Zimbabwe: Coalition’s first 100 days
NewsNotes, July-August 2009
The following article was written by Alice Burger, an intern with the Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns.
In February, Zimbabwe established a coalition government after its contested 2008 elections (as detailed in each NewsNotes since May-June of last year). In this coalition government, Robert Mugabe, the leader of the ZANU-PF party, retained his position of president while Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), became prime minister – a newly-created position. At the time that the coalition government was established, several problems were apparent, including that the final authority within the government remained undefined and the distribution of cabinet positions was uncertain.
How has the government fared, now that it has been in power for over 100 days? Have some of the initial concerns and objections been addressed? Has the coalition government responded to the basic needs of the population?
In some ways, the compromise has formed a government that functions reasonably well and is making progress in addressing the political problems that face the country. Dzikamai A. Machingura of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition wrote recently of the current state of the coalition government in his article “Has the political climate in Zimbabwe changed since the formation of the coalition government 100 days ago?” He reports that Mugabe and Tsvangirai have developed a “good working relationship” allowing the government to take some steps forward. The MDC has been able to conduct its business without interference, holding meetings and rallies freely. Other parts of civil society have been able to hold meetings as well. In general, the state security agents have relaxed the most restrictive policies, and the legislation supporting these practices may even be repealed.
The government, however, has not overcome many of the obstacles that threaten its success. Mugabe holds the final decision-making power, leaving Tsvangirai in a secondary position that goes against the spirit of the coalition. The repressive laws that have helped to keep Mugabe in power remain intact as well, potentially allowing further muting of opposition voices challenging government practices.
Furthermore, many of the political prisoners remain in state custody without trials. Journalists continue to be harassed and some incarcerated by the government. State owned media sources supply distorted and biased information. Additionally, police and the judiciary apply the law unequally, and court orders are regularly disregarded.
The government also has failed to address the many needs of Zimbabwe’s citizens, maintaining a very serious humanitarian and human rights situation in the country: 800,000 people are in need of food aid; an estimated 44,000 children under the age of five require treatment for malnutrition. Unemployment rates are over 80 percent. Prisoners do not receive adequate food, leading to chronic malnutrition and other hunger-related diseases. More than 1,000 prisoners have died in police custody since January.
Cholera also remains a threat to the citizens of Zimbabwe. According to UNICEF, 100,000 cases have been reported throughout the country and 4,000 people have died. Experts predict that the number of cases will rise again as the rainy season begins. Six million people lack access to clean drinking water – especially in the suburbs of Harare – and the sanitation system remains inadequate, leading to sewer eruptions. Women and children are most affected by this crisis because they have to search long hours to find safe drinking water and then carry the heavy containers back to their homes.
The education system remains in shambles – many schools, especially in rural areas did not reopen for the new academic year beginning in January. Those schools that are open lack the resources to provide an adequate education. The cholera outbreak puts further strain on the ability of children to receive an education because of the time that must be spent retrieving water.
The situation in Zimbabwe remains dire. While the members of the coalition government have created a working relationship with each other, many of the problems still remain, harming the people of Zimbabwe. Political repression has decreased, but the potential for further repression still exists. As the government continues to neglect the needs of its constituents, the people must work that much harder just to survive.