Zimbabwe Review

Reflections on Zimbabwe

Mugabe’s reception at SADC meeting reflects poorly on all concerned

Posted by CM on August 17, 2007

I did not expect any ground-breaking initiatives on Zimbabwe from SADC leaders at their summit in Lusaka, despite the country’s implosion being on the meeting’s agenda. They have all tip-toed around the issue of Zimbabwe for years, and even now it is only the clear effects on their countries of its accelerated unraveling that has begun to force them to pay attention in a way they would sooner have avoided.

The economic, humanitarian and “image-contagion” effect on SADC of Zimbabwe’s descent has not moved SADC to dare say anything that might be construed as even mildly chiding Mugabe for visiting ruin on his country. I have often thought there might be an element of pleasure at a country that is only second to South Africa in the region in terms of general development being brought down several pegs, a sort of celebration of the equalisation of mediocrity. But now they must be seen to be at least paying lip service to the increasing grumbling of their citizens to the influx of Zimbabweans running away from the situation at home.

But even with my low expectations of the summit, I was stunned at the news of Mugabe’s reception in Lusaka:

Political leaders from southern African countries… publicly lauded as a hero the man who has brought his country to the brink of collapse.

Mr. Mugabe was greeted with cheers, applause, dancing and laughter from fellow dignitaries when he arrived in Lusaka for the two-day summit of leaders of the 14-nation Southern African Development Community. He flew in aboard one of Air Zimbabwe’s remaining serviceable Boeing aircraft, which was taken off its passenger flight schedule by presidential decree.

Mr. Mugabe, 83, smiled broadly as he acknowledged the rapturous welcome, louder and more enthusiastic than for any of the other heads of state or government. The reception dented any lingering hopes that African leaders, in particular President Mbeki of South Africa, would put pressure on Mr. Mugabe to step aside.

Mike Mulongoti, the host country’s Minister of Information, said: “Zambia cannot impose its will on Zimbabwe, just as Zimbabwe cannot impose its will on Zambia.” But he admitted that, as Zimbabwe’s plight worsened by the day, all that the community’s leaders could do was to “quietly whisper to each other our concerns”.

Patrick Chinamasa, Zimbabwe’s combative Justice Minister, rejected the need for political reform. “There are no political reforms necessary in my country,” Mr. Chinamasa said. “We are a democracy like any other democracy in the world.”

What kind of herd instinct can account for this behaviour by the SADC leaders, when in not so public fora, and free of peer pressure, they admit to the inexcusable decline of their neighbour? It is one thing to not have the courage to say something even as mild as “it is abundantly obvious that things are not right in Zimbabwe, we are very concerned;” but it is unconsciable for them to actually want to be seen to be egging it on and delighting in it!

Mugabe and his propaganda machine will obviously milk his reception for all it is worth, and be emboldened in his present path of steep decline. But this is not a sign of strength, but of embarrassing weakness and foolishness. No amount of basking in the applause of cynical, compromised and hypocritical regional leaders can lessen the objective reality that Zimbabwe is ailing very badly, and that its rulers do not offer any way out of the problems. What does it say about Zimbabwe’s rulers that they derive more satisfaction from the approval of neighbours, than they feel shame at the terrible mess and suffering at home?

His cheering neighbours, including those whose countries have almost identical historical issues to those in Zimbabwe that Mugabe says he is trying to address, are following policies diametrically different from his, no matter how much they cheer him in public. That they reject them for their own situations is the real proof of what they think of his policies. So you have the deeply embarrassing situation where a man revels in the applause of his “friends,” seemingly so devoid of a balanced internal compass to see that the cheering may be in the spirit of mockery.

The SADC Heads of State also do not come out of this looking defiant of the West as may be their principle reason for applauding a man they can see has laid his country to waste; but as weak, two-faced leaders. The pathetic and deteriorating state of Zimbabwe is not a matter of opinion, it is obvious for the whole world to see, even if there are various explanations for the root causes of that decline. And it is the responsibility of any government to try hard to find realistic solutions to problems, whatever their cause.

As illustrated by Chinamasa’s “no reforms are necessary in my country” comment, its rulers do not see any need to take charge of a more inclusive process in which the many Zimbabweans who are aggrieved about how their country is being ruled can feel a part of things. The country’s problems have begun to spill over into its neighbours, with resentment amongst their citizens and xenophobia against Zimbabweans growing.

In this scenario, for the SADC leaders to act as if all is well in Zimbabwe and to encourage Mugabe in his downward spiral hardly makes them look heroic, Western-defiant or even rational: it makes them look foolish, cruel and cynical. It may very well be a type of “friendship and solidarity,” but it is certainly not the constructive, positive type one would hope for from genuine friends who point out your errors because they want to see you doing well. Zimbabwe in particular, but Mugabe himself as a person too, are very poorly served by “friends” who secretly revel in one’s self-destruction behind one’s back, even as they cheer on your destructive antics to your face.

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