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parliament election in Zimbabwe, mdc wins key parliament vote
Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi/AP
President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe, right, with new Prime Minster Morgan Tsvangirai.

Bush Joins Calls for Mugabe to Resign; African Union Wants Dialogue

December 10, 2008 11:29 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
President George W. Bush has become the latest leader to say that Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe should step down amid health crises and financial turmoil.

International Criticism Continues to Mount

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“Across the continent, African voices are bravely speaking out to say now is the time for him to step down,” President George W. Bush said of Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, on Tuesday, Reuters reported.

Despite President Bush’s being unpopular at home and in much of the world, his statement could carry considerable weight in Africa. Bush’s policy toward treating HIV in Africa has made him “an unlikely hero to the poor of a continent ravaged by AIDS,” said the Guardian.

Bush is one of several leaders calling for Mugabe’s ouster. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said on Dec. 7 that Mugabe should leave, and called his administration a, “blood-stained regime,” according to All Africa.

Raila Odinga, prime minister of Kenya, said Zimbabwe’s citizens “should not continue to suffer in the hands of Robert Mugabe, as the African continent watches,” the Kenya Broadcasting Corp. reported.

Last week he asked the African Union to come up with a plan to help Zimbabwe’s people, and another notable figure on the continent has suggested the union use force.

A spokesman for Jakaya Kikwete, who is president of Tanzania and chairman of the African Union, said using troops to rid Zimbabwe of Mugabe wouldn’t work

“We have a serious humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe. We have cholera. Do they think that we can eradicate cholera with guns?” the spokesman, Salva Rweyemamu, told Reuters.

Some in Africa, where Mugabe has long been viewed as a liberator, Reuters said, have also said he should step down.

A cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe has killed hundreds, and clean water is hard to find in the country. Officials there have requested aid, and some countries, including the United States, plan to send money, findingDulcinea reported Dec 5.

The country is struggling on other fronts as well: Zimbabwe’s skyrocketing inflation is wreaking havoc on the country’s economy, and the government has been in limbo for months thanks to disputed presidential elections marred by violence, and stalled power-sharing talks between Mugabe and the opposition party.

Longtime critic Desmond Tutu, former Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa, said Mugabe “is destroying a wonderful country.” In an interview with a Dutch television show, quoted by the Associated Press, Tutu suggested African troops should depose the leader.

Mugabe and his government, for their part, plan to protect themselves against what they call threats that other leaders are making.

“[T]he Zimbabwe government is taking serious measures to offset any threats and any further sanctions on the people. … We won this country through the barrel of the gun and we will defend it the way we won it,” George Chambra, Mugabe’s spokesman, told reporters, Reuters said.

Background: The tentative agreement and power-sharing talks

Power-sharing talks between Mugabe and his rival in the presidential election, Morgan Tsvangirai, originally began in July following months of political violence that stemmed from the country’s disputed presidential elections in March. Many wondered if the talks would ever result in a deal, as the two rival factions continued to feud.

A tentaive deal was briefly reached in September. The BBC reported that the initial terms of the agreement were that Tsvangirai would become prime minister and chair a council of ministers, and Mugabe, who has led the country for 28 years, would remain president and head the cabinet.

When MDC chairman Lovemore Moyo was voted speaker of parliament in August, winning with 110 votes over Paul Themba Nyathi, a candidate from a smaller faction of the MDC, reports stated that Mugabe, whose ZANU-PF party did not put forward a candidate, had backed the rival MDC faction. The BBC reported that Mugabe’s move “was a tactic to try and engineer control of parliament, which has backfired.”

In early October Mugabe suggested that Tsvangirai and his MDC play only a junior role in the government, despite their earlier agreement. The talks are now stuck in a stalemate, as the two leaders are unable to agree on how to share power. The two have continued wrangling over cabinet posts, and more mediation will likely be necessary, according to Reuters.

Other nations in the region have gotten involved in the dispute. The Washington Post reported that in October Zimbabwe’s neighboring countries held a meeting held a meeting in an attempt to “resolve the … power-sharing impasse.” The summit was attended by Mugabe, Tsvangirai and leaders of the SADC, and mediated by former president of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki.

Last month, after the country’s main opposition party accused the ruling party of initiating “a new wave of violence,” which halted power-sharing talks, leaders of southern African nations called for a summit where they pressured Mugabe and Tsvangirai “to end their feud on forming a unity government,” Agence France-Presse reported.

Opinion & Analysis: How will the deadlock be resolved?

With Mugabe claiming that there are no problems and the MDC calling for help, it seems unclear how the deadlock will be resolved if the two leaders cannot even agree that there is one.

James Kirchick of The Wall Street Journal warned in a recent opinion piece that “sharing power just isn’t something Mugabe does.” He compares the recent events in Zimbabwe to those of nearly 30 years ago when Zimbabwe was still the British colony of Rhodesia. Mugabe threatened to kill anyone who participated in the country’s first multiracial election, which gave whites 28 out of 100 parliamentary seats.

Still, at the end of September, MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai was hopeful that the two rivals would put an end to the deadlock in the upcoming days. Although the opposition party was willing to let Mugabe take control of the army, they were against his keeping control of internal affairs such as “police, finance, foreign affairs, justice, information and local government,” Reuters reported. Tsvangirai still had faith in recently resigned South African President Mbeki's ability to moderate the agreement. He told a news conference, "If there are political problems, that's why we have a leadership forum to resolve those issues.”

Mbeki, despite his forced resignation, will likely play a key role in breaking the stalemate, as leaders reached out to him and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) on Wednesday. “If there is anything that needs to be discussed with Zimbabwe, there are channels, and the only channel is through the facilitator," an SADC spokesperson told AFP. He has been the mediator for the duration of the process, but his spokesperson said that the SADC would have to officially state that he was still the mediator post-resignation. The MDC seems eager to continue reliance on Mbeki, and his spokesperson said, “President Mbeki will participate in any process that is aimed at taking the African continent a step forward.”

Patrick Chinamasa, chief negotiator for the ruling ZANU-PF, denies that there is any need for outside assistance. He told AFP, “Anyone who says there is a deadlock is being mischievous. There is commitment on all of us to make things work.”
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