President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai struck a power-sharing deal on Thursday after more than a month of wrangling, but it was still far from clear how the bitter foes would divide the authority to govern.
The agreement, brokered by President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, signals that Mugabe may be willing to cede some authority to Tsvangirai, reducing the tight grip on power he has maintained for nearly three decades and easing the political crisis that has engulfed Zimbabwe for months.
But neither they nor Mbeki spelled out how the deal would work, saying they would withhold details until an official announcement on Monday. Officials in both the governing and opposition parties described an arrangement that seemed to leave neither man in charge. That may reduce that the chances that the accord will bring new stability and attract the foreign aid needed to rebuild the country’s ruined economy.
Under the agreement, officials said, Tsvangirai would become prime minister and oversee a council of ministers that would formulate and carry out policies. Mugabe would retain his title of president and would head a Cabinet of the ministers that would supervise the council. That arrangement appears to give both men the power to oversee the same group of ministers.
Asked who would head the government, Nelson Chamisa, a spokesman for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, did not name one man or the other, but instead replied, “This is an inclusive government.” He said executive power would be shared by the president, the prime minister and the Cabinet.
Zimbabwe has faced political stalemate since the octogenarian Mugabe held onto the presidency in a June runoff that was widely denounced as a sham. The country is crippled by an inflation rate that runs into the millions of percent and traumatized by an election season in which human rights groups say that thousands of opposition supporters were brutally beaten by state-sponsored enforcers.
If the agreement does produce a functional power sharing arrangement, it would mark a significant turning point for Zimbabwe, which has become increasingly poverty stricken and isolated in recent years under Mugabe’s authoritarian rule.
But it will be no small task for Mugabe, an aging liberation hero, and Tsvangirai, 56, a former trade union leader and Mugabe’s persistent rival, to work together harmoniously after the enmity that has accumulated in recent months.
Even on Wednesday, as the talks neared their conclusion, the opposition released a statement decrying a “plot” by the governing party, ZANU-PF, to topple its newly elected leader of Parliament. And on Monday, as the talks were getting under way again, the political editor of the state-run newspaper, a mouthpiece for Mugabe, accused the opposition of “a cancerous connection with Britain and other Western countries.”