ZIMBABWE sailed into uncharted waters this week with only one thing certain: President Mugabeâ€™s hand is still firmly on the rudder.
Although his ruling Zanu PF party lost the position of Speaker of Parliament on Monday for the first time since independence in 1980, talk of it being the endgame for the octogenarianâ€™s brutal rule is premature.
“We are back at square one, and Mugabe is on top,” Professor Sipho Seepe, a political analyst in neighbouring South Africa, said. “Mugabe has outwitted the opposition and the entire international community and there is no reason to believe any concessions are on the way. From his perspective, why should he make them?” Although Mugabe was booed when he opened Parliament on Tuesday, nothing can mask the fact that for all the international condemnation and so-called “peace talks”, he still controls all the main levers of state power. The rowdy scenes may have been unimaginable only a few years ago, but they do not indicate that Mugabeâ€™s grip on power is slipping. Indeed, the political deadlock could cause things to worsen.
Talks between Zanu PF and Morgan Tsvangiraiâ€™s MDC are likely to stay deadlocked with an increasingly impotent President Mbeki, the official mediator, unable to kickstart them again.
The Southern African Development Community, the other regional bloc with influence, is hopelessly split and in a state of flux after the death this month of President Mwanawasa of Zambia, one of Mr Mugabeâ€™s harshest African critics.
Only one thing is clear. Zimbabweâ€™s economic crisis, with inflation of 11 million percent and unemployment at 80%, is set to worsen. More refugees will flood into neighbouring countries. The region will not be allowed to forget the crisis on its doorstep nor its inability to solve the issue.
Mbeki and the international community have once again paid the price for refusing to accept that Mugabe himself is the problem.
“Everyone, every single organisation and monitoring group condemned the polls and the result as not credible, but Mbeki still allowed Mugabe into negotiations and by so doing gave him relevance,” Seepe said.
“He has taken advantage of it and while the leaders continue to fight and wrangle, ordinary Zimbabweans will suffer even more.”
By Jonathan ClaytonÂ
The Times (UK).