Nairobi, Kenya (CNSNews.com) – A power-sharing deal hammered out in Zimbabwe suggests that African-style democracy has more to do with rigged elections and power-sharing deals than it does with actual political reform.
The national unity government agreement signed earlier this week between President Robert Mugabe and opposition leader turned prime minister-designate Morgan Tsvangirai is similar to one reached earlier this year in Kenya. In both cases, the deal was negotiated as part of an effort to end a political crisis triggered by a disputed election.
The West African nation of Cote d’Ivoire reached a power sharing agreement earlier, following turmoil that erupted in 2002 after a failed attempt to topple the president.
“These cases confirm that we may have overrated our expectations of democracy,” said Wilson Ugangu, the coordinator of the Media Diversity Center, a Nairobi-based civil society group.
“We are seeing that democracy in Africa is not based on the definition of democracy as practiced in Europe or the United States,” he said. “We need to find a way of domesticating democracy, and cases in Kenya, Zimbabwe and others may just be confirming this.”
Some Africans here worry that while the deal may be a good one for Zimbabweans, it could prompt other African leaders to rig elections and then agree to resolve any resulting crises by forming coalitions with their challengers. The fact that the African Union (AU) is embracing such deals adds to the concerns.
“African leaders are finding an alternative to extending their presidency beyond their elected terms of office,” said Albert Wafula, a Kenyan attorney who handles political cases.
“The precedent being set is dangerous because refusing to hand over power, even after election defeat, may now become fashionable,” he said.
“It may be good for peace, but the casualty is democracy. One option for Africa is to adopt very strong information technology-backed vote tallying processes, so that rigging claims can be reduced,” Wafula added.
Emmanuel Agu, a Nigerian businessman based in Kenya, said the only positive outcome was that the deal had prevented bloodshed that could have grown worse. “But where is our democracy going?” he asked.
Kenya’s Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who signed a similar deal in March with President Mwai Kibaki, said the Zimbabwe agreement meant that “Africans themselves have prevented a crisis from growing into conflagration.”
Attempts to get A.U. reaction were unsuccessful. Earlier its chairman, Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, said the Zimbabwe deal was “good for the continent.”
Aside from the implications for democracy, analysts said the agreement may open “a small window of opportunity” for Zimbabweans to undo some of the economic damage their country has sustained since early 2000, when Mugabe started expelling white commercial farmers in a botched land redistribution program.
Mugabe has long blamed former colonial power Britain and U.S. and European sanctions for the galloping inflation rate and food shortages.
European Union foreign ministers said the bloc would maintain sanctions until the new government takes steps to restore democracy and when intimidation and violence ends.
U.S. assistant secretary of state for African Affairs, Jendayi Frazer, told the BBC earlier this week that Washington wanted to help Zimbabwe, but would want to see proof that Mugabe had relinquished some genuine power to Tsvangirai.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the U.S. expected to see the agreement “faithfully implemented.”
Under the deal, Mugabe will chair the cabinet and the National Security Council, and will remain in charge of the armed forces. His ZANU-PF party will have 13 cabinet ministers.
Tsvangirai, as prime minister, will chair a council that oversees the running of ministries and his Movement for Democratic Change party will have 16 ministers. He will also control the police force.
By late Wednesday, the parties had not agreed on the allocation of ministries although Tsvangirai said earlier that his party was interested in holding the home affairs, justice and finance ministries.