Zimbabwe Review

Reflections on Zimbabwe

Archive for July, 2008

Positive development in Zimbabwean biofuels

Posted by CM on July 10, 2008

by Chido Makunike

Surely “positive” and “Zimbabwe” cannot belong in the same sentence, I can hear you say.

That Zimbabwe is in a mess in many ways is indisputable, but this blog will never tire of pointing out how very few aspects of The Zimbabwe Crisis can be viewed in quite the simplistic black and white terms painted by most of the media we are assaulted by every day.

From The Herald of July 4:

ZIMBABWE’S biggest sugar cane producer, Triangle Sugar Corporation, has resumed ethanol production at its plant in the Lowveld, in a milestone development that is expected to ease serious fuel woes that have been afflicting the country over the past decade.

The ethanol is blended with petrol and the biofuel allows Zimbabwe to “grow” up to 15 percent of its own petrol.

The resumption of ethanol production by Triangle was also expected to meet all the blending requirements by State’s sole fuel procurer Noczim and save Zimbabwe millions of dollars in foreign currency every year.

The ethanol plant at Triangle was decommissioned in the early 1990s following a severe countrywide drought but Government has of late been calling on Triangle to recommission the plant in the wake of prevailing fuel shortages in the country.

Triangle chief executive officer Mr Sydney Mtsambiwa yesterday confirmed that his company had resumed ethanol production, adding that commissioning of the plant to produce fuel-grade ethanol was scheduled for middle of this month.

Triangle produces over 35 million litres of ethanol a year but the figure was expected to rise with increased sugarcane hectarage in the Lowveld.

The completion of Tokwe-Murkosi Dam in Chivi could also further boost ethanol production in the Lowveld as sugarcane production was expected to increase by between 15 and 20 percent in Chiredzi.

The Herald having become a shameless propaganda sheet over the years, one must be cautious about treating anything in it as absolute gospel. The optimistic projections about the contribution the ethanol will make to the country’s fuel requirements must be taken with a grain of salt.

Providing a little more detail about the development, business newswire Bloomberg said well-known sugar cane growers Hippo Valley Estates and Triangle Limited would provide the feedstock, and that their South African parent company, Tongaat Hulett, was in the process of “converting a plant in Zimbabwe for ‘a small amount of capital’ to allow it to switch between producing potable ethanol and fuel-grade ethanol.”

I think large scale ethanol production and blending with petrol first took off in the country in the 1970s, during the sanctions against Rhodesia for declaring UDI in 1968. Biofuels are globally controversial now because of charges that the widespread switch of farm land and agro-resources from food to biofuel feedstock crops has significantly contributed to the current “global food crisis” of escalating agro-commodity prices.

But clearly, for a country like Zimbabwe that has largely been cut off from international credit and facing close to a decade of serious fuel shortages, biofuel production is an excellent idea that should be encouraged and expanded.

Hopefully the country’s politicians have enough economic sense to prevent the political disruptions of farming production we have seen over the years, including at the sugar estates that are now turning sugar cane into fuel grade ethanol.

Posted in Agriculture, Economy | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Why existing investors are unenthusiastic about Zimbabwe sanctions

Posted by CM on July 10, 2008

by Chido Makunike

The international diplomatic pressure by Britain for some kind of sanctions to be imposed on Zimbabwe is currently at fever pitch. It will be interesting to find out today if the sanctions resolution that is scheduled to be voted on at the UN Security Council will carry the day as British officials have been confidently predicting or be vetoed by Russia or China, as some reports suggest could happen.

But it is interesting that the proposed sanctions being called for are primarily a tightening up of the ‘targeted sanctions’ against Mugabe and his closest lieutenants, rather than an open, generalised embargo of the whole Zimbabwean economy . Only time will tell why such tightening is thought to have a chance of bringing Mugabe’s government to heel when it has been completely impervious to them before. They have almost become a badge of honor among the rulers, a way of showing anti-Western stripes that are currently highly valued in Mugabe’s circles, but not materially changing their lives much at all.

Globalization and the rise of a mostly friendly and sympathetic-to-Africa Asia have assured that travel and business bans imposed by the West on Mugabe and his close aides have been nothing more than a minor nuisance.

It is interesting that as newly determined to act against Mugabe as Gordon Brown’s government is, it has not called for the outright pull-out of the many British companies operating in Zimbabwe. In the last week have been reports of some of those British companies saying they are getting very mixed signals from the British establishment when they ask for clarification on what the government would like them to do with regards to their Zimbabwean operations.

In late june Brown warned British: “‘Where businesses are helping the Zimbabwe regime, they should consider their position now,” before making any investments in Zimbabwe. Some commentators thought that this was in direct response to reports that mining conglomerate Anglo American had plans to spend £200 million on a platinum mine there. The pressure forced the company to say it was “deeply concerned about the current political situation in Zimbabwe,” and that it was “reviewing all options” surrounding the development of the Unki platinum project.

One of the many reports about sanctions pointed out that Brown did not directly order British firms to withdraw operations from Zimbabwe. He is specifically said to have cautioned that any sanctions must be balanced against harming ordinary Zimbabweans by being targeted at the country’s leadership.

But perhaps there is more to this seemingly contradictory caution than concern about not worsening ordinary peoples’ hardships.

Investments are not a one way street. Asking British firms to stop doing business with or pull out of Zimbabwe will have negative consequences for those companies as well as effects on Zimbabwe’s economy. It is sometimes portrayed as if the continuation of those companies’ business in Zimbabwe is out of the kindness of their hearts, a sort of favor to poor helpless Zimbabwe, and that they would actually be relieved to leave such a poorly performing economy.

The truth is even if their operations are barely ticking along now, many of these companies have substantial long-term investments that they risk being expropriated by the Mugabe government should they pull out. Mugabe has on several occasions mentioned his willingness to do just that if pushed into a corner or ‘provoked’ enough. It is true that particularly in the current environment, there is no reason to believe the government would run those mines and other investments any better or profitably than the companies themselves. This would be especially so without access to the kind of international money required for capital-intensive things like mining. But at that stage the considerations would mostly be hot-headed political ones, as we saw with farm take-overs, not necessarily cool-headed economic ones.

Such takeovers would in the short-term be largely non-performing assets for the government, in the same way they are poorly performing assets for their current private owners. So any losses due to expropriation, fire-sale shedding of the assets or forced (by sanctions) pull-outs would not necessarily bite the investors hard in in the short term by the investors, since their assets are performing minimally now. But for the capital and long-term opportunity losses would be major.

Many companies in Zimbabwe, local and foreign, have barely held on for many years in the hope of positive  political change and a quick turn-around. They continue to do business there not so much for present day profits, but in the expectation of future gains if they can hang on until “normality” is restored. It would be much harder to close shop or pull out completely now and then try to re-enter when many other investors will be competing to for choice opportunities. So an important reason for many companies hanging on is to have an advantageous, competitive position when things start to work again and Zimbabwe is once again one of Africa’s hottest economies. This will happen because of the vast advantages over most Africa the country has in the basic economic fundamentals that have been hidden by the current crisis.

And it is not just sitting investors who see opportunity in Zimbabwe’s future. A recent Reuters report discussed how the ‘Zimbabwe contagion’ is not likely to significantly affect business and investment in the rest of Africa. The article, with the heading Hardier investors undeterred by Zimbabwe is dated July 1st, so is not ancient news from another time, but was written smack dab in the midst of the current crisis.

Here is a brief excerpt that bolsters the point I am making, that companies are cautious about their Zimbabwe portfolio but they are not exactly in a stampede to leave the country:

Zimbabwe itself has also seen something of an investment boom this year, with an estimated $150-250 million coming into the country from investors keen to buy cheap assets and position themselves for an eventual recovery.

Enthusiasm has since altered but those who have gone in say they are staying put and probably the largest investment fund, London listed LonZim says it still intends to raise another up to $100 million to fund new purchase.

“I’ve had no nervous phone calls from investors,” said LonZim executive chairman David Lenigas. “Quite the contrary. There is a loss of enthusiasm for what LonZim is doing in Zimbabwe. But it is a very long-term exercise.”

It must not be forgotten that the “collapse” of Zimbabwe has been written about for close to 10 years now. That the Somalia-like breakdown of all formal systems has not taken place is a sign of the little economy’s enduring strength in terms of the basic infrastructure, systems and skills, even though all these have taken a battering in the years of steep decline. But many still believe a resolution of the politics would result in a fairly rapid recovery of many sectors.

Therefore no company with long term investments in Zimbabwe is going to be in a hurry to walk away from them. Doing so would almost certainly mean forfeiting them to the state or the favored elite for nothing, or selling them off for a fraction of their value. It also means much greater difficult re-entering what may still be revived to be southern Africa’s most robust economy after South Africa.

Brown & Co. would have taken all this into consideration, and it must be one reason why they have not called for a total withdrawal of British companies: there is an awful lot for those companies to lose.

Bloomberg had a very good article about some of the big companies with a stake in the Zimbabwean economy on March 27, two days before the ‘harmonised’ election in which Tsvangirai outpolled Mugabe.  The article was essentially about how the mining industry remained confident that recovery of the sector would be quick with positive political reform.

“The (mining) industry and investors are betting that better times lie ahead. The key: the political future of President Robert Mugabe,” wrote Anthony Sguazzin.

“There are investment funds waiting in the wings” should Zimbabwe’s leadership change and the economic outlook improve, said Mark Wellesley-Wood, chief executive officer of Johannesburg-based Metallon Corp., Zimbabwe’s biggest gold producer. “We are hunkered down. It’s been survival and preparation.”

“Metallon and Impala Platinum Holdings Ltd. already are prepared to expand. Zimbabwe has some of Africa’s best roads and best-educated workforce, and the remnants of a manufacturing industry that once lagged behind only South Africa in the continent’s southern region.”

“Economic progress might come rapidly should Mugabe lose, or win and be pushed out. “I am certain that if there is political change, the turnaround will be quick,” said Greg Hunter, chief executive officer of Central African Gold Plc, which bought two Zimbabwean gold mines last year and is considering expansion.

“Relatively little investment is needed to rehabilitate the industry, Hunter said. Power production could be ramped up at Zimbabwe’s coal-fired plant at Hwange in the northwest and the Kariba South Hydropower plant with minor equipment replacements. Many of the country’s gold mines aren’t closed. Instead, they have been maintained even while they were idled or had production cut.

For now, Impala Platinum is delaying portions of an expansion plan in Zimbabwe valued at $750 million in 2005. As recently as 1999, Anglo American Plc planned to boost its gold production 10-fold in Zimbabwe. Instead, it has sold ferrochrome smelters and nickel mines.

In December 2006, Zimbabwe’s government sent police to seize a diamond concession from African Consolidated Resources Ltd., and last week Mugabe said the government may “act against” British companies to retaliate for U.K.-imposed sanctions, said the state-controlled Sunday Mail newspaper. London-based Rio Tinto Group owns a diamond mine in Zimbabwe.

“They have the mineral resources; it’s only the presence of Mugabe that makes the West uncomfortable,” said Sebastian Spio-Garbrah, an analyst at Eurasia Group, a New York political- risk firm. “Once he has gone, there will be a sense of relief.”

You get the drift.

The current loud talk of a type of sanctions which will not make much additional difference to the ‘targeted sanctions’ that are already in place is mainly just that, talk, for show. “Real” sanctions will not be imposed because some of those calling for them most loudly would have as much to lose as Zimbabwe’s already battered economy.

Posted in Economy | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

The bizarre case of Tsvangirai’s Australian ghost speechwriter

Posted by CM on July 10, 2008

by Chido Makunike

I had initially missed it, but I have since found out that the Guardian (UK) sought to explain how it came about that on June 25 it ran an article with MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s byline, only to have the “author”  deny having written the article the next day, causing the paper to remove it from its website.

What caused a furore about the article was its call for UN peace keepers in Zimbabwe, which was interpreted by many as a call for military intervention.

Tsvangirai swiftly responded with a letter in which he said, “An article that appeared in my name published in the Guardian … did not reflect my position or opinions. I am not advocating military intervention in Zimbabwe by the UN or any other organisation.”

What was strange was that he did not out rightly contend that the article was a fabrication. He explained the mix up with a wishy washy, “Although the Guardian was given assurances from credible sources that I had approved the article this was not the case.”

Siobhain Butterworth, a Guardian editor, sought to explain what happened in an article on June 30. “The piece turned out to have been ghostwritten by a writer who works with the MDC” she tells us, also explaining that the practice is a lot more commonplace than readers may realise.

So far sort of okay. One can understand that busy politicians would have trusted writers who know their positions on important issues compose speeches and articles for them.

Apparently The Guardian used “an intermediary” to receive or commission the article. We are not told if the idea to feature the article was Tsvangirai/the MDC’s, The Guardian’s or the ghost writer’s.

Asks Hunter rhetorically, “Why did the Guardian use an intermediary?” The answer she got from her colleague Toby Manhire, the Guardian’s comment editor, shocked me.

“The MDC is a disparate and diffuse organisation,” Manhire says authoritatively, somewhat surprisingly speaking like a person intimately familiar with the inner workings of Zimbabwe’s main opposition party. To Zimbabwean readers, if the name “Manhire” looks like  a name in Shona, I assure you in this case its owner isn’t, judging from his picture. So Mr. Manhire’s helpful insight about the sort of organization the MDC is is not because he is a homeboy.

I have previously expressed surprise at how the Guardian acts like the MDC’s publicity department. Sure the MDC is completely crowded out of the official media space in Zimbabwe and I can understand how it would gravitate towards any sympathetic media, especially if it is as prominent as the Guardian. But I would not have thought it was the business of distant newspapers to show such open partiality for a political party in a foreign land as the Guardian does for the MDC.

Ah  well, but let me not let suspicion and paranoia carry me away. Perhaps it is just part of Mr. Manhire’s job to know a lot about the world’s opposition parties!

Trying to explain why it did not get/seek comment straight from the source, Hunter explains how, “The MDC was also in the middle of a political crisis. Tsvangirai had taken refuge in the Dutch embassy in Harare after pulling out of the presidential election amid concerns that MDC supporters would suffer intimidation and violence.”

So, “The comment desk turned to James Rose, an Australian with a background in journalism and a trusted source for pieces from Tsvangirai as he’d supplied a comment piece from the MDC leader in April. Rose wasn’t paid either time, ” Hunter says Manhire told her.

This is the first hint that the comment piece with Tsvangirai’s name on it was not volunteered by the “author” or his party, but was solicited by the Guardian, no doubt trying to do its heroic bit for the downtrodden Zimbabweans. Very noble I’m sure, but I am still very suspicious of the level of pro-activeness by the paper: soliciting the commentary, doing so through a distant non-Zimbabwean “intermediary,” and Manhire’s bending over backwards to give very weak excuses for why he couldn’t have gotten the comment from some other MDC official if Tsvangirai was unreachable during his period of “exile” in the Dutch embassy (during which time he gave some international interviews, I think including with the Guardian’s own “Chris McGreal in Harare.”)

And what on earth does it mean that Australian James Rose had “supplied a comment piece from the MDC leader in April?” I do not at all find it re-assuring to learn that perhaps a lot of the material that comes to light as the thoughts of the man who wants to be the next president of Zimbabwe might actually be the thoughts of an Australian! I have nothing against Australians, but I think my trouble with this as a Zimbabwean should be so obvious it doesn’t need much elaboration.

Apart from just how much his own man Mr. Tsvangirai is, I find it incredible that a man who has to a large extent been successfully tarred with the brush of “puppet of the imperialist West” by Mugabe should be so consistently careless in having that charge stick to him by persistent bungling in managing how he comes across to the world. There might well be several ways in which perhaps he could make convincing arguments for having an Australian write his articles for him, but it is putting things mildly to say that in the context of how Mugabe has framed what The Zimbabwe Crisis is about, this does not at all help how Tsvangirai comes across.

Hunter goes on to further amaze me by relating how Rose has “has worked with the MDC on four or five pieces, published under Tsvangirai’s name, which have appeared in the Guardian, the Washington Post and the Melbourne Age among other newspapers – one that appeared in the Age, last month, also called for a UN peacekeeping operation in Zimbabwe.”

“In this case, when Rose got the go-ahead for Tsvangirai’s Guardian piece from his contact (second hint that the article was initiated by the Guardian)– an MDC spokesperson who works closely with Tsvangirai – he drafted the article without input from anyone else based on what he already knew. This was unusual but he assumed that because the MDC was in crisis it couldn’t do more. He read the finished piece over the phone to his contact, who approved it for publication.

If all this is true, the idea that this casual, third-party way is how the MDC communicates important messages to the world is incredible! A foreigner can write and have published articles on Zimbabwean policy issues on behalf of the country’s main opposition party “without input from anyone else?” Is this a political party ready to assume office or a bunch of jokers we are dealing with here?

Hunter claims Rose said it was “unusual” to not get input from MDC officials for such an article and that in this case it happened because he “assumed” the MDC “couldn’t do more” because it was in crisis! My ass! How is it that an Australian is allowed to be in such a position of influence and closeness to the center of Zimbabwe’s opposition hiearchy as to be able to make such “assumptions” on such a potentially important issue. An article with Tsvangirai’s name on it is the official position of Zimbabwe’s main opposition party to the world! How can such a crucial function be left in the hands of an Australian freelancer?!

It is not just outrageous that it had such potentially disastrous consequences for Tsvangirai this time, it is also incredible that even the distant Guardian took this arrangement as “normal” based on past practice.

Manhire wrote his own cryptic account of why the supposed Tsvangirai article was taken down from the Guardian’s site. There is nothing in it that Hunter does not go over in her fuller article. But in the comments section, a reader made some good point in response to Manhire.

Aram Harrow writes, “This retraction doesn’t provide enough information.

If you don’t want to print the name of the consultant who provided the article (Manhire does not mention Rose by name at all, unlike Rose in her article), at least you could tell us where he got the article from and what led him to believe it was genuine. You should also explain what provisions you have in place to stop this from happening again.

The original article was extremely provocative and you published it at a time of international crisis. Your readers deserve a far better explanation than you have so far given.”

Essentially, what we have here is the bizarre situation of an English paper getting in touch with its Australian contact to write a position paper for Zimbabwe’s MDC party and then simply call up the purported “MDC spokesperson who works closely with Tsvangirai” to have him or her to put a verbal “X” on the document on the article. Amazing and incredible, unforgivable in all the wrong ways!

And since we are told that Rose wrote the article on his own “based on what he knew” about the MDC’s positions (which is contradicted by Tsvangirai’s repudiation of the call for peacekeepers in Rose’s article) I wonder if Rose called anybody at all for final approval after writing it. Based on everything else Hunter telIs us in her article, I’m not sure I believe that there was any final checking of the acceptability of the article by Rose with the claimed close Tsvangirai aide.

What also comes out from Hunter’s account is the casual disrespect the Guardian exhibits for Tsvangirai and the MDC. Manhire’s characterization of the party suggests a close familiarity with it, but the way the paper skipped over its leader and other top officials to contact a foreign freelancer in its bid for an article from the MDC suggests a real contempt resulting from that familiarity.

And if there was a final validation call about the article, how could the “MDC spokesperson who works closely with Tsvangirai” have approved the bit about the peace keepers if it was not MDC policy? Did the “spokesperson” not hear that part during the phone call? Did s/he not know it would be controversial? Why not? Did s/he agree with the idea of peace keepers, only for the party to then back down when they realised what a significant new policy direction it implied in the ensuing public furore?

Tsvangirai and the MDC have made brave contributions to giving the marauding Mugabe a tough time over the last few years,making an important contribution to eventual change in Zimbabwe. They have bravely borne brutality and all kinds of skullduggery from the Mugabe regime. They probably have been robbed of clean electoral victory at least twice. They are clearly the mistreated underdogs in the unfolding Zimbabwean drama and have generally received my sympathy, if not my full support because of how thy have simply failed to inspire me on many counts.

But I am increasingly alarmed at the prospect of an MDC government led by Morgan Tsvangirai. Incidences like the screw up of this article and what has been revealed about the careless, casual way the MDC does important business and fails to keep tight control over its image are to me worrying signs of how they are not our way out of our present political wilderness.

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Sanctions won’t budge Mugabe

Posted by CM on July 9, 2008

Everybody in the world is a Zimbabwe expert these days, and it is very difficult to keep up with all the passionate expertise pouring out of about how to end The Zimbabwe Crisis.

It is almost amusing to observe so many people say, “The solution is obvious, why doesn’t everybody else just listen to me.” Except the inexorable escalation of The Crisis suggests there is no easy solution, or if there is one, no one has been able to find how to implement it.

But the inevitable has happened, and UK prime minister Gordon Brown & Co. have been pushing hard from their capitals, from the UN and from the G8 summit in Japan for formal sanctions to be imposed on the Mugabe government. “Inevitable” not because of the shameful way Mugabe has chosen to claim another five year mandate or because of the dramatic deterioration of the overall situation in Zimbabwe. There is much worse electoral tomfoolery, violence and economic deprivation taking place elsewhere in the world today, but that Brown and friends are not “deeply concerned about.”

I figure Mugabe’s goose was cooked as far as Brown was concerned when somewhere in between the two recent elections he dismissed Brown’s rantings about events in Zimbabwe with something to the effect that he (Brown) was just “one tiny little dot in the world.” I think Brown is determined to not let Mugabe get away with the kinds of insults he hurled at his predecessor Tony Blair for years.

I suspect Mugabe’s harsh, undiplomatic, unrelenting needling of Brown and his government (and of course Mugabe’s brazen, cocky refusal to behave like a good African boy) are a bigger factor in their outrage than is the fact ofMugabe being a ruthless and unfeeling despot,  or the violence or economic conditions in Zimbabwe.

But nevertheless, there can be little doubt that we will now be moving to the era of formal, declared sanctions of some sort. Even if Security Council members China or Russia veto a sanctions call at the level of that body, that will not deter Britain and friends from individually and collectively seeking to economically strangulate Mugabe.

For all the talk about economic sanctions being increased but still limited mainly to a handful of targeted officials, this is not realistic. The ‘targeted sanctions’ against members of the ruling elite that have existed have not made one bit of difference. Restricting their travel to Western countries and other such gestures may have caused them some minor inconvenience but little else. Their children are in schools and universities all over the Western world, names are easy to change, money can be moved around, etc. I wouldn’t be surprised if finding ways around those kinds of sanctions has become a sort of game for members of the ruling elite, who Mugabe has been very careful to take good care of, and who lead lives in Harare that many well to do Westerners would envy.

The other rationale for sanctions, that increased suffering will force the populace to then put pressure against their rulers, will not work in Zimbabwe. Mugabe is proud to resist popular domestic pressure as much as he resists external pressure. And Zimbabweans do not need reminding how quick and eager Mugabe’s various armed forces have been over the years to put down even mild, peacefully expressed dissent with extreme, crushing brutality. For the time being, the conditions militate even more against any kind of popular uprising than ever before, and sanctions are unlikely to change that.

So tightening up the ‘targeted sanctions’ a few notches won’t make any difference to Mugabe’s behaviour.

On more broad terms, Zimbabwe has not been an attractive place to business in or with for years. That hostile investing, lending and general business environment is perhaps a much bigger reason for it having being a virtual business and economic Siberia for several years. But even the suffering and deprivation of that sort of isolation have not brought Mugabe’s government anywhere near to being on its knees.

Would a more general trade and economic embargo do it? I don’t quite follow the logic. If it is countries and companies taking what they consider a moral stand by refusing to do business with a Mugabe-led Zimbabwe on the grounds that this gives him a lifeline to continue tormenting the populace,  it is obviously their right to be consistent with their “conscience,” if you can call it that. I put the word in inverted commas because of the inconsistency and selectivity with which such moralistic outrage is expressed in the world today by the likes of Brown and friends.

Bloomberg economic news agency had a thoughtful article about this entitled Trade Embargoes for Zimbabwe Won’t Fix Anything, by columnist Matthew Lynn.

Writes Lynn, “Now, there is pressure on companies to end commercial ties with Zimbabwe. Tesco Plc, the U.K.’s largest food retailer, has said it will stop buying food from Zimbabwe’s farms. Germany’s Giesecke & Devrient GmbH won’t print the African nation’s banknotes anymore. Expect to see more enterprises close their Zimbabwean units or end contracts with its remaining businesses.

The trouble is, none of that will do any more than ease European consciences. If ruining the economy made any difference to Mugabe, he would have been toppled from power years ago.”

Exactly. Once having cushioned themselves, Mugabe and his inner circle couldn’t give a hoot if the country continues to implode around them.

Continues Lynn, “The truth is, forcing companies to get out of Zimbabwe is more about pandering to European public opinion than making any difference to the long-suffering Zimbabwean people. It is the equivalent of wearing a “Make Poverty History” wristband: a gesture of support that involves little personal sacrifice, and won’t change anything.”

Sadly true.

Lynn’s sober analysis will enrage those who want to be seen to be “doing something,” anything. It is fine when such people make it clear that their main motivation is to vent and display righteous indignation. That is better than calling for these kinds of “radical” measures on the pretense that they will hasten Mugabe’s departure or otherwise more quickly bring an end to Zimbabweans’ suffering.

“Tesco doesn’t want to be accused of propping up Mugabe’s regime when it can easily buy supplies from somewhere else. Companies of the size of Shell or Barclays aren’t going to miss their Zimbabwean units. With the country close to bankruptcy, it is hardly the most attractive place to do business right now. It certainly isn’t worth making yourself unpopular with your main customers to stay in the country.”

“Disinvestment can’t do much more damage to an economy that has already collapsed. Poverty and unemployment never triggered Mugabe’s downfall and are unlikely to in the future.

Economic sanctions have a poor record of bringing about change. They didn’t force Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq, and they haven’t forced the collapse of North Korea’s communist government. All they have done is add to the misery of the people. It is protest politics, designed to salve consciences, rather than bring about real change.”

“In fairness, sanctions may have contributed to ending apartheid in South Africa. But that was a rich, trading economy. There was a lot to lose by being cut off from the developed world. Zimbabwe has almost nothing to lose. It is already a subsistence economy, where money has long since lost any meaning.”

This very sober analysis still leaves us with the question, what then can be done by those who are genuinely alarmed at the situation in Zimbabwe? It is entirely justified for such people to not be content to simply fold their hands and let Mugabe continue rampaging as he wishes.

Lynn is on shakier ground in suggesting what companies could be doing instead, but my main point of interest are in his cogent points about how as far as dislodging  Mugabe is concerned, all the tough sanctions talk from Brown & Co. is sound and fury signifying nothing.

Formal sanctions will likely significantly increase the suffering Zimbabweans are experiencing, but they will not hasten the demise of the regime of Mugabe.

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I don’t believe the purported South African peace plan stands a chance

Posted by CM on July 8, 2008

The July 7 edition of the UK paper The Guardian had a story about a claimed peace plan for ZANU-PF and the MDC brokered by South African president Thabo Mbeki which the opposition party is is said to have been pleasantly surprised it could live with.

The plan which is said to have been presented to Zimbabwe’s political leaders “would allow Robert Mugabe to remain as a titular head of state but surrender real power to the opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, who would serve as prime minister until a new constitution was negotiated and fresh elections held.”

One can immediately see why MDC leaders would eagerly find an easy way out of their problem of failing to budge Mugabe out of power in such a plan and jump to embrace it. Indeed, “Chris McGreal in Harare” quotes his MDC source as saying “all the basic ideas of the MDC are there”, including a recognition of the results of the first round of elections in March won by Tsvangirai, which would be met by making the MDC leader an executive prime minister.

“The important thing is that it recognises the outcome of the March 29 election, and that any government will be transitional on the way to new elections,” the article quotes the source as saying.

As an aside, it is interesting how the The Guardian seems to have embedded itself within the MDC and become the party’s official mouthpiece. One can see how the recent call for military intervention under Tsvangirai’s byline mysteriously appeared in the paper, only to be hastily repudiated by Tsvangirai and quickly taken down from the paper’s website. The MDC’s closeness to The Guardian may yet come back to haunt it.

It seems incredibly far-fetched to believe Mugabe would accept any power-sharing plan that gives real power to Tsvangirai and merely ceremonial power to him. The very thing about the plan that Tsvangirai and the MDC would find so attractive is precisely why any such plan would be rejected out of hand by Mugabe and ZANU-PF.

If Mbeki did indeed present such a proposal, it would represent a fundamental misreading of the reasons for Mugabe’s intransigence about gracefully leaving power. The plan seems to assume that it is merely a matter of ego, and that Mugabe would respond to growing international pressure on him to accept some kind of deal with Tsvangirai by a ‘face-saving’ offer to give him a title with no real power. There is nothing at all in Mugabe’s past to give any inkling that he could live with an arrangement in which he was a window dresser. This is especially so in a situation where real power was held by someone for whom he has as much genuine contempt for as he does for Tsvangirai.

The egotistical reasons for Mugabe clinging on to power only partly explain his actions. Power for him  and his cronies has to a large extent become a matter of access and retention of privilege and impunity it is true, but it would be a mistake to under-estimate their genuine determination to resist any arrangement that threatens a wholesale reversal of “the gains of the revolution.”

What gains in a non-performing economy, one may ask? The main one they would find difficult to swallow would be the wholesale return of farms to their previous white occupiers. And this is a worry that would be shared by many of the recipients of land who are not Mugabe supporters. Focus is usually on the relatively few well-developed farms that were taken over and often run down by the politically well-connected. But what is forgotten are the many more bare pieces of land that many ordinary people of all political persuasions also eagerly applied for and received.

Many of the very same people who voted for Tsvangirai and the MDC and would be happy for them to form or dominate the next government would be up in arms at the idea of their land simply being returned to the white farmers. Assuming the MDC could pull that off at all, it would be politically crippled before it even got started, seeming to confirm the constant Mugabe refrain that the MDC was nothing but a  black-fronted project for British and white interests.

The bitter apathy to the MDC by Mugabe and ZANU-PF diehards is not just selfish and personal. It is also deeply ideological in a way that Mugabe would be very unlikely to accept a power-sharing arrangement such as that The Guardian says Mbeki is proposing.

Perhaps no one will ever know whether the long-delayed results of the March 29 election were genuine or not. Initially the MDC claimed that its own figures showed Tsvangirai breaching the required minimum of 50% of the vote and earning the right to be declared president at that first round. The official figures showed Tsvangirai several points ahead of Mugabe, but without achieving 50% of the votes cast, hence necessitating the infamous run-off election that Tsvangirai pulled out of at the last minute. And the official results also show an almost 50/50 split between the two main parties in parliamentary and senatorial seats.

What this means is that in the unlikely event that Mugabe and ZANU-PF were to accept a junior (as opposed to equal or more senior) role in any power-sharing arrangement, things would be far from easy for a Tsvangirai-led government. For one thing, half the cabinet seats and other formal spolis of power would be retained by ZANU-PF. For another, all the security forces who wield the guns would likely remain loyal to ZANU-PF. I am not sure Tsvangirai would be able to wield enough patronage-dispensing power of his own to break this ZANU-PF lock on the support of the security forces, even those who are tired of Mugabe but deeply suspicious of Tsvangirai. This is not merely a matter of Mugabe having tried very hard to keep his top military men happy over the years, but also because of shared experiences and ideological/nationalistic orientations from the liberation war that cannot just be bought off with positions, cars and houses.

I would not be surprised if the MDC’s strongers backers, the British government, have not already cooked up a scheme as part of their proposed aid-to-Zimbabwe-under-a-Tsvangirai-government plan to helpfully “professionalise” the armed forces for us, but that’s a rant for another day, my blood pressure is constantly high enough over my homeland as things are already.

I’m sticking my neck out and guessing that there is no way Mugabe would accept being figurehead president to Tsvangirai’s executive prime-ministership. At the very least, Mugabe would insist on equal power with Tsvangirai, which would cause all kinds of problems for the coalition because of the deep, fundamental incompatibility of the two men and their parties, and the upper hand ZANU-PF would continue to enjoy in many unofficial ways.

I would actually even be surprised if such a power-sharing proposal really did emanate from Mbeki. Whatever his faults, I believe he knows more than most what Mugabe would be likely to accept or reject.

Perhaps it is just The Guardian flighting a trial balloon on behalf of the MDC to see if it could actually stay afloat! It sure as hell is interesting to see that paper increasingly become the party’s public relations arm.

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Would a pullout of Shell Oil from Zimbabwe amount to anything?

Posted by CM on July 7, 2008

From the recycled-news-as-new-news department: Shell was considering pulling out of Zimbabwe amid claims that President Robert Mugabe was reserving the distribution of fuel at petrol pumps for party supporters.

According to The Observer, a source at the oil giant said it was looking at a plan to halt activities in the country, which are overseen in a joint deal with BP. One option being canvassed is for Shell to sell its stake to a third party.

Shell and BP supply 74 independent petrol stations in Zimbabwe. Supplies are piped from Mozambique and stored at four oil terminals. Both companies have bitter memories of the hostility they drew during the apartheid era in South Africa and minority rule in Rhodesia.

The political instability since last month’s rigged presidential election was one factor under consideration by Shell, the source said. ‘We have withdrawn from countries in the past where the situation was delicate,’ he said. ‘We are actively looking for a new solution.’

Y-a-w-n! Where is the beef in this story? Where is the news?

Favouritism in fuel allocations has been the order of the day for the eight years that Zimbabwe has been experiencing shortages. As someone who, like most other Zimbabwean motorists, has bitter memories of hours, and sometimes whole nights at service stations including Shells’, only for the fuel to allegedly “run out” just before one’s turn at the pump, I am offended at the suggestion that the reserving of fuel for ‘special customers’ is anything new discovered by the crack newspaper The Observer. Please!

If Shell is indeed mulling pulling out of Zimbabwe, it is out of viability concerns or the increased sanctions pressure since Mugabe’s awkward one-man re-election, not because of any governance concerns. My ass, the situation in Zimbabwe has been “delicate” for many years in which Shell held on very tightly to its investments, hoping for better times.

And I stand to be corrected, but the last time I checked, the pipeline that used to deliver oil from the port of Beira in Mozambique to storage facilities in Zimbabwe has not been operational for many years. I’m reasonably confident that all of Zimbabwe’s oil is now trucked in from Mozambique or South Africa. So The Observer’s report is misguided/false on that basis as well. Plain sloppy journalism, or propaganda targeted at readers the paper knows do not know enough about the facts of the situation being reported to question anything?

Selling off to third parties is something many of the multinational oil companies that once completely dominated that sector have done over several years. As a result, in less than ten years this sector now has substantial black participation whereas before, bringing in and peddling oil somehow had the false mystique of being a terribly sophisticated business that only the big multinational companies could do.

When the oil sector was liberalised at some point in the last eight years, the messy politics and the difficult economic operating environment meant the big oil companies no longer had a competitive advantage over the many smaller indigenous players who suddenly got into the industry. This was partly because the “liberalization” was limited, only opening up the possibility of oil importation to more players. But the selling price was still controlled, usually to below the cost of procurement!

These price controls meant that even with the forex ‘shortages’ that had begun to plague the economy, big companies like Shell with access to plenty of hard currency outside the country did not find that it made sense to use it to bring in oil into the country, only to sell it at a loss. This shifted the oil procurement advantage to the politically well connected who were able to access hard currency from the central bank at ridiculously low rates, so that even if they sold the oil at the ridiculously low controlled prices, they stood more chance of making profits than would companies like Shell that had to more or less do (or be seen to be doing) straight business.

Besides, the new operators (and many of the old ones as well) would get around the issue of unviable imposed selling prices by selling a little at the offiical prices, quickly claiming the fuel had “run out,” then selling the rest at much higher prices at night or in containers off the filling station, the infamous and thriving “black market.”

Because of all the problems and confusion with forex rates  and controlled selling prices, there was a time when all fuel vendors including Shell sourced their fuel not by direct exports, but from the state’s fuel then- monopoly, NOCZIM, which could afford to continue importing fuel because it had access to cheap “political” forex from the central bank that few others had access to. At some point it was far cheaper for the oil distribution companies to just wait for the ocassional allocation of cheap fuel from NOCZIM (‘occasional’ because the arrangement was so economically unrealistic and even the central bank’s cheap forex so hard to come by that it could not work to supply the country all the fuel it needed) than to buy forex on the expensive open market (or use offshore forex) and then be forced to sell it at unrealistically low ‘political’ retail prices.

All these things have eroded the dominance and advantage of companies like Shell in Zimbabwe’s oil sector. Additionally, at some point the not completely stupid Mugabe government realised that having the country’s oil supply be completely dependent on foreign companies based in nations hostile to it was strategically dangerous. So there was also a political dimension to having indigenous business people beholden to the ruling party having more control over fuel importation and distribution.

As sanctions talk from the EU and the US increases, that decision may be looked back on as prophetically brilliant, even though open sanctions will mean where even the new players can source oil from will be limited. But then again, for several years Zimbabwe has not been able to get oil on short term credit terms from the usual big world suppliers because of its known hard currency problems and poor payment record. So the oil trickles in from the few remaining friendly countries like Libya and Iran, and even then they often demand to be paid up front. All this is part of why there is a continuing fuel crisis. Under these difficult conditions it has simply not been possible to regularly and reliably bring in as much fuel as the country needs or to build a significant reserve.

Apart from most of the big oil companies selling off a lot of their stations to new independent operators, these new operators have in the main been the only ones building new storage infrastructure. This did not have to be huge because there has simply not been much fuel entering the country at any one time. Most fuel stations are usually empty now, with most of the country’s fuel being sold in various “off-court” ways.

I have to believe that Shell and other companies like it have held on not because their Zimbabwe enterprises were still hugely profitable, if at all, but in the hope that ‘regime change’ could happen at any time and that things would get back to fairly normal for them soon thereafter. It must be obvious after Mugabe’s recent election ‘win’ that change might not be any time soon!

The Observer could not be expected to know all these details about the big changes that have taken place in Zimbabwe’s fuel sector in recent years. They can therefore be forgiven for the naive belief that the pullout of companies like Shell will suddenly bring Mugabe’s regime to its knees. It won’t.

The uninformed twaddle of The Observer’s non-story may excite some of its readers into believing that a pullout would represent “doing something” against the Mugabe regime, but the situation in Zimbabwe has changed so much in the last few years that such a pullout would probably mean nothing at all.

Next excited Zimbabwe non-story please!

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On Britain’s condition for Zimbabwean economic aid

Posted by CM on July 7, 2008

I have made no secret of my deep cynicism about the reasons for the unusual interest of the British government and media in “the Zimbabwe crisis.”

Not only is that country’s history in Rhodesia and in Zimbabwe messy and dishonorable, the shrill racial (to sensitive readers, sorry, but it is impossible to discuss Britain and The Zimbabwe Crisis without race looming large) reaction of the English establishment to Zimbabwe in general and Mugabe in particular is not only not helping the situation, it is worsening it.  Zimbabwe is in even bigger long term trouble than it is under Robert Mugabe now if it is to be “saved” by Britain.

Eager British foreign minister David Miliband is in South Africa for some meeting or other. Over the weekend he went to a camp of the victims of SA’s recent violence against African migrants to shed crocodile tears over the plight of Zimbabweans and take some pot shots at Mugabe.

It was “imperative” that a solution be found to the worsening crisis in Zimbabwe, Miliband is reported to have said after visiting the camp, which housed people from many nations, but whose propaganda value for him was clearly Zimbabwe.

Miliband is said to have added that Britain would intensify its efforts to ensure Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s regime was not seen as “a legitimate representation of the will of the people of Zimbabwe.” He is said to have also called on the international community to support United States-proposed sanctions on Zimbabwe to be tabled at the United Nations Security Council in New York.

Largely harmless enough twiddling of the thumbs by Miliband.

But it is the last line of the June 7 article by SAPA, the South African Press Association, that made me sit up and take notice:

Britain does not want Mugabe to be part of any power-sharing deal, as a condition of economic aid.

Now SAPA does not explain if this has been explicitly stated by any British official, but it would not be surprising if this were the official position of the British government on conditions for releasing the one billion pounds they crudely dangled as aid during both the March 29 and June 27 elections if the right result was achieved. Clearly the Brown regime wants the Mugabe regime to go, and this is not at all surprising, quite apart from whether or not Mugabe has stolen another election. The British have many other reasons for hating Mugabe’s guts than the fact that he has been disastrous for Zimbabwe.

And I guess they are entitled to impose their own conditions for aid. But if the last sentence of the SAPA article is official UK policy, it helps to firm up my increasing opposition to Britain having any appreciable or special role in Zimbabwe, now or in the future.

Who are they to demand who will or not be part of a power-sharing deal? Mugabe may be a nasty fellow, but the over-riding concern of Zimbabweans is to find a resolution to their all-encompassing crisis. Mugabe is the person with the guns now and he is not willing to quietly go off into the sunset. As things stand now, therefore, it is simply not possible to totally rule out a role for him in some sort of power-sharing deal for the sake of moving the country forward.

What the British position suggests is that if the MDC looked at its options and decided to swallow its pride and unhappily accept a power-sharing deal that includes Mugabe (one that doesn’t seems unrealistic now, except perhaps in the minds of Brown and Miliband), Britain would with hold its toys and go off and sulk in anger at not having been able to completely ‘regime-change’ Mugabe. If this is the position, it is not only incredibly arrogant intervention in the nuts and bolts of how Zimbabweans choose to find a way out of their political impasse, it compromises the hapless, bungling MDC even more than before.

The MDC-led government that received British largesse under these conditions would do so with the deep suspicion and resentment of Zimbabweans like myself, who want Mugabe to go but who are disturbed at how the British establishment treats Morgan Tsvangirai and his MDC party as their poodles, with not a squeak of protest from the poodles! Sure Mugabe must go, but what the hell would Tsvangirai be getting us into?

It is bizarre how Mugabe’s self-serving rhetoric about Zimbabwe never being a colony again rings true when the bungling British government and the MDC seem determined to make his pronouncements a self-fulfilling prophecy!

This is why people like me feel politically homeless. There is a sense of despair about the country’s prospects with every additional day under the ruinous Mugabe, and yet there is increasing worry about what a compromised Tsvangirai would do.

The British anti-Mugabe agenda is driven partly by racial “kith and kin” considerations occasioned by Mugabe’s unprecedented drive against the white farmers (the Western world is used to dismissing ‘natives’ mistreating or killing other natives, or white people killing natives, but all hell breaks loose when white people are also brutalised by natives, especially led by one as ‘uppity’ as Mugabe). Their all-consuming ‘no deal at all with any dispensation in which Mugabe is a part’ is churlish and would significantly reduce the options that Zimbabweans must keep open to resolving their problems.

In the most polite way, I suggest we say to the British “thanks but no thanks for your bribe of aid, but your conditions for it are unacceptable for the difficult task ahead of us.”

The bloody, arrogant cheek!

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John Pilger speculates on reasons for Mbeki’s approach to Mugabe

Posted by CM on July 7, 2008

It is not easy these days to find calm voices on either or any side of “the Zimbabwe crisis.” Everyone seems to be competing to be louder and more emotional than the other.

Most people remain perplexed, and many outraged, by the perception of South African president Thabo Mbeki as soft on or sympathetic to Robert Mugabe. Whatever the reasons for it, it seems pretty clear to me that the reality of whatever Mbeki’s true feelings towards Mugabe is not going to change any time soon. So while I understand the fascination with the question, I’m not sure posing it repeatedly with anguish is very important to solving Zimbabwe‘s problems right now. But it is admittedly an interesting issue, if only as a debating point.

One of the most calm and lucid people to ponder the issue is writer John Pilger in his article ‘The silent war on Africa.’

Says Pilger, “That Mugabe is an appalling tyrant is beyond all doubt; yet there is a subtext to the overly enthusiastic condemnation of him by the “international community”, notably in Europe. “Unacceptable!” says British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, having personally distinguished the campaign to morally rehabilitate the concept of empire.”

He points out the hypocrisy of Brown’s “highly selective condemnation of uppity despots like Mugabe while fawning before equally awful despots such as the Saudi Royal family?”

“If nothing else, Mugabe has provided retrospective justification for the glory days. And perhaps his greatest crime is having slipped the leash. After all, both despots and democrats in Africa provide an essential service, or as Frantz Fanon put it in The Wretched of the Earth, “the transmission line between the nation and a capitalism, rampant though camouflaged. [They are] quite content with the role of the Western bourgeoisie’s business agent.” Those who refuse the role of business agent have often paid with their lives: from Patrice Lumumba to Amilcar Cabral, Ken Saro-Wiwa to Chris Hani.”

Pilger then goes on to chronicle a litany of ways in which the Western world is fully implicit in Africa‘s many messes. Most readers will be familiar with the arguments, from the aforementioned hypocrisy in deciding who is a “good guy” in the world and who is not, to cynical trade terms and cynical development policies.

“None of this excuses the outrages of Mugabe. But look beyond the West’s whipping boy and mark the enduring outrage of an imperial past that remains (enaaged in) a war against Africa that Africans must win,” he writes.

Then he gets to the crux of his article.

“Why is Thabo Mbeki so soft on Mugabe? Is it simply loyalty to a past of “joint struggle”, as has been suggested?.”

Pilger describes how the hopes of the South African poor for a meaningful improvement in their post-apartheid, post-1994 situation have been betrayed under first Mandela and now under Mbeki.

He concludes, “When Robert Mugabe attended the ceremony to mark Thabo Mbeki’s second term as President of South Africa, the black crowd gave Zimbabwe‘s dictator a standing ovation. The embarrassment and message for Mbeki was like a presence. “This was probably less an endorsement for Mugabe’s despotism,” noted the writer Bryan Rostron, “than a symbolic expression of appreciation for an African leader who, many poor blacks think, has given those greedy whites a long-delayed and just come-uppance.”

It was also a warning.”

Well, while I think Pilger’s conclusion is correct, there is also nothing earth-shakingly original about it. The vision of a happy-ever-after “rainbow nation” was too much of a hopeful fantasy given the water that has gone under the bridge in South Africa over the last few centuries. Perhaps even more so than Zimbabwe, the deep wounds of a very violent recent history could not just be swept under the carpet by having a smiling, well-liked president like Mandela for a few years.

There are already many signs of the bubbling to the surface of many long-simmering resentments, compounded by the disappointment of failed (and unrealistic) expectations of what could be quickly achieved in the post-apartheid era, that may eventually make South Africa not quite the miracle nation many hope it can continue to be.

Pilger builds and concludes his argument well, but for me has not delivered any dramatic new insights into exactly why Mbeki has seemed to remain so partial to Mugabe.

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Reasoned call for negotiation from a surprising quarter

Posted by CM on July 2, 2008

“While the MDC (Movement for Democratic Change) has pursued dialogue in a bid to establish a government of national healing before June 12, the sham election on June 27, 2008, totally and completely exterminated any prospect of a negotiated settlement,” MDC  Tendai Biti said in a statement in Harare.

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A predictable but fascinating AU summit in Egypt

Posted by CM on July 1, 2008

I am surprised that there are some people who really hoped African leaders attending the African Union summit in Egypt would pull some kind of Zimbabwe crisis “solution” out of a hat.

The AU is not famed for taking strong stands on anything, for one. Two, the AU has no real leverage over Mugabe. Even if they had uncharacteristically chided him publicly, how would they effect any decision taken against him?

Three, our old colonial masters the British and the current world emperor the US have just never learned how much their treatment of Africans in the not too distant past still elicits very strong emotions against them when they are perceived to be throwing their weight around . The shrill carping from their capitals of UK prime minister Gordon Brown and US secretary of state Condoleeza Rice about what the gathered AU leaders “must do” about Mugabe was not at all helpful. It simply gave the leaders a splendid reason to withdraw into their “anti-colonialist” psychological bunker.

Why is it that despite centuries of close proximity to us as our lords and masters, the Western world has learned so little about the lingering psychic effects of their controlling every aspect of our lives, and the instinctive resentment against a perceived replaying of old roles? If they really wanted to be helpful at the AU summit, they went about it exactly the wrong way.

Is it really possible in 2008 that Mr. Brown and Madame Rice, herself of African stock, did not understand that their kind of megaphone ‘diplomacy’ of ‘you must do this to Mugabe’ would not only fail, but even cause the defensive rallying around Mugabe of even those AU leaders who realise how much catastrophe the man has caused?

Four, very few of the AU leaders have electoral credentials that are any better than Mugabe’s, so it was rather optimistic  to expect that they would take him on. Prior to his departure for Egypt he had effectively blackmailed the AU leaders by challenging those who felt they had cleaner electoral records to speak up, with a rather predictable silence as the response.

Prime minister Raila Odinga of Kenya, the only leader to publicly lament the crooked electoral process by which Mugabe claimed his 6th term in office two days ago, was strangely but not surprisingly not in Egypt to face the fierce Mugabe, who loves a brawl and is not at all embarrassed to fight rough.

Previous mild critic Levy Mwanawasa of Zambia, who predictably was called all sorts of names by Mugabe regime officials when he correctly referred to Zimbabwe as a “sinking ship” last year, would have sat next to Mugabe at the summit, according to alphabetical seating by country name.

But strangely the ailing Mwanawasa, 59, suffered a stroke immediately on arriving in Egypt and spent the duration of the summit in hospital! It was almost as if the thought of sitting next to the fit, spry and currently livid and combative Mugabe, 84, was too much for him.

Did Madame Rice really expect that the best Arab friend of the US, Egyptian host president Hosni Mubarak, no stranger to fixed elections in his 27 years in power, was going to be in a position to spank Mugabe for holding a crooked election?

The predictability of the summit not taking any kind of strong stand against Mugabe did not mean the meeting was dull or lacked drama.

Some British journalists provoked Mugabe into a sputtering rage by one of them asking him how it felt “to have stolen the election,” and by what right he claimed to be president of Zimbabwe.

Oh boy, that did it, as the journalists knew it would. Mugabe’s enraged response and the journalists being wrestled away by security staff were filmed for posterity and broadcast around the world. At home Emperor Mugabe is accustomed to only being asked reverentially posed softball questions by a compliant state propaganda media. But apart from that, Mugabe would have found the ‘provocation’ of being asked what he called “stupid questions” by British journalists, and at an African Union summit, a little too much to bear. The apoplectic Mugabe’s voice shook with rage as he found yet another excuse to rail against the British.

If the journalists were looking for gripping footage for their news broadcast, they got it alright. No doubt many of their viewers in the UK and much of the West and in many sections of the rest of the world will find the exchange to be confirmation of their view of Mugabe as a rogue. But I’m willing to bet that there are also many parts of the world where the British journalists handed Mugabe a major propaganda coup.

To the ‘Mugabe is right’ brigade, his ‘performance’ was classic, vintage Mugabe at his best and precisely what they love the man for: telling off the British.

The drama with the journalists could not have been expected, but everything else that happened was entirely predictable.

As far as contributing anything meaningful at all to the resolution of “the Zimbabwe crisis” the AU summit  was an absolute, predictable non-event.

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