no money, there's no food -- Mugabe is courting a recipe for disaster if he moves unilaterally," said Sydney Masamvu, a South Africa-based analyst for the International Crisis Group. "The possibility of social uprising is far greater."

A special correspondent in Harare, Zimbabwe, contributed to this report.

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