THE international community has expressed cautious optimism about the prospects of a unity government but said it will only lift sanctions against the country if the new administration demonstrates genuine power-sharing.
Britain and its European Union allies and the United States said they would assist the new government once they were satisfied that it was committed to democracy, while the African Union (AU) called for the immediate lifting of sanctions against Zimbabwe.
The government of national unity should be in place by next Friday following last weekâ€™s decision by the Morgan Tsvangirai-led MDCâ€™s national council to join it under the conditions outlined by Sadc on January 27.
Tsvangirai, President Robert Mugabe and the leader of the smaller formation of the MDC â€“â€“ Arthur Mutambara â€“â€“ last September signed a coalition pact, but it was not immediately implemented because of haggling over jurisdictions.
Sadc ruled last week that Constitutional Amendment No19, which gives legal effect to the deal, should be passed by parliament yesterday and that Tsvangirai must take the oath of office as prime minister by February 11.
Mutambara and MDC-Tsvangirai deputy president Thokozani Khupe should also be sworn in as Tsvangiraiâ€™s deputies on that date.
Cabinet ministers, Sadc ruled, should be sworn in two days later.
The MDC-Tsvangirai national council accepted the Sadc determination and preparations for the formation of the new government were underway this week.
The US acting spokesperson, Robert Wood, said the success or failure of the unity government would depend on â€œcredible and inclusive power-sharing by Mugabe and Zanu PFâ€.
The US dropped its public demand for Mugabe to quit office.
â€œThe international community must remain engaged and continue to scrutinise actions by Mugabe to ensure adherence to the letter and spirit of this agreement, including respect for human rights and the rule of law,â€ Wood said. â€œWe urge Sadc to fulfill its obligation to guarantee that Mugabe proceeds on a new path toward reconciliation and genuine partnership with the MDC.â€
He said the US would only consider new development assistance and easing of targeted sanctions when â€œwe have seen evidence of true power-sharing as well as inclusive and effective governance.â€
Britain said it was sceptical about the coalition government, but was of the opinion that it should be supported because of the worsening economic and health crisis in the country.
Speaking in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where he was attending an AU summit, Britainâ€™s African affairs minister Mark Malloch Brown said: â€œWeâ€™re sceptical but weâ€™ve got to try and help this work.â€
He said Britain and other countries would be generous donors if the agreement succeeded.
Canadaâ€™s foreign minister Lawrence Cannon said the formation of an inclusive government could raise hope for change and give an opportunity to deal with the humanitarian crisis.
More than 3 000 people have died of cholera, while over 60 000 have been infected since its outbreak last August. The countryâ€™s economy is flagging and over 70% of Zimbabweans require food assistance.
Cannon said: â€œAt the heart of this crisis lies an acute failure of governance and leadership. Reports that an inclusive government will be formed in Harare in the coming weeks may provide some hope to Zimbabweans that there is an opportunity for change. However, pronouncements and plans will remain empty unless they are matched by real political will and policy changes.
â€œCanada has been unequivocal in calling for improvements in freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law in Zimbabwe. We will continue to assess further developments in this light.â€
The EU welcomed the decision by the two MDC formations and Zanu PF to constitute a new government next week.
â€œI welcome the agreement reached by the Zimbabwean parties, in particular to establish the government of national unity,â€ EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said in a statement. â€œThe government of national unity will be judged by its actions.â€
Solana said only in the context of an equitable political solution would the plight of the Zimbabwean people be alleviated.
Ban Ki-moon, United Nations secretary-general, who met Mugabe on Sunday on the sidelines of the AU summit, said although the multilateral organisation welcomed the unity government deal, it was â€œimperfectâ€.
â€œWhile I have welcomed the decision of Tsvangirai and MDCâ€™s decision to join the unity government, I still believe this is an imperfect situation,â€ Ban said on Monday in Addis Ababa. â€œI have urged President Mugabe to build upon this new development â€¦ and try to make progress as soon as possible, so that they can ensure the fuller democracy and freedom.â€
The AU said sanctions against Zimbabwe should be lifted immediately and a chance given to the unity government to resolve the humanitarian and economic crisis.
But while the international community welcomed the deal with cautious optimism, about 40 Anglican Church bishops who met in Egypt from around the world, on Wednesday said Mugabe should go.
In a statement, the bishops said: â€œThe economy of Zimbabwe has collapsed, as evidenced by the use of foreign currencies in an independent state.
â€œWe therefore call upon Robert Mugabe to respect the outcome of the elections of 2008 and to step down. We call for the implementation of the rule of law and the restoration of democratic processes.â€
The Anglican statement also called on parishes worldwide to observe Ash Wednesday, a Christian festival, which this year falls on February 25, as a day of prayer and solidarity with the Zimbabwean people.
The Anglican meeting also called upon the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, who is chairing the five-day session in Egypt, to send an envoy to Zimbabwe, â€œto exercise a ministry of presence and to show solidarity with the Zimbabwean peopleâ€.
The church leaders, urged all Anglican parishes, dioceses and provinces to take any action they can to support people and churches in Zimbabwe.
BY CONSTANTINE CHIMAKURE