For Zimbabwe, Tsvangirai Swearing-in Marks a Tentative Step out of Abyss

Embattled President Mugabe finally allows some power-sharing, but the struggle is hardly over.


After three decades of essentially unchallenged rule, Zimbabwe's embattled President Robert Mugabe made good on an internationally supported compromise today by swearing in opposition leader and bitter rival Morgan Tsvangirai as his prime minister.

Just months ago, Mugabe had insisted that even talking to the leader of the Movement for Democratic Change was off the table—never mind sharing power with him. But with Zimbabwe sinking deeper and deeper into an economic disaster, an electoral crisis last year sparked intensified pressure from neighboring countries, spearheaded by South Africa, for the two men to arrange a compromise.

In the March 2008 election, Mugabe's party lost its parliamentary majority for the first time since Zimbabwe gained independence. But a runoff was necessary with the opposition. As that election approached, dozens of the Movement for Democratic Change's supporters were killed and thousands of others injured by state violence. Turnout at the runoff was, unsurprisingly, low. And Mugabe was declared the winner.

In September, however, under growing international pressure, the two rivals entered a formal power-sharing agreement. Still, the negotiations were contentious. One particular point of disagreement concerned who would control which ministries.

What many see as a step toward stability finally took place today, with Mugabe swearing Tsvangirai in as prime minister before 300 dignitaries and diplomats. As prime minister, Tsvangirai will oversee the government's daily administration.

Mugabe retains all the powers of the president, including control of the country's security forces. And it hardly seems that the struggles for dominance between the two men, and the two parties, will end with the swearing-in. In fact, signs of the men's acrimony were evident today: Tsvangirai was prevented, at the last minute, from making a five-minute televised speech after the ceremony. That speech had been agreed to earlier by Mugabe's office.

Later today, Tsvangirai is expected to speak at a rally in Harare and outline his plans to help lift Zimbabwe out of its current crisis. On top of its political problems, Zimbabwe's economy has collapsed. The country's hyperinflation is estimated to be more than 10 sextillion percent. Many are hoping that the opposition party can provide some solutions to the crisis—or at least help maintain the stability needed to overcome it.