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Why power-sharing offers false comfort in Zimbabwe

DESMOND KWANDE/AFP/Getty Images

There's heavy speculation that today's agreement between Zimbabwe's government and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) could be setting the stage for a power-sharing arrangement between two sides. South African President Thabo Mbeki as well as mediators from the African Union (AU) and Southern African Development Community (SADC) are all pushing the idea of a "government of national unity" along the lines of the one that was formed during Kenya's election crisis earlier this year.

It's understandable that the African community likes this solution. It's a quick way to stop the bloodshed while giving some concessions to the opposition who, after all, won the original election. But it's a rather feeble solution nonetheless. Although the deal in Kenya may have put an end to the violence, the divided government in Nairobi remains highly dysfunctional.

In Zimbabwe, there's even less reason to believe that Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai, who openly hate each other's guts, could ever form a workable partnership. Any sort of power-sharing deal is little more than a fantasy while MDC leaders still fear for their lives.

But what's most worrying is the precedent this sets for elections in Africa. From now on, if a strongman leader loses an election, all he needs to do is ignore the result and provoke violent unrest. Before long, AU or SADC mediators will swoop in to propose a "government of national unity" in order to defuse tensions. In most places, when you lose an election, you have to step down. In Africa, it's just a starting point for negotiations.

The MDC may have no other choice but to accept such a deal, but African leaders are heading down a very dangerous path by pushing for it.

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