Page last updated at 03:04 GMT, Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Tsvangirai's tough choice

By Peter Biles
BBC Southern Africa correspondent

Morgan Tsvangirai
Morgan Tsvangirai could have walked away from the deal

The decision by Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change to join an inclusive Zimbabwean government has been extraordinarily tough.

When elections were held on March 29, 2008, few people would have predicted this outcome nearly 11 months later.

Mr Tsvangirai is being sworn in as prime minister, but Robert Mugabe - the man who polled fewer votes in the first round of the 2008 elections - remains president of the country, and thus controls many key levers of power, as he has done for 28 years.

How much party infighting there has been inside the MDC may only become apparent in due course.

But there has certainly been fierce debate about whether or not the MDC should join the power-sharing government, under the terms of the historic agreement brokered by the leaders of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) last September.

Risky choice

When SADC convened its most recent emergency summit in Pretoria last month, in an effort to break the political deadlock, Morgan Tsvangirai certainly found himself under immense pressure.

His options were to agree to form a unity government, as SADC heads of state were recommending, or walk away from the process once and for all.


Morgan Tsvangirai: 'The country is on its knees, but we cannot solve everything'

In so doing, he risked international vilification for ignoring the plight of millions of Zimbabweans who are in desperate need of food and health care.

"It was a rough and tough meeting", said one of the chief negotiators afterwards. In the event, Mr Tsvangirai and his MDC colleagues decided to give the power-sharing government a chance.

It was a less than perfect arrangement, for sure, but the MDC concluded that it had no choice but to try to continue the fight against Mr Mugabe's Zanu-PF "from within".

Some foreign diplomats were appalled that the MDC had caved in.

When I asked one of them whether international aid for the reconstruction of Zimbabwe would be immediately forthcoming on the formation of an inclusive, the answer was blunt: "No way. Not until we see a functioning government in which Morgan Tsvangirai is more than simply a junior partner."

So the West is adopting a wait-and-see approach, and the European Union sanctions imposed on senior members of President Mugabe's administration, remain in place for now.

Ebbing optimism

Another key player in the talks on Zimbabwe's future said that if the three parties (Zanu-PF, MDC-T and MDC-M) all agreed to join an inclusive government, then no-one should question that.

"Let's try to support it", he said.

"Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai need each other, and they may not want to work together. But this is a short-term transitional arrangement, prior to the drafting of a new constitution and fresh elections".

In the past two weeks, optimism and pessimism have ebbed and flowed.

"There is a lot of uncertainty, but we can only keep our fingers crossed and hope something positive comes out of this", said Kumi Naidoo of Civicus (World Alliance for Citizen Participation) who is just ending a three-week hunger strike in solidarity with the people of Zimbabwe.

"We hope this imperfect deal will deliver humanitarian intervention immediately, and that those illegally being held in prison, will be released.

"But for civil society and governments all over the world, we need to monitor how things now unfold on a week by week basis".

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