Zimbabwe playing to Kenya’s script

Zimbabwe’s path to a grand coalition seems to be following a carefully choreographed script perfected in Kenya a few months ago.

The Movement of Democratic Change of main opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai won the Speaker’s seat inspite of intimidation by the government of President Robert Mugabe. In Kenya, the opposition Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) took the Speaker’s seat when Parliament was reconvened for the first time after disputed elections in December 2007. Like the MDC in Zimbabwe, Kenya’s ODM had a slim majority which it used to capture the position.

At the moment, coalition talks between President Mugabe and Tsvangirai seem to have broken down due to disagreements over the proposed Prime Minister’s office. Tsvangirai accepted to become Prime Minister but wants full executive powers. Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party wants the Prime Minister as a subordinate to the presidency.

The same disagreement marred Kenya’s coalition talks between President Mwai Kibaki and ODM’s Raila Odinga. The post of Prime Minister was created for Raila, who got powers to co-ordinate government affairs. The Kenyan presidency still has ultimate executive authority. Going by the same script, Tsvangirai will have to accept much less power than he is currently demanding.

A significant difference between the Zimbabwe and Kenya situations is that whereas President Kibaki was not sure of the loyalty of his security forces, Mugabe’s control of Zimbabwe’s military and police is absolute. Thus, Mugabe is in a better bargaining position during talks than Kibaki was.

With 3 million Zimbabweans already outside the country, the prospects of widespread violence against Mugabe are very slim.

The question is: who is writing this new model for African governance and what does it mean for the people of the world’s poorest continent?

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