No more battle lines in Zimbabwe politics – it's trench warfare

Ministers in the same coalition will be fighting hand to hand in a power struggle that could take months to resolve.

It did not take long for Zimbabwe's unity Government to come apart at
the seams in spectacular fashion. Only 48 hours after Morgan Tsvangirai
was sworn in as Prime Minister, one of his top aides in the Movement
for Democratic Change (MDC) was seized by security forces hours before
he was meant to be included in a new line-up of ministers. While Roy
Bennett was hauled away by the secret police, the other ministers went
on with the ceremony.

To the rest of the world this may seem an eccentric way to run a
country, particularly one in which the Government barely functions, the
population is in the grip of a deadly cholera epidemic and the economy
is on its knees, thanks to the highest inflation rate in the world. But
this is precisely how the endgame in Zimbabwe will now be played. No
longer will the battle be fought neatly between Government and
Opposition, as it was last year in elections that the MDC won but which
Zanu (PF), the ruling party ignored.

Instead, expect trench warfare, where ministers in the same coalition
will be fighting hand to hand in a power struggle that could take
months to resolve and will be punctuated by more extraordinary scenes
of inter-governmental warfare.

The struggle will be particularly fierce in the Interior Ministry,
which controls the police and is supposed to be shared. President
Mugabe, whose thoughts are already turning to the lavish celebrations
planned for his 85th birthday next week, never intended to share power
with Mr Tsvangirai when he exchanged a brief handshake with his
long-time rival this week.

Rather, the Godfather of Zimbabwean politics was simply following the
advice of the fictional Mafia boss Vito Corleone to keep your friends
close and your enemies closer. Mr Mugabe had executed exactly the same
manoeuvre with Joshua Nkomo and his Zapu party. The two former
guerrilla commanders became bitter rivals after independence.
Eventually, Mr Mugabe offered Mr Nkomo a place in government. In
reality he emasculated his opponent and Zapu was swallowed up with one
gulp by Zanu (PF).

Mr Tsvangirai's detractors will argue that he has fallen into the same
trap. Now that he has agreed to work with Mr Mugabe he has lost his
moral authority and will no longer win support from his friends in the

This may be prove to be true. But the portly former union boss went
into the latest arrangement with his eyes wide open. He knows Mr
Mugabe's tactics perfectly and has the scars on his body to prove it.
He calculated correctly that no outside powers — certainly not South
Africa or Britain — were willing to intervene forcefully to help him
and his party to deliver what they won at the polls. Instead, he has
the satisfaction of knowing that by joining the Government, Mr Mugabe's
inner Cabinet circle will get smaller. Mr Tsvangirai now has a toe-hold
in government and direct access to all Zimbabwe's neighbours, no longer
as an embarrassing opposition leader but as a head of government.

Mr Tsvangirai has not been a lucky nor particularly skilful politician.
Perhaps he has calculated that the odds are about to change in his
favour. Zimbabwe's head of state may seem a sprightly 85, but he is now
more than double the age when most of his countrymen die. One day his
time will come.

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