Zimbabwe’s Unity Government Marks Shaky First Year in Power

Zimbabwe’s rickety government of national unity commemorates its first anniversary Thursday.

On February 11 last year, Morgan Tsvangirai was sworn in as prime minister of Zimbabwe after disputed elections and months of negotiations.

He took the junior post to President Robert Mugabe despite the fact that his Movement for Democratic Change had won a parliamentary majority at the polls.

Mr. Tsvangirai also won the first round of the presidential vote in March 2008 although he did not receive the 50 percent majority needed for an outright victory.

Mr. Mugabe won the presidential run-off after Mr. Tsvangirai pulled out citing a campaign of violence in which he says up to 200 of his supporters were killed.

Nevertheless, one year later, the veteran opposition leader still believes that going into partnership with Mr. Mugabe was the only way to save Zimbabwe from political instability and economic collapse.

Mr. Tsvangirai told VOA that although the unity government had not moved Zimbabwe to where he would like it to be, some progress has been made.

“One can note a lot of progress on the economic front given our economic situation at the end of 2008… a frustrating slow pace on the democratization front,” he said. “The general endorsement by the people is more on the economic front.”

T he replacement of the local currency, by the U.S. dollar, South African Rand and other international currencies just before the unity government came into power, ended years of hyper-inflation.

But the unity government has been marked by confrontation and stalemate.

Mr. Tsvangirai says coalition governments are fragile by nature. But despite the challenges the government has proven the skeptics wrong and stayed together.

And he insists that even if the transitional government fails to fully implement the accord, it will still stay together until the next elections can be held.

In addition to stabilizing economy, the unity government has managed to revitalize the public health system which had virtually collapsed. And it has re-opened the schools after endless strikes by teachers.

Ironically teachers, along with other civil servants, went on strike earlier this month. They are demanding a monthly salary of at least $502, a few dollars above the official poverty line. Most of them are currently paid less than $200 a month.

Minister of Public Services Eliphas Mukonoweshuro said the government cannot afford to pay even $300 a month because it is broke.

“It is not an unwillingness on the part of government to raise salaries, it is simply lack of fiscal capacity,” he said.

Average citizens are running out of patience with the coalition government. Artist Michael Kudakwashe at first welcomed the new government which he hoped would end the political violence and polarization in the country.

“Zimbabweans were no longer divided. I thought this would be a good thing,” he said. “They have come together. They [the leaders] are talking and we are all getting along as Zimbabweans rather than ZANU or MDC or whatever.”

But he says the failure to fully implement the agreement that brought about the unity government has dampened his optimism.

“They are always having these talks, these perpetual talks that don’t seem to end,” he said. “What is the problem? They have signed. Let us get along with building this country. But there always seems to be problems. For me it’s very worrying.”

The MDC accuses Mr. Mugabe of violating the accord by refusing to appoint MDC provincial governors, retaining the central bank governor and attorney general and allowing security forces to continue to intimidate its supporters.

ZANU-PF accuses the MDC of failing to obtain the lifting of international sanctions against its senior leaders and an end to international broadcasts to Zimbabwe.

Prime Minister Tsvangirai acknowledges that there is still some way to go to achieve a democratic Zimbabwe. The security chiefs have so far refused to recognize his authority and he notes that there are still pockets of resistance to change among members of the old government.

“We are frustrated by some of the orchestrated incidents of violence, breaking the rule of law,” he said. “The recent farm invasions are an example but certainly that’s not a policy. It’s a few individuals and we are dealing with them.”

Zimbabweans still hope that the coalition government can end the violence and impunity of the past and usher in a culture of accountability.

And as they mark the first anniversary of the unity government they are pinning their hopes for real change on the coalition partners and the ongoing negotiations.

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