Monday, September 15, 2008



By MacDonald Dzirutwe

Zimbabwe's rival political parties signed a landmark power-sharing deal on Monday which means President Robert Mugabe will cede some of his powers for the first time in nearly three decades of iron rule.

Mugabe, main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara -- who heads a breakaway MDC faction -- signed the agreement at a hotel in the capital, Harare, after weeks of tense negotiations.

Under the deal, Tsvangirai will become prime minister and chair a council of ministers supervising the cabinet.

Zimbabweans hope the agreement will be a first step in helping to rescue the once prosperous nation from economic collapse. Inflation has rocketed to over 11 million percent and millions have fled to neighboring southern African countries.

The audience cheered as the agreement was signed in front of African leaders including Tanzania's Jakaya Kikwete, chairman of the African Union, Swaziland's King Mswati III and South African President Thabo Mbeki, who brokered the deal.

The three smiling Zimbabwean leaders exchanged copies of the agreement and shook hands.

Mugabe and Tsvangirai last week agreed the deal to end a deep political crisis compounded by the veteran leader's disputed and unopposed re-election in June.

The deal is expected to split control of the powerful security forces that have been key backers of Mugabe.

The president, a former guerrilla commander, is likely to retain command of Zimbabwe's strong army, but the MDC wants to run the police force.

Mugabe's ZANU-PF will have 15 cabinet seats, Tsvangirai's MDC 13 and a splinter MDC faction three seats.

Mugabe, 84, who has ruled Zimbabwe since independence from Britain in 1980, will remain president and head the cabinet.


Analysts say the power-sharing deal is shaky and will require former enemies to put aside their differences and work closely to overcome skepticism, especially from Western powers whose financial support will be vital for recovery.

The European Union has put a decision on sanctions against Zimbabwe on hold after the political rivals reached the power-sharing deal, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said on Monday.

"The sanctions for the moment will not be changed today. The decision will probably be taken in October," he told reporters before a meeting of EU foreign ministers.

Solana said the EU needed to study the details of the deal but he expected it to open "a new page" for the country.

The two political rivals met on Saturday and agreed to share out the cabinet posts. The powerful state security ministry was abolished while the justice portfolio was split into two and a new prisons department was created.

The MDC wants to take control of ministries of home affairs in charge of the police, local government to oversee councils, one of the justice ministries, information and the finance ministry -- giving it responsibility for rescuing the shattered economy.

In return, the MDC is ready to leave Mugabe's ruling ZANU-PF in charge of other key ministries, including defense.

ZANU-PF and MDC negotiators met early on Monday to allocate the 31 ministries. Names of the ministers are likely to be announced later in the week, a government official said.

There would also be a national security council, replacing a joint operations command of security service chiefs who the opposition say were instrumental in organizing a violent campaign that intimidated the opposition into standing down for the second round presidential election, allowing Mugabe to return to power.