/ 13 September 2008

Aid carrot may solve Zim impasse

President Thabo Mbeki dangled the prospect of economic support for a new unity government in Zimbabwe as part of a revised draft deal intended to break the impasse in the power-sharing talks.

Mbeki proposed that Morgan Tsvangirai should lead the ”Council of State”, a core of ministers that would formulate and implement government policy, while Robert Mugabe should remain head of state.

The intention was to create the impression that both men would have equal power in the new government, as they would be ”co-chairs” of Cabinet.

There was optimism on all sides that a deal was to be signed late on Thursday. Swaziland’s King Mswati III, head of SADC’s organ on defence, politics and security, was expected to travel to Zimbabwe to witness the signing of the deal.

But doubts remained about how the new arrangement could work and whether agreement had been reached on areas of disagreement; the distribution of ministries and the tenure of the new government.

For the first time in the talks, Mbeki is said to have used the prospect of financial aid to nudge the process forward.

Donald Kuberuka, president of the African Development Bank (AfDB), arrived in Harare with Mbeki for the start of the talks on Monday.

Diplomats speculated that by involving the AfDB the African Union hopes to signal it is ready to assist with economic support should a deal be reached.

The economic crisis has been a central theme of the talks, with Tsvangirai maintaining that only his leadership in a unity government will unlock foreign aid.

But this angers Mugabe, who views declarations by Europe and the United States that they will support only a Tsvangirai-led government as evidence of foreign interference in Zimbabwe’s internal affairs.

Now African leaders, through the AfDB, sought to reassure Mugabe that any foreign economic assistance to Zimbabwe would be African-led. However, close to 40% of the AfDB’s capital is owned by non-African countries.

The AfDB has funded Nepad, the plan for African economic and political renaissance, heavily promoted by Mbeki.

Following the March election, Kuberuka was quoted saying the bank was ready to support Zimbabwe once sanctions against the country were lifted.

With Côte d’Ivoire, Zimbabwe accounted for 81,9% of arrears to the AfDB at end-2007.

Despite Mbeki’s new proposals, disagreement remained on the sharing of power, the life of the unity government and the structure of the new administration.

Agreement had previously been reached on a raft of issues, including a new Constitution within 18 months, ”healing” for victims of pre-and post-independence violence and the lifting of a ban on humanitarian aid.

On July 28, in a document entitled ”Framework for a new government”, agreement was reached on the broad structure of the new government, with Mugabe staying on as president while a new post of prime minister would be created for Tsvangirai. But the talks stalled over the distribution of power between these two offices.

Tsvangirai wants full authority to formulate and implement government policy, to chair Cabinet and the power to appoint and dismiss ministers. The deal he demands would leave Mugabe as a ceremonial head of state.

Entering the talks this week, both sides expressed confidence, with Mugabe saying ”we are not born to be pessimists”. But Mugabe showed less patience on Tuesday, telling his rivals ”a government will be formed by the end of the week” regardless of the outcome.