WASHINGTON -- Zimbabwe's Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai is attempting something rare and difficult -- sharing power with the man who tried to murder him.
Every Monday morning, Tsvangirai conducts public business across the table from Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe's president, founder and oppressor. During a recent interview in Washington, Tsvangirai observed to me that the 85-year-old Mugabe "is someone who can be charming when he wants. I am on guard when he becomes charming. It is when I'm most suspicious of his intentions."
Mugabe has a long history of co-opting his political opponents -- or killing them. "He has not co-opted me," says Tsvangirai. The killing part is not for want of trying. In 1997, regime thugs attempted to throw Tsvangirai out of a 10th-story window. In 2002, he was charged with treason and threatened with a death sentence. In 2007, he was beaten bloody during a protest. And the presidential election that Tsvangirai won last year was clearly stolen by Mugabe.
Yet Tsvangirai is now part of an unlikely power-sharing agreement with Mugabe, becoming prime minister in a unity government. It is, he admits, a "calculated risk."
Tsvangirai describes two calculations. First, he was concerned that Zimbabweans were too weary to take to the streets to contest a stolen election. "You don't want people to reach struggle fatigue. People wanted to try this cohabitation, to ease their economic plight."
Second, Tsvangirai is making the extraordinary calculation that "Mugabe is part of the solution." While most of the rest of the world insists that Mugabe must go, Tsvangirai believes his presence is necessary "to create stability and peace during the transition." The alternative, he fears, could be a destructive militarization of the conflict. And he hopes that the aging Mugabe is considering his own legacy -- choosing to finish his career as the founder of his country, not as the villain of his country.