Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC have agreed to join Robert Mugabe’s dictatorship in order to form a unity government, under heavy pressure from international observers.  They hope that a unity government can conduct free elections and start working immediately to resolve Zimbabwe’s economic and health collapse, but the MDC wound up with none of their demands met.  Mugabe still controls all the levers of power in Harare:

Zimbabwe’s main opposition is headed into a unity government within weeks, bowing Friday to pressure to conclude a deal with a president it considers a brutal dictator so a spiraling humanitarian crisis can be tackled.

The U.N., meanwhile, reported that Zimbabwe has suffered more than 60,000 cholera cases since August, surpassing what experts had said would be a worst-case scenario. The Red Cross and World Health Organization warned the disease could become prevalent throughout the country and claim thousands of lives each year. …

The opposition had earlier insisted there would be no coalition until a dispute over how to fairly share Cabinet and other posts was resolved after Mugabe insisted on keeping the most powerful posts for his ZANU-PF party. The opposition also had wanted attacks on dissidents to stop.

Mugabe’s party and leaders of neighboring countries have said the opposition should first enter the government, then resolve outstanding issues. With Friday’s decision, the opposition adopted that strategy.

Tsvangirai becomes Prime Minister and supposedly will get some of Mugabe’s authority, although the dictator remains president.  Neighboring nations threatened to recognize a Mugabe-formed government if Tsvangirai didn’t agree to join.  Backed into a corner, Tsvangirai had little choice.  The only other option would have given Mugabe the opportunity to hunt Tsvangirai down as a traitor.

However, the deal still leaves Tsvangirai and the Zimbabwe opposition with only as much power as Mugabe’s willing to transfer.  The interceding nations may press Mugabe to follow through and honor his commitment, but as we’ve seen over the past year, they have only reluctantly applied any pressure at all.  South Africa’s Thabo Mbeki spent most of 2008 acting as Mugabe’s toady in pan-African political organizations instead of defending democracy and freedom, a shameful performance for the leader of a nation that owes its liberty to decades of international pressure on its previous apartheid government.

Mugabe has a convenient front now, and a way to put on a good show while maintaining his death grip on real power in Zimbabwe.  Moreover, the health crisis in Zimbabwe has less to do with electoral politics than it does with Mugabe’s own economic and agricultural policies, which he will refuse to change in the slightest.  The end of the political conflict will allow more aid to flow into the country, but until Zimbabwe reverses its suicidal land “reforms”, the former breadbasket of southern Africa won’t produce enough to feed even a fraction of its own people.