A Deal to Restore Zimbabwe's Democracy Has Mostly Aided Robert Mugabe.

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Saturday, June 13, 2009

FOUR MONTHS after African nations brokered the formation of Zimbabwe's coalition government, strongman Robert Mugabe must be pleased with the results. Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, whose victory in last year's presidential election was nullified by violence and fraud, is now charged with managing the economy; with help from foreign donors, he has managed to bring it back from the dead. World-record hyperinflation has been stopped; shops, schools and some hospitals have reopened; and a cholera epidemic has eased. Zimbabweans are finding it easier to obtain food and medical care and to send their children to school.

At the same time, Mr. Mugabe's control over the state remains unbroken. He still commands the army and security forces and has violated or ignored most of the political provisions in the coalition agreement. Opposition leaders still face arrest and prosecution on trumped-up charges, white-owned farms still are being illegally seized and restrictions on the media have not been lifted. The 85-year-old president and his coterie of thugs evidently have no intention of complying with a plan to hold new elections under a revised constitution two years from now.

Now Mr. Tsvangirai is on a three-week tour of Western capitals -- including this week in Washington -- to campaign for fresh economic aid that Mr. Mugabe could not dream of obtaining on his own. Mr. Tsvangirai should not get any. Though he has eased Zimbabwe's humanitarian crisis, Mr. Tsvangirai is not able to offer any tangible evidence to back his assertion that his country has embarked "on an irreversible transition to democracy." On the contrary, most of his actions as prime minister have been defensive: obtaining the release of his party members or journalists after they are arrested by security forces. He has appealed for intervention by the Southern African Development Community, the sponsor of the power-sharing deal, because of Mr. Mugabe's refusal to honor a provision that would have replaced the attorney general and central bank governor.

The Obama administration so far has correctly held off on aid to Zimbabwe beyond the $260 million in humanitarian assistance the United States is providing through the United Nations and other nongovernmental channels. The administration should be urging South Africa's new president, Jacob Zuma, to enforce the agreement crafted by his predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, and to push Mr. Mugabe toward retirement. Until Mr. Mugabe yields power, nothing should be done that would serve to prop up the current government -- even if it is headed by a more palatable politician.


© 2009 The Washington Post Company

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