Zimbabwe future hazy even if deal is reached

HARARE Fri Aug 8, 2008 12:14pm EDT

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HARARE (Reuters) - Even if Zimbabwe's government and opposition reach a power-sharing deal soon, real progress in rebuilding the shattered economy will depend on agreement from both security chiefs and Western powers.

Although there is no confirmation of press reports saying President Robert Mugabe's ZANU-PF party and the opposition MDC could sign a deal this weekend, there are signs an agreement may be close.

South African President Thabo Mbeki, who has mediated the negotiations, is expected in Harare on Saturday, apparently in the hope of overseeing a deal.

But analysts say such an agreement would not turn around the ruined economy unless Western powers threw massive financial backing behind it and the powerful "securocrats" supporting Mugabe were also on board.

The army and police chiefs are widely believed to have strengthened Mugabe's resolve after he lost a first round presidential vote on March 29. Analysts believe they will not support a power-sharing deal unless they are given immunity from international justice.

Human rights groups and the opposition accuse them of leading a violent campaign to ensure Mugabe's re-election in a widely condemned second round on June 27 that was boycotted by MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai because of the violence.

Although no details of the power-sharing talks have been disclosed, several Zimbabwe analysts believe Mugabe is only ready to surrender some executive powers and will try to retain control of crucial state organs.

"I think those who expected Tsvangirai to be heading the government, those who want Mugabe out of the scene altogether will not be happy with a situation in which Mugabe retains significant power," said political analyst Eldred Masunungure.

WESTERN POWERS

"I think quite a number of Western countries will want time to assess and review the outcome before committing themselves, and will not simply listen to ZANU-PF or the MDC's versions of events," he said.

"If they come on board and give the process a chance, that will be good for the economy, but if they don't, Zimbabwe will still face problems internationally," said Masunungure, a political science professor at the University of Zimbabwe.

Key Western powers, led by the United States and Zimbabwe's former colonial master Britain, have frozen financial aid and imposed sanctions on Mugabe's closest allies because of alleged human rights abuses and vote-rigging.

Analysts say assistance from these countries, and from the IMF and World Bank, is crucial to reversing years of economic decline in a country battling with the world's highest inflation of over 2.2 million percent, a crumbling infrastructure, massive unemployment and food shortages.

Mugabe blames the economic meltdown -- which has forced a quarter of Zimbabwe's 13 million people abroad and left the rest struggling with chronic shortages of food, fuel and foreign currency -- on opponents trying to oust his government.

Mugabe's party ring-fenced as "non-negotiable" a number of issues ahead of the talks, including his presidency, his land reforms and what it called Zimbabwe's political sovereignty.

Analysts say this was a clear pointer that Mugabe was not going to give up control over agriculture and the security forces, crucial to his hold on power.

John Makumbe, a political commentator and Mugabe critic, said a political deal that left Mugabe with key powers could split the opposition.

"Mugabe has been the problem, and if he is allowed to have overwhelming power and allowed to dominate, there may be others in the MDC who will find that unacceptable and will break away (from Tsvangirai's leadership)," he said.

"It will be a difficult scenario, but there are people who are wary about being cheated by Mugabe," he added.

Critics accuse the 84-year-old former guerrilla leader of ruining the once prosperous southern African state with policies including his seizures of white-owned farms for redistribution to inexperienced black farmers struggling to produce food.

But Mugabe -- who led the country to independence in 1980 after a seven-year bush war -- says the land seizures and lately his plans to nationalize foreign companies, including mines and banks, are part of a drive to empower blacks impoverished by the white settler community.

John Robertson, a leading economic commentator, said Zimbabwe would be in for more pain if the power-sharing deal failed to win international endorsement.

"The economy is on its knees, and while a political deal is important, the crucial question is, are we are going to see a change in the policies that got us into this mess?" he said.

"That is the crux of the matter."

(Editing by Barry Moody; Harare Newsroom: +2634- 799-112-5; cris.chinaka@reuters.com)

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