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Dangerous desperation

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According to ZimOnline, Zimbabwe’s Finance Minister Tendai Biti believes that “The consequences of it (unity government) not working are drastic, it will lead to a failure of the state, a collapse of the state and all the civil unrest that follows the failure of a state.”

Anyone would agree that Zimbabwe’s economy is in dire straits. All sectors of the economy, from business, agriculture, industry and mining to education, health care and sanitation need more money, more support and more stability if the country is to recover from the downward spiral of recent years and again be able to provide prosperity and development for Zimbabweans.

I appreciate that Biti may be deliberately presenting worst-case scenarios to pressure foreign governments and aid agencies to give more generously to Zimbabwe. He’s saying that if the unity government collapsed because it was short of finance, it would cost even more to clean up the mess that would create.

But I question the desperation inherent in Biti’s statement. It implies the potential to cling to a non-functioning unity agreement, because one is afraid of the alternatives. To date, Zimbabwe’s democratic transition has been a story of imperfect, negotiated settlements that we are urged to accept because “what other option is there.” Painting our current interim government as “make or break” just adds to the feeling that we must accept this deal, however flawed, because the alternatives are too ghastly to contemplate. And it stifles criticism of the deal, because who wants to be a spoiler if this really is out best hope?

But settling for a morally bankrupt compromise solution is what is most ghastly. Rather than clinging to blindly to our imperfect agreement, politicians should be encouraging all of us to open up the space in which to contemplate our alternatives more positively and proactively.

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