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Zimbabwe Power-sharing Agreement Finalized

February 12, 2009 at 6:30 PM EST
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Longtime Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai entered into a formal power-sharing agreement Wednesday. NPR correspondent Ofeibea Quist-Arcton updates the story from Harare.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: We begin with Zimbabwe. Yesterday, the authoritarian president Robert Mugabe entered a formal power-sharing agreement with a new prime minister, long- time opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai. Margaret Warner talked to NPR correspondent Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, who’s covering that story in Zimbabwe’s capital, Harare.

MARGARET WARNER: Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, thanks for joining us. This is Morgan Tsvangirai’s first day on the job. What’s the mood among Zimbabweans you’ve talked to?

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON, National Public Radio: There’s a lot of hope in Zimbabwe, and there’s been a collective sigh of relief, because, of course, Zimbabweans, who are so weary of a humanitarian crisis, an economic crisis, a political crisis, have been begging their political leaders to make peace, share power, and try to propel this country out of the catastrophe it’s living through, including a cholera outbreak.

But there are skeptics who are saying there is no way that President Robert Mugabe and his new prime minister and former arch rival, Morgan Tsvangirai, can share power. It’s divided Zimbabwe on this issue, but everybody’s hoping.

Stabilizing the economy

MARGARET WARNER: Now, at his swearing-in yesterday, Tsvangirai said, if the deal really was implemented, that it could deliver a way forward to a stable economy. Does he have the power under this arrangement to actually make good on that? Who has the power in this deal?

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: We won't know until this power-sharing government actually begins to work and in a few weeks and months. Morgan Tsvangirai has said, without the authority to govern and to, you know, drag Zimbabwe out of the morass it's been in for months -- and some people would even say years -- that nothing is going to work.

But everybody at the swearing-in -- and I'm talking about President Mugabe, Morgan Tsvangirai himself, the new deputy prime ministers, the regional leaders who have put power on Mugabe to share power, and people from outside the region -- are saying, give this power-sharing deal a chance. It's the only way forward for Zimbabwe at the moment.

A symbolic visit to prison

MARGARET WARNER: Was he able to do anything today, his first day, that suggested one way or the other what kind of authority he will have?

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: Not really, but there were some very important symbolic visits he made. The first was Chikurubi, maximum security jail. And that's where a lot of political activists, including members of Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change, have been held, some on charges of subversion, others of trying to train fighters to topple President Robert Mugabe.

After Tsvangirai was sworn in, he pledged to have them freed from jail as soon as possible. At the same time, three of the most prominent human rights activists here in Zimbabwe were finally, after various court orders were ignored, able to see doctors at the private clinic in Harare. So I think that was symbolic, but it was very important, because many people are waiting for these activists to be released from jail.

Now, symbolically there was another pledge from Morgan Tsvangirai that civil servants here in Zimbabwe who are struggling to make ends meet -- they've been paid in worthless Zimbabwe dollars -- that they are going to be paid in hard currency, in foreign currency -- that means U.S. dollars -- because this is a dollarized economy.

I asked Morgan Tsvangirai in his bare office behind this, you know, outsized desk, "But how are you going to pay for it? Where are you going to get the money from? Is it going to be from the central bank, when you don't get on with the central bank governor, from the treasury?"

He said, "Come back at the end of the month. We are going to pay these civil servants because they need a living wage, and they need their morale to be raised so that they do a good job with Zimbabwe." But the question remains: How are they going to find the money?

Zimbabwe's 'crippled' economy

MARGARET WARNER: And that raises the question of what kind of international help he needs. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said today -- and I think the U.S. has said, too -- they're not going to lift sanctions right away until they see what kind of change this really brings. Can he deliver on his promises without a lot of international help?

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: Oh, no way. Absolutely no way. Zimbabwe is on its knees, Margaret. This is a country whose economy is totally crippled. The Zimbabwe dollar is totally worthless, so that even the central bank governor has now decided that all hard currency -- so that's the dollar, U.S. dollar, the South African rand, Botswana pula, are able to be used by Zimbabwean people.

So there is no way that Zimbabwe can get back on its knees, so to speak, without international support. But we're hearing from Washington, London, and other Western governments that the targeted sanctions -- and these are against Mugabe's aides and Mugabe himself -- will not be lifted until President Mugabe shows that he is genuinely ready to share power with Morgan Tsvangirai.

But goodwill is there for Morgan Tsvangirai. Western governments have been saying that he had to be part of a power-sharing transitional government. But whether he'll have the authority remains the question.

Relationship between the leaders

MARGARET WARNER: And then, of course, that brings up Robert Mugabe. I mean, these two men have had a very contentious past. What is the relationship between them now? And do people there think Mugabe really is ready to share power when he's resisted for so long?

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: Oh, it's a very wobbly political union. I mean, everybody agrees that this is not an ideal political settlement but was perhaps the only way forward.

Many people feel that Morgan Tsvangirai won the only credible presidential election last year. His supporters feel he should be president of the country. But it seems -- and it seems to be a trend in Africa that power-sharing is the new way forward.

But we'll see whether the two can work together. They're long-time adversaries. For the past 10-plus years, Morgan Tsvangirai's been the main political opponent of Robert Mugabe, who's been in power for 30-plus years and has -- almost 30 years -- and has never ceded not even an iota of authority to anyone. He's not used to be challenged in this way, so we'll have to see.

MARGARET WARNER: Ofeibea, thank you. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton of NPR, thanks for being with us.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure.