Unity govts: a threat to democracy

tsvangirai_2.jpgMorgan Tsvangirai - Became Prime Minister after unity with President Robert Mugabe
HARARE - South Africa's Institute of Security Studies (ISS) has warned of a new threat to democracy in Africa amid fears of a shift towards more Zimbabwe and Kenya-st

A researcher with the ISS, Ottilia Maunganidze said a new phenomenon appeared to be emerging in Africa where rival political parties "unite" after disputed elections to form inclusive governments whose mandate would be to implement structural political reforms.

Almost all previous power-sharing agreements in Africa have followed armed conflicts – as was the case in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi and Sudan – and not elections.

Kenya and Zimbabwe illustrate this emerging trend following power-sharing arrangements they made following disputed polls in 2008.

In Zimbabwe, following disputed March and June 2008 elections, a political impasse that gravely continued to affect the country’s ailing economy left the political rivals with no choice but to embark on a process of establishing a unity government to revive the country.

The wheels of the new government were set in motion on February 11 when former opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leaderMorgan Tsvangirai was inaugurated as the country’s executive Prime Minister.

While there is no doubt that effective unity is desirable, especially in furtherance of democracy, it could be argued that the kind of "unity" that we are seeing emerging in Kenya and Zimbabwe may actually herald the corrosion of democracy as we have come to know it, where the elite unites to further their own interests and not those of the nation, said the ISS researcher.

She noted that the two countries' power-sharing arrangements seemed to be fraught with contradictions caused by political agendas of the leaders.

While the rhetoric appeared to be that unity would benefit everyone, the reality on the ground shows that the arrangements are only benefitting those in power and their self-interests, she observed.

At best it furthers disagreement and pushes the country on the verge of renewed tensions as leaders seek to outmanoeuvre or vilify each other, Maunganidze said.

In Kenya, the power-sharing agreement has seen an escalation in corruption and bad governance while the Zimbabwean situation remains work in progress.

Two months since the formation of Zimbabwe's coalition government, the former rivals are nowhere close to ending their feud and the new arrangement is faced with an avalanche of challenges.

Some resistance to the Zimbabwean Prime Minister continued to undermine the good functioning of the new administration while confidence among key political actors remained weak.

Maunganidze noted that while Zimbabwe's unity government was still in its early days, the circumstances in which the agreement was negotiated and the compromises that both parties made were an indication that all was not settled.

It can thus be argued that post-electoral governments of national unity, as so far seen in Nairobi and Harare, are elite pacts that accord less consideration to the electorate. The aspirations of ordinary people who cast their ballot with the hope of establishing a

new government or extending the term of the incumbent have largely remained unattended to, she said.

Democracy would remain a pipe dream for ordinary Zimbabweans and Kenyans as political leaders secure their own survival, she said.

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