March 30, 2010 4:54 pm

Mugabe’s partners in power struggle

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When Morgan Tsvangirai, Zimbabwe’s prime minister, agreed to open an exhibition commemorating victims of political violence, the police were quick to defy the man who is supposedly a pillar of the government.

A day before Mr Tsvangirai was due to speak at the event in Harare, police seized the exhibition’s 65 photographs, all of which showed graphic images of violence before Zimbabwe’s 2008 elections.

Although the prime minister and his Movement for Democratic Change are theoretically equal partners in the coalition government with Robert Mugabe, the president, the reality is very different. Mr Tsvangirai lacked the authority to prevent the police from sabotaging an event he had chosen to open.

Only a High Court order compelling the police to return the photographs allowed the exhibition to go ahead. “There is nothing new in this story. It reminds us of the trauma we went through as a nation,” Mr Tsvangirai said, adding that such exhibitions were a necessary part of the “healing process”.

Analysts believe that he and his party are in office but not in power. Mr Tsvangirai’s growing number of critics accuse him of being co-opted by Mr Mugabe to lend a veneer of respectability to the government.

“When the president speaks, people sit up and take notice because they know that his is the voice of authority,” said a leading businessman. “People applaud Morgan’s promises of change but they don’t believe them.”

Mr Tsvangirai’s actions have fed the suspicion that he has been reduced to serving Mr Mugabe’s agenda. Last week the prime minister was reported to have urged western countries to lift the restrictions they have imposed on Mr Mugabe and his allies, which ban them from visiting the US and the European Union and freeze any assets they may hold in western banks.

Then Mr Tsvangirai said that he “supported” Mr Mugabe’s opposition to giving gays legal protection in Zimbabwe. While the prime minister’s handlers have sought to “clarify” his remarks, some fear that he is becoming a convenient stooge for Mr Mugabe.

Jacob Zuma, the South African president, has set a deadline of Wednesday for the three parties in Zimbabwe’s government to settle their differences. In particular, Mr Tsvangirai wants to dismiss Gideon Gono, the central bank governor, who is accused of undermining the economy, and Johannes Tomana, the attorney-general, who is allegedly protecting powerful figures from ­prosecution.

But Mr Mugabe has refused to get rid of either. Last weekend he insisted that EU and US restrictions must be lifted before any other issues could be addressed.

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