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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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A tale of two foreign trips

A show of hands: Who remembers anything that happened during John McCain's travels to Colombia and Mexico?

Bueller? Bueller? Anyone?

Well, I'd bet you have a good handle on what Barack Obama is up to this week. He just came from Afghanistan, and now he's in Iraq, where he got a big boost when Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki basically endorsed his withdrawal plan. After a few more days in the Middle East, he'll head to Europe, where by all accounts he'll be treated like a savior coming to rescue transatlantic relations from George W. Bush.

His trip is getting major, wall-to-wall coverage -- with much more to come -- but in fact, Obama has gotten the lion's share of media attention since the general election began:

Since June 9th, when Obama effectively clinched the votes for the nomination, the Project For Excellence In Journalism took a weekly look at 300 political stories in newspapers, magazines and television. In 77 percent of the stories, Obama played an important role, and 51 percent featured McCain.

A quick look at Google Trends shows that McCain hasn't even been able to capitalize on the times he has made news. Here's a graph of searches and news mentions for the past 30 days, with Obama in blue and McCain in red. As you can see, McCain's Latin America trip was during the first week of July (point A), and it barely made a dent:

Many conservatives, no doubt, will see the dark hand of media bias at work here. But is that really the case? Is McCain the victim of the liberal media? Or is Obama just more interesting and new than McCain? Discuss.

UPDATE: As for this, maybe the New York Times did McCain a favor. Check out this line from the op-ed that the Times supposedly spiked:

[Obama] makes it sound as if Prime Minister Maliki has endorsed the Obama timetable, when all he has said is that he would like a plan for the eventual withdrawal of U.S. troops at some unspecified point in the future.

Well, 2010 is getting fairly specific, no?