HARARE, Zimbabwe — All Zimbabwe’s neighbors will hold a summit to try to resolve the southern African nation’s power-sharing impasse, officials announced after regional leaders debated the issue into the early hours Tuesday.
An agreement signed Sept. 15 has stalled over how to share government ministries among President Robert Mugabe’s party, Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change and a smaller opposition group.
Tsvangirai accuses Mugabe, who has led Zimbabwe since independence from Britain in 1980, of trying to hold on to too many of the most powerful posts.
Tomas Salomao, executive secretary of the 14-member Southern African Development Community (SADC), said at a news conference in Harare early Tuesday that the ministry in charge of police — accused in widespread attacks on the opposition — was the main sticking point. Salomao said the planned summit would consider a recommendation that the ministry be rotated, with the two main parties — Mugabe’s and Tsvangirai’s — holding it for six months or a year.
The opposition has resisted such an arrangement, which could further complicate an already cumbersome power-sharing proposal. But Tsvangirai gained at least a small victory in getting the members of a key SADC committee that met in Harare Monday and Tuesday to accept his call for a full summit. The opposition says only a full SADC summit has the authority to pressure Mugabe.
Zimbabwe has been on the agenda of repeated SADC mini- and full summits, and the leaders have slowly but surely pushed longtime, increasingly autocratic leader Mugabe to accept more and more compromises. Several SADC leaders have shown growing impatience with Mugabe, and may press him hard behind closed doors at a summit.
The meeting Monday and Tuesday was attended by Mugabe, Tsvangirai, opposition faction leader Arthur Mutambara and leaders from South Africa, Angola, Mozambique and Swaziland. The last three make up SADC’s troika, a special committee on politics, defense and security.
Former South African President Thabo Mbeki also attended as the mediator who brokered the deal. Tsvangirai has repeatedly questioned whether Mbeki was too close to Mugabe to be an effective mediator.
Salomao said the troika recommended “the holding of a full SADC summit to further review the current political situation in Zimbabwe as a matter of urgency.” A date and place were not immediately set.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said prior to the summit announcement that Monday’s meeting was a “critical opportunity” to form a new government based on an equitable division of power, U.N. spokeswoman Michele Montas said at U.N. headquarters in New York.
She said Ban “remains distressed about the growing human cost of the crisis in Zimbabwe, in particular given the signs that the humanitarian situation in the country may worsen in the course of 2008 and 2009.”
Montas said Ban was concerned about critical shortages of food, essential drugs, basic services and clean water.
An agreement in Zimbabwe would allow politicians there to turn attention to the nation’s economic meltdown, which has led to the deteriorating conditions.
Zimbabweans are struggling with the world’s highest official inflation rate, now pegged at 231 million percent. The U.N. predicts half the population will need food aid by next year.
A doctors group on Sunday called for urgent action to repair water and sewage systems to avert a cholera epidemic in upcoming seasonal rains. It reported at least 120 preventable deaths across the county this year from cholera. At least 27 people have died in the past month.
“The government has grossly underestimated the impact that infrastructure breakdown is having on public health,” said the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights in a statement.
In a reflection of inflation, the main state daily newspaper cost 10 Zimbabwe dollars shortly before the power sharing deal was signed. Monday’s edition cost 20,000 Zimbabwe dollars, the equivalent of 50 U.S. cents, at the dominant black market exchange rate.
Veritas, an independent legal advice group in Zimbabwe that consults with the opposition, said in a statement Monday that Tsvangirai was considering asking for other African and international statesmen to intervene if the SADC and the African Union failed to resolve the matter.