HARARE - President Robert Mugabe has backtracked on a pledge to meet opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai in a move analysts yesterday said was a doubled-edged sword that will buy time for the embattled President but will also exacerbate Zimbabwe's crisis.
Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo last week announced he had persuaded a reluctant Mugabe to agree to meet Tsvangirai and his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) party in talks to cobble up a plan to pull Zimbabwe back from the brink of total economic and social disaster.
But Mugabe's spokesman George Charamba earlier this week poured cold water on renewed hopes for a negotiated and democratic solution to Zimbabwe's fast-deteriorating crisis telling state media that Mugabe and his government will only make contact with the opposition in Parliament.
Both Mugabe and Tsvangirai do not seat in Parliament and Charamba's statement effectively rules out the possibility of talks between Zimbabwe's two most powerful politicians without which analysts do not see any progress in resolving the country's crisis.
University of Zimbabwe (UZ) political scientist Eldred Masunugure, told ZimOnline that Mugabe had acceded to Obasanjo's demands for talks only to appease international and regional partners by appearing to be sensitive to their wishes.
But the Zimbabwean leader was playing to a different game-plan premised on the hope that the MDC, weakened after five years of unrelenting state repression, shall sink into obscurity - if only he could hold on a little longer.
"Mugabe has given a picture of walking hand-in-hand with regional or international partners before," the respected Masunungure said. He added: "There is a pattern which is part of his political game plan to buy time but this public posturing is not going to last forever."
Mugabe's reneging on his promise on talks to Obasanjo is not the first time he has betrayed his word of honour to African allies, who have however continued to stand by his government as it grapples its worst economic crisis ever.
In the past, the Zimbabwean leader has promised Obasanjo and other African leaders such as South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki that he would either meet Tsvangirai or scrap draconian security and media laws used to silence the opposition and other voices of dissension but to no avail.
In 2002, Mugabe's ZANU PF party briefly took part in talks with the MDC which were brokered by Obasanjo and Mbeki. But Zimbabwe's ruling party soon wriggled its way out of dialogue saying it could not continue in the talks after Tsvangirai filed a court application challenging Mugabe's re-election in March 2002.
In the latest incident, Obasanjo told British legislators that he had nudged Mugabe during the sidelines of the African Union summit that took place in Libya last week to agree to talks with his political foe.
According to the Nigerian leader, the talks were to be held either in Zimbabwe or South Africa under the mediation of a respected African, possibly a former president of one of the southern African states.
Zimbabwe is in the throes of its worst economic and political crisis which critics blame on Mugabe's misrule of what was once one of Africa's most vibrant economies.
The severe economic crisis has manifested itself in shortages of foreign currency that has triggered the worst fuel crisis in years, unemployment of around 80 percent and hyper-inflation that has impoverished the once prosperous nation.
But Mugabe denies mismanaging Zimbabwe claiming instead that he is a victim of economic sabotage by Britain and other Western governments out to punish Harare for seizing farmland from minority whites and giving it to landless blacks.
Analysts say only a negotiated and democratic settlement between Mugabe and the opposition paving way for free and fair elections could unlock blocked foreign aid, vital to any effort to resuscitate Zimbabwe's comatose economy.
But another UZ lecturer and political commentator Heneri Dzinotyiwei, said there was no unanimity within Mugabe's ZANU PF party on the necessity of talks with the MDC.
"There is a lot of domestic pressure from some influential people in his ruling party who are against going into talks that maybe viewed as capitulating to pressure," Dzinotyiwei said.
Masungure concurred adding that there was a group within ZANU PF comprising hawks philosophically opposed to talks because they believed the MDC is a western stooge and some senior party leaders who fear losing positions of influence under a bi-party settlement.
He added that the group of hawks was, "probably a small number numerically but they hold the biggest political clout and unfortunately dictate the policy of the party." - ZimOnline