THE BLOG

Power Sharing - the Fix-it-All from Honduras to Zimbabwe

It's good to know they have brokered a power-sharing deal in Honduras.

Manuel Zelaya is happy. Roberto Micheletti said he had made a "significant concession."

Most importantly Hillary Clinton gave it her blessing calling it "an historic agreement."

This is becoming increasingly the West's preferred policy for dealing with pesky squabbling countries of the Third World. Once the world's policeman, insistent on reshaping the map of the Middle East, now America wants to settle geopolitical disputes like schoolyard fights.

"You have to play nicely together and share the sandbox."

(And don't bother mummy because mummy is very busy being the last superpower standing.)

But there are fundamental differences between rival leaders which cannot necessarily be papered over in a government of national unity. The power-sharing deal, the government of national unity is a way to take the drama off the headlines and stash it away in the back drawer of international politics. The alternatives, truly free and fair elections, putting real pressure on leaders who rig the polls, are costly, both politically and economically. The West has no stomach for it, especially in a recession.

One of the first ideas floated immediately after Afghanistan's electoral debacle was a "power sharing agreement" between Hamid Karzai and Dr. Abdullah Abdullah. Eventually when Hamid Karzai agreed to a run-off, Obama gave him a pat on the back. As Jamal Dajani of Mosaic News points out in the Huffington Post, "If someone is caught cheating in the Olympics or another sporting event, the athlete is immediately disqualified, and it is seen as a disgrace. In the case of the recent election in Afghanistan however, cheating has been rewarded and even praised by no less than the President of the United States himself."

Where does that leave the warring parties from disputed elections? They are trapped in an arranged marriage of someone else's convenience.

Take Kenya. After the violent protests following the 2007 elections, the warring sides were brought together in a coalition government. But a report in the Christian Science Monitor quotes Jakoyo Midiwo, chief parliamentary whip for the Orange Democratic Movement as saying "We may have achieved a certain level of peace in the country, but underneath that, there is nothing." Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga's government have become better known for scandals, rather than the new constitution they were supposed to write. According to the Kenya National Dialogue and Reconciliation Monitoring Report, only 40 percent of those displaced in the post-election ethnic violence have returned home. Kofi Annan is now warning Kenya's leaders that that time is running out.

In Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe was forced to enter a power sharing agreement with his bitter rival Morgan Tsvangirai. That fell apart a few weeks ago when Tsvangirai accused Mugabe's Zanu-PR party of failing to live up to its power sharing commitments (and after it arrested one of its MPs). Now that's reached a head with the UN torture investigator Manfred Nowak stopped at the Harare airport and not allowed to enter Zimbabwe. Tsvangirai had authorized the visit. But his foreign minister apparently follows orders from a higher master. "The invitation by the prime minister was a nullity," he told AP.

Internationally imposed power sharing agreements might stop civil war. But do they actually bring reconciliation in the long-term? Or do they in effect just divide the pie among the elites, elections be damned? No wonder it's becoming more and more de rigueur for parties to refuse to accept the results of elections, almost before the last polling stations have closed.

Which leads me to wonder why it's always the Zimbabwes and Kenyas and the Afghanistans of the world who are told they need to just get along and share power.

Why not the US itself? Can it take the medicine it prescribes so freely for the rest of the world? There was a disputed election here in 2000 that hung on a chad. Imagine if Honduras had told us then that what the US needed was a Bush-Gore government of national unity.