Unity governments: good enough for Africa, but not us?

The press are even more schizophrenic than usual about Zimbabwe. A confident opposition is saying they’ll ‘bury Mugabe’ says Voice of America–the same opposition that is cowering from assassination threats according to the BBC. CNN reports that Zimbabwe’s military has been fingered as the source of the assassination plot, while the Christian Science Monitor touts a unity government in the making.

What is with the West’s love affair with governments of national unity? In Africa, that is. A unity of Republicans and Democrats after Bush-Gore was unthinkable, despite the lack of violence (let alone an assassination plot). We can barely conceive of Hillary and Obama on the same ticket. Likewise, a union of Labour and Conservatives in the UK is laughable.

By cementing an unstable political equilibrium, we can more or less guarantee that policy reform will grind to a near halt. Moreover, these so-called unity governments may only postpone an inevitable struggle for power. Perhaps this option is preferred by an international community reluctant to see violence on the front pages of the New York Times.

What the CS Monitor gets right is the focus on the shadowy figures behind Mugabe. An election or settlement that puts the opposition into power threatens the security and freedom of a great many thugs and villains. It’s easy enough to guarantee Mugabe immunity, but what of this larger crowd? A power-sharing deal is an unconvincing solution.

The trouble is, I don’t have a better answer. One could come in handy, not just for Zimbabwe, but for a good many long-time African leaders. Museveni of Uganda is one. Kibaki of Kenya too. So long as their coterie fear prosecution or impoverishment from a new government, we’ll continue to see more troubled transitions. Suggestions?