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The MDC drives itself further into a corner over Roy Bennett

Posted by CM on October 18, 2009

Clearly the MDC had to react strongly to Roy Bennett’s shabby treatment by the Zimbabwe government’s legal prosecuting authorities. The senior party official has been indicted yet again on ‘terrorism’ charges that few people believe have any credibility, and that the government has previouslly failed to prosecute. Not only that, but the government of which the MDC is now a part was clearly itching to send him back to prison, although he won bail within a day or so. The harassment of Bennett continues, and in this case in a way designed by the authorities to show how powerless the MDC really is, and how much in effective control Mugabe and ZANU-PF remain, which may be the whole point of the exercise. It must be remembered that all this is on top of the fact that Bennett, the MDC’s choice for deputy agriculture minister in the inclusive government, has not been sworn in since his nomination many months ago, on the grounds of the charges that have been hanging over him.

So I have no trouble understanding that the MDC felt compelled to protest the latest indictment and jailing of Bennett in very strong terms, both because of what seems like very clear persecution of Bennett (the state has so far dismally failed to make a strong case for its terrorism charges against him in previous court appearances) as well as for the MDC to “save face.”

Since joining the inclusive government ZANU-PF has gone out of its way to show in many ways that it does not have the slightest intention to share any meaningful, effective power with the MDC, to the increasing embarrassment of Morgan Tsvangirai and his party. Long before this latest ‘provocation,’ there have been many arguably more serious ones the MDC has protested but withstood in the name of giving their best effort to making the difficult inclusive government work. But as those provocations have continued and escalated, the MDC has been driven further into a corner and pressure has been growing on the party to take some sort of strong stand to try to show that it has not simply rolled over and played dead to the ZANU-PF steamroller.

But was the dramatically announced ‘disengagement’ by the MDC from government and from ‘cooperation with ZANU-PF’ the best way to protest its being sidelined? What does ‘disengagement’ from a government you remain a part of really mean anyway?

Pulling out of the inclusive government would not have been wise for the MDC to do, for many reasons, although that is the strongest statement they are in a position to make. The fact of the existence inclusive government (not so much anything any of the participating parties have done or not done) has been an overwhelmingly positive symbol to battle-scarred Zimbabweans. In its short existence that mere existence of the inclusive government and what it has done to dramatically reduce political tension in the country has quickly been translated to many other areas of life, including and perhaps mainly in the beginnings of economic normalization.

It would therefore not only be irresponsible for any of the parties to the inclusive government to pull out of it now, it would also be politically very risky, with the withdrawing party accused by Zimbabweans of all political persuasions of dragging the country back to the political and economic depths of recent years. Sure there will be diehards in all the parties who were opposed to the very idea of the inclusive government, but particularly now, I believe the overwhelming majority of Zimbabweans believe its existence has brought about huge changes for the better, with prospects for a lot more. The irony is that it is not obvious to me that any of the individual political parties are the direct beneficiary so far of the public approval of the joint government.

Secondly, the new-to-government MDC office holders will be in no hurry to give up the many material inducements of holding office. The salaries may not be much at the moment, but there are the new cars, the foreign trips at public expense and many other perks suddenly available. Issues of principle aside, MDC office holders are not going to give up these personal advantages to go back to the uncertainties of what is still a very difficult economic environment.

For all these reasons and more, withdrawal from the unity government is at this point is neither a realistic nor attractive option for the MDC. What to do then to protest the many humiliations to which the ZANU-PF partner seems intent on goading the MDC with?  A very difficult question, for sure.

I am not going to pretend to have a ready answer to this question. But at first glance there appear to me to be many reasons that the ‘dis-engagement’ is unlikely to achieve any meaningful concessions for the MDC from ZANU-PF, and may create additional problems.

While appreciating why pulling out of the government now is not a good option for the MDC, the notion of “we are still in but we are dis-engaging from ZANU-PF” sounds confusing at best, absurd at worst. How do you stay in the government but ‘dis-engage?’ The MDC runs the risk of being ridiculed with, “they want to go AWOL to sulk at being outmanoeuvred by ZANU-PF at every turn, but they want to also hold on to their perks while doing so.” How on earth does a prime minister boycott meetings of ‘his’ own cabinet?!

ZANU-PF may attempt to thwart the MDC from exercising any real power at every turn, but I don’t believe they want to push the MDC out of the unity government. As much as ZANU-PF may despise the MDC, the general and very quick improvement in overall conditions in the country as a result of the parties coming together in government is clear to all. Being seen to be pushing out the MDC would also be politically/electorally risky to ZANU-PF because of the many Zimbabweans who are just relieved at the breathing space the economy and life in general have received as a result of the two parties having called a truce. Therefore neither party has anything to gain from taking the blame for the collapse of the current arrangement, no matter how imperfect it is.

The ideal situation for ZANU-PF is for the MDC to remain part of the government but to then keep on whittling away as much of its power/authority as possible. That way ZANU-PF can claim a facade of democratic inclusiveness, of continuing to respect regional body SADC’s compromise solution to the country’s political impasse, but doing so while continuing to unilaterally hold on to all the reins of real power. But although this may be ZANU-PF’s preferred scenario, this preference is not likely to be strong enough for it to want to plead with the MDC to ‘re-engage’ with it.

Already ZANU-PF has coolly reacted to the MDC’s theatrics with a dismissive shrug. It has been announced that cabinet and other government business will continue even without the MDC. This was predictable. What will the MDC do now? To sheepishly ‘re-engage’ without having one any concessions from ZANU-PF will just make the MDC look ridiculous and weak. Yet the ‘dis-engagement’ is not much of a leverage to get ZANU-PF to do anything. If the MDC’s ill-defined disengagement continues too long they would have effectively fired themselves from government without any real plan B.

“Constitutional crisis,” some would say, “an election would then have to be held.” Even if so, there is 30 years of evidence to show how ZANU-PF would simply refuse to have the terms of how and when that election is held to be dictated to it, whether by SADC or ‘the international community,’ two centers of influence that the MDC has previously put far too much faith and hope in. While ZANU-PF would not want to be accused of having directly or deliberately pushed out   the MDC from the inclusive government, they are certainly not going to lose any sleep if the MDC  ‘disengages’ itself from participating permanently.

It may be that Bennett may finally and clearly win his case in the courts. But the MDC leader went out of his way to state that Bennett’s treatment was not the only reason for the MDC’s disengagement, that it was just one additional consideration to many other slights the party has suffered at the hands of its ZANU-PF unity government partner. This means that even if the persecution-prosecution of Bennett should now stop, the MDC has implied that it would expect to see many other conditions met before it ‘re-engaged’ with ZANU-PF in doing government business. Yet the MDC has no apparent or easy leverage to wring any significant concession out of ZANU-PF at this point.

The timing of the announcement by the MDC to ‘dis-engage’ means that it will always be perceived by the public that Bennett’s latest troubles were the direct trigger, no matter what Tsvangirai and his officials may say about that merely being the straw that broke the camel’s back. While the party clearly had to take a strong stand in regards to Bennett’s treatment, having the treatment of one man, and this particular one,  linked in the public’s perception with the disengagement is unfortunate for the MDC. It is to appear to give his ill-treatment greater importance than that of the many other MDC officials and members who have or continue to suffer even worse treatment at the hands of various arms of government than Bennett has done. Likewise, if the MDC is seen to be ‘re-engaging’ primarily because the pressure on Bennett has been lifted (legally, politically or both) but without any other significant concessions, similar unfortunate signals would be sent to the national, African and wider international public about the MDC!

So clearly the MDC has been in a very difficult position from day one of its involvement in the unity government, and from many angles. It may well have won the last election outright but had no way to effect that win in the face of a cynical ZANU-PF that was quite prepared to do anything to hold on in power. Even if the MDC really won the vote, the doubt and antipathy of regional and other African leaders towards Tsvangirai and his party is stronger than their respect for the electoral will of Zimbabweans! So neither SADC nor the African Union is inclined to side with the MDC unless Mugabe and ZANU-PF do something so outrageous that they are forced to. The hope that the MDC’s Western backers would turn on the aid taps has not been realised and will not be as long as the party clearly remains the junior partner of the inclusive government. That in turn further weakens the MDC and removes another of what was one of its main points of leverage in the early days of the arrangement (‘respect us and treat us well because it is through us that our rich friends in Europe and America will make milk and honey flow in the streets of Harare’) and has probably emboldened ZANU-PF to think that it would not be any great loss if the MDC pulled out. And on and on.

Yes, the MDC’s frustrations are quite understood.But given all of the foregoing, what is it that the MDC really hopes to achieve with it’s ill-defined ‘disengagement?’ Faced with a clearly insincere partner in government, certainly its choices were limited and difficult. But out of those, the party seems to have exercised the most awkward and ineffectual one. Until I become aware of some brilliant hidden strategy behind the ‘disengement’ which is not apparent to me now, it is difficult to see how the MDC will come off stronger in any sense from its announced stance.

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Ambassador-designate Trudy Stevenson reveals the political incongruities of Zimbabwe

Posted by CM on October 15, 2009

While in Harare in August I was startled to read that Zimbabwe was to open an embassy in Senegal. I understand the two countries had embassies in each others’ capitals some years ago, but both had been closed.

African countries tend to put more stock in their relations with their former colonizers than they do with each other, so of course it is a welcome development when they resolve to change this. My surprise was on several grounds:

*The Zimbabwean government makes no secret of it being broke, and the signs of that are abundantly evident all over the country. There have been reports of diplomats in its embassies going unpaid for months at a time. Given all the pressing problems at home for which there is no money, it therefore seems odd that new embassies are being opened up at this time.

*There are few or no economic ties between Senegal and Zimbabwe and that is unlikely to change any time soon. The physical distance between southern and west Africa is vast, and in the case of these two countries there is an even more daunting gulf: language. While many educated Senegalese can communicate in good English, the number of Zimbabweans who have any knowledge of French at all is negligible. So while the politicians and diplomats may be able to address each other at their cocktail parties, these barriers do not bode well for the prospects of any wider and deeper links between the two countries in the short term.

*In recent years Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade has made some abortive good-faith efforts to intervene in “the Zimbabwe crisis,” going as far as going to Harare to meet with president Robert Mugabe before those efforts quietly fizzled out. And new prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai has made a visit or two to the Senegalese capital, presumably to explain his case to the leaders of a country with a good African and international reputation politically, and widely acclaimed for its democratic credentials.

So perhaps the new embassy is being justified on the basis of political links. But is this enough basis for establishing an embassy, particularly at an especially difficult time for Zimbabwe economically? Could whatever diplomatic or political function it is thought the new embassy will serve not have been just as well served from nearby Ghana or Nigeria, where Zimbabwe already has embassies? It will be interesting to see how the new embassy justifies its reason for existence.

According to the Sunday Mail of August 30:

The MDC-M has moved to take up its allotment of diplomatic posts under the Global Political Agreement (GPA) signed by the three principals to the inclusive Government by nominating former legislator Mrs Trudy Stevenson for the position of Zimbabwe’s ambassador to Senegal. Mrs Stevenson, the party’s secretary for research and policy and former Member of Parliament for Harare North, is already undergoing training with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as she prepares to assume her new role in the West-African country. The decision to second Mrs Stevenson to the position came after the party’s
first nominee and House of Assembly Member for Insiza South constituency Mr Siyabonga Ncube, declined the ambassadorial post last week.

One interpretation I heard was that the original nominee felt slighted that he had been nominated as diplomat to a ‘lowly’ country like Senegal instead of to a Western country! Unfortunately, if true there would be nothing at all surprising about such colonial thinking amongst the MDC elite!

Ambassador-designate Stevenson has just given an interesting inkling of her thinking. She attended some talk shop in Prague, Czechoslovakia and was interviewed by a newspaper there.

Excerpts:

Q: Recently there has been much talk about the EU sanctions. Should they be cancelled or should the EU wait a bit longer?

A: The (EU) sanctions have not achieved a lot. The regime has continued, the violence has continued. In my personal view I would say get rid of the sanctions because then Mugabe does not have anything to beat the EU with. He uses the sanctions as an excuse for everything.

True enough, but it seems very odd for the ambassador of the government run by Robert Mugabe, whose government she will be representing in Senegal, to be continuing to talk as a party official than as a diplomat of the government! If the ambassadors who have agreed to take up these positions (in this case one report claimed Stevenson actually volunteered for the Senegal ambassador-ship after Ncube declined it) are going to continue to talk as representatives of their parties or factions than as envoys of the government, how on earth can this work?!

I have no trouble at all understanding Stevenson’s feelings about Mugabe. But would it not have been more consistent, honorable and tenable to decline to be representative of his government in a foreign land than to accept/volunteer for the appointment and then continue to bad-mouth the appointing authority you have willingly agreed to be answerable to?!

This will be a very interesting appointment and relationship to watch.

Q: What is your experience as a white woman and an opposition politician working in Zimbabwe?

A: It has been a bit lonely, I must say. As you know, I was beaten up (in 2006 until now by unknown perpetrators) but I would have been beaten up whatever my color was. To some extent being white protects me. Because I am more visible. I am certainly more protected than a black woman. Male politicians respect me perhaps a bit more. Because they don’t know how to deal with me. They deal very roughly with a black woman politician in their traditional way where the black women are down. I love politics and it is a like a drug – once you have been bitten by the drug politics, you cannot let go.

Oh boy, I don’t know where to start with this.

If being white protects her because she is ‘more visible,’ and if  indeed she iscertainly more protected than a black womanand if Zimbabwean ‘male politicians respect me perhaps a bit more,’ that is a terrible indictment; proof of the colonial mentality and inferiority complex that must still exist amongst those male politicians.

And how would this special treatment that she says she gets because of her whiteness have affected her? Could this perhaps explain the confusion of accepting a position in the government headed by a man you then expect to keep on attacking in a very partisan way, but expect not to be accused of hypocrisy and inconsistency? Does the special treatment Stevenson intimates she gets from her colleagues because she is white perhaps blind her to the awful inconsistency of her current position?

My goodness, how this funny yet sad little story reveals so much about the messy unfinished business of Zimbabwe’s torturous political and racial history, and of how complicated fashioning a new thinking and reality from it is proving to be.

Q: The Czech embassy may close soon because of savings. have you heard about it? If yes, what was your reaction?

A: I was horrified when I heard about this. Any embassy, particularly Western democratic embassy to pull out now when we are just starting to move forward gives us a very bad impression. It removes a bit of our courage. It makes us a bit nervous: Have we done something wrong?

The presence of the country like the Czech Republic when you yourselves have overthrown an authoritarian regime and succeeded is what gives us courage. It seems illogical and to me immoral for the Czech Republic to abandon us particularly as Myanmar is going to set up an embassy and the Czechs are pulling out. This is bizarre.

I found Stevenson’s answer as bizarre as she says she found the Czech decision to close their embassy in Zimbabwe. As the interviewer made clear, the given reason for the closure is a pragmatic one: affordability, to effect savings in government expenditure. In other words, they make decisions on where to have embassies on the basis of a cost-benefit analysis, not any kind of mushy sentimentality as suggested by Stevenson’s ‘The presence of a country like the Czech Republic when you yourselves have overthrown an authoritarian regime and succeeded is what gives us courage.’

Surely it is an example of the worst kind of dependency mentality to expect the Czech Republic or any other nation to keep an embassy in Harare to give the Zimbabweans courage!!! How many Zimbabweans are even aware that there is a Czech embassy in Harare?!

If the Zimbabwean government made its embassy-locating decisions on the same pragmatic basis of affordability and cost-benefit, would it have made sense to open an embassy in Dakar, or would it have perhaps made more sense to open a Senegal section at one of its other West African embassies?

And Madame Ambassador makes an interesting allusion to part of the courage-imparting presence of a Czech embassy in Harare being from the fact that ‘you yourselves have overthrown an authoritarian regime…

Fair enough, but if Stevenson is suggesting there is an authoritarian regime in Harare to be overthrown Czech-style, I fail to understand why she has just signed up to be it’s representative in Dakar, Senegal!!!

Please don’t call me cynical. Zimbabwean politicians are far more so than I could ever be.

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Dear editor of the Herald

Posted by CM on February 27, 2009

There was this gem of a letter to the editor in the Herald of February 24:

We need Nathaniel Manheru column

EDITOR — I was saddened to read in your paper last Saturday that we will no longer be seeing the Nathaniel Manheru column entitled “The Other Side.”

Many of us had come to look forward to the Saturday paper because of the column.

Is there any possibility that you could reconsider the decision and carry on with the column? It has provided us with a good analysis of events that are going on in the country and beyond for many years and at a crucial time as this, we need such columns for our weekly reading.

I have not always agreed with what Manheru says but, as he pointed out in his last instalment, the column was about exploring ideas.

It appears to us that Manheru is putting down his pen to avoid offending the inclusive Government, but I believe the new set-up requires robust criticism for it to succeed at all. To this end, it is my hope that Manheru and The Herald bring the column back.

Takunda Matoro.

Harare.

Editor’s note

We take note of your concerns, and hope to find a suitable replacement for Manheru.

I had to laugh at both the letter, whether genuine or planted, and the editor’s claim to “take note” of the letter-writer’s expressed concern about the deprivation he says he will suffer as a result of the withdrawal of the column.

The infamous, boastful and mean-spirited column, widely thought to have been penned by bombastic chief Mugabe propagandist George Charamba, no doubt did titillate a lot of readers with its outrageousness. At that sort of level it certainly created a stir which definitely delighted the cowardly anonymous writer, whether it was indeed Charamba or someone else.

Cowardly because of how he could make all sorts of scurrilous charges against anyone who did not agree with every aspect of the absurd Mugabe -is-right-and-infallible project that it seems to be Charamba’s chief task to try to propagate and defend. And despite the letter writer’s claim that ‘the column was about exploring ideas,’ it more frequently  seemed to be one angry man exorcising the demons that possessed him by having uncontrolled license to engage in character assassination and hurl abuse at any he considered to not  agree with and admire his boss.

A key part of ‘exploring ideas’ is to then welcome and allow rebuttal and engage in debate. I do not remember a single time that the Herald ever featured a contrary response to the Charamba/Manheru column. Which also makes a joke out of the editor’s pretense to ‘take note’ of a reader’s concern, something the paper never seemed worried to do with holders of opinion different from Manheru’s. It was as if the writer and the paper were quite happy to throw scurrilous charges against all manner of ‘enemies’ from a very thin cover of anonymity, but were then simply too unconfident and cowardly to entertain rebuttals and different views.

Even taking into account the politically-prostituted, low standards of the publication of recent years, the featuring of the Manheru column was astonishingly cowardly and unprofessional of the Herald.


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High court judge fights president’s wife for farm!

Posted by CM on February 4, 2009

Oh boy, if this reportedly brewing legal confrontation is ever allowed to see the light of day, it will surely be an epic battle.

Ruthless dictator’s wife sees a farm she likes, makes the usual moves on it (she has done this before), reportedly eying it for her son. Slight complication: farm owner is not someone who can be characterised in the racial-ideological terms of the times, but is actually a judge of the high court appointed to it by the marauding woman’s own husband, the country’s sitting despot!

Here is the story so far:

HARARE, Zimbabwe (CNN) — A Zimbabwe High Court judge is trying to take the country’s first lady to court, accusing her of using political muscle to wrest from him a farm he was given during the land seizures.

The matter has not been given a date, however, amid reports that other judges have been refusing to hear it.

High Court Judge Ben Hlatshwayo is suing a company owned by Grace Mugabe, wife of President Robert Mugabe, for grabbing Gwina Farm in Banket, about 100 kilometers (62 miles) northwest of Harare. The farm is near Mugabe’s rural home.

The judge said he acquired the farm in December 2002 as part of President Mugabe’s controversial land grabs, in which Mugabe took land from white commercial farmers and distributed it to black Zimbabweans.

In an affidavit, filed at the High Court in Harare, the judge said the “unlawful conduct” by Grace Mugabe’s company, Gushungo Holdings, amounted to spoilation — or taking of the farm by force.

He said emissaries of the first lady have been visiting the farm frequently and issuing instructions to workers, according to court documents.

“There is clearly no lawful basis for such interference, which conduct, by its very nature, amounts to spoliation,” Hlatshwayo wrote in the papers.

Lands and Resettlement Minister Didymus Mutasa said the judge had been given alternative land as compensation for the farm that Grace Mugabe wants to have. Mutasa opposes the judge’s affidavit.

Hlatshwayo said he had been operating his farm in “quiet, undisturbed, peaceful possession, occupation and production” since it was allocated to him.

(http://edition.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/africa/02/04/zimbabwe.mugabe/index.html)

Oh boy, oh boy, what a can of worms we are opening up here! Phew, where  does one even start?!

The woman has notoriously muscled other people off their farm before. This latest move would confirm her as a “multiple farm owner,” which her husband has repeatedly said was un-acceptable greed and which he has claimed his widely-condemned land reform effort was partly meant to correct. Hypocrisy!

Is this the state of land tenure in Zimbabwe today? Can some person see a piece of land s/he likes, walk over to it, order the occupier off and take it over on a whim because she is the spouse of the president or some other official? Is this how things now officially “work” in Zimbabwe in regards to land tenure? Is this a sign of the ‘achievements’ of the land ‘revolution?’

Why should anyone, Zimbabwean or foreigner, make any serious investment in farming (or really anything else) with this shocking example of insecurity of land tenure?

As for the judge in question here, he got his farm in similar circumstances to those under which he risks losing it, an almost poetic kind of justice. He can justly claim that in his case the previous white owner lost it (and he gained it) under a broad, deliberate and now legalised government thrust to settle Zimbabwe’s long-festering ‘land question,’ but for a high court judge, that seems a rather thin argument.

Zimbabwe’s judges are considered hopelessly compromised by the system of patronage Mugabe has perfected in his time in power. A the economy has contracted and become more dysfunctional every year, being a member of the favoured elite has been an important survival strategy. One is entitled to perks one would simply not be able to otherwise access or afford:free or subsidised fuel, a fine house, one or more new vehicles every few years and for the super-elite, a farm to play around with during one’s spare time.

But there is a cost for being in this elite circle: You do as you are told and you don’t make waves. You also understand that you are not ‘entitled’ to anything. Everything you have is by the favour and generosity of His Excellency.

So when H.E. wants you to move to make way for his wife, you don’t ask questions, you move. And you especially don’t attempt to fight her in the courts! Are you crazy?

All these years the Mugabe-appointed judges have been accused of being thoroughly compromised by the many ‘perks’ that have come their way, such as farms.  And indeed, there have been very few politically-sensitive cases which have not been ruled in the government’s favour in recent years, if they come to court at all (delaying the hearing of sensitive and unwinnable cases forever being another oft-used tactic.)

And this judge seriously expects that his colleagues in such a judiciary would ever contemplate touching this red-hot case with a ten foot pole, let alone rule in his favour? Dream on!

Now that the bare facts have come to light, with the about-to-be dispossessed judge clearly and unwisely showing his unhappiness at what is about to happen, his misery is just about to begin. His first mistake was not to immediately surrender the farm to Grace, grinning broadly and sheepishly volunteering, “Abuse me any way you want madame.” This is what he would have been expected to do, and I have no doubt that most of his colleagues are shaking their heads in disbelief at how he has refused to play by the un-written but clearly understood rules of patronage. After all in this case he was offered the consolation price of another (read  “much less attractive”) farm! It wasn’t as if he was going to be put out on the street.

Now that he has made the mistake of crossing this line by merely expressing unhappiness about his pending dispossession, I predict the poor judge is doomed. Can he keep his job? No; more fundamentally and importantly, can the poor chap survive, can he live?

Stay tuned for the next commentary on this exciting developing story of what happens when a monster starts to feed on itself.

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In short term, Mugabe benefits from sticking to unity government deal

Posted by CM on February 4, 2009

The widespread doubt and scepticism about whether Robert Mugabe will stick to the national unity government deal with Morgan Tsvangirai is justified, given how slippery and cynical Mugabe has been throughout his time in power.

At an African Union meeting in Ethiopia, Mugabe is said to have assured his fellow African rulers that he would stick by it, even going way over the top in describing his commitment to it:

“This development is in line with our past record and current aspiration of building a nation that is anchored on the principle of justice, equality and neutrality,” Mugabe said. Nation anchored on ” justice, equality and neutrality?” Talk about cynical bullshit!

And yet Mugabe does have incentive to stick by it. To the outside world he can give the impression of having made tremendous concessions, making everybody forget that he personally and his party have clearly been shown to be second in terms of their popularity with the Zimbabwean electorate. If it wasn’t for a flawed and cynical electoral process, accompanied by the poor strategy of Tsvangirai and his MDC, Mugabe and his ZANU-PF would by right have been the opposition party now, rightfully out of power.

Whatever difficult-for-him concessions it required, the unity agreement has given him what he arguably could no longer earn by winning honest elections. He gets what he craves the most, to continue to be called ‘president of Zimbabwe,’  whether the Zimbabweans are with him or not. And regardless of which ministerial and other portfolios are conceded to the MDC, as long as Mugabe and ZANU-PF have control over the guns and other instruments of raw power, they can easily run circles around Tsvangirai and the MDC.

So in the short term I believe Mugabe is sincere about sticking to the deal. It gives him more than he deserved and earned, even some of the ‘presidential authority’ he had lost internationally by his nakedly shabby electoral antics.

While the politicians are making an accommodation amongst themselves, it remains to be sen if this agreement represents the beginning of the end of Zimbabweans’ long nightmare or not. That is quite something else.

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Mugabe denies responsibility for anything and everything

Posted by CM on February 4, 2009

“Mugabe blames Western sanctions for Zimbabwe crisis” is a new headline, but its sentiments and justifications are old, now associated with Mugabe for many years. All of Zimbabwe’s problems are cast by Mugabe’s regime as being the fault of what they are always careful to describe as ‘illegal’ sanctions by the West.

Excerpts:

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe on Tuesday blamed Western sanctions for his country’s economic collapse, which has left millions jobless and hungry.

Speaking on the final day of the 12th African Union summit in Addis Ababa, Mugabe charged that European and US sanctions against his regime had crippled his nation’s economy and fuelled popular unrest.

“We believe that these illegal sanctions are not only unjustified and cruel, but they have also contributed deeply to the suffering and the poverty-induced polarisation of the people of Zimbabwe,” he said.

Mugabe accused donors of punishing Zimbabwe for his land reform programme, in which white-owned farms were forcibly seized and given to black farmers, who often had little experience or access to equipment.

“Our condemnation, our isolation is because my government took the necessary measures to create conditions for equal opportunities, for decolonisation, for creating conditions in which our people could regain their lost resources.”

Zimbabwe has been bogged down in a bitter political feud since the March 2008 elections, further scuppering an already ailing economy.

Suppose one bought this argument for Zimbabwe’s spectacular economic decline, particularly over the last decade. But can ‘illegal Western sanctions’ explain the killing of regime opponents, boastfully and publicly flagrant abuses of the basic rights of opposition officials and supporters, the vast  restriction in thinking and media space?

According to Mugabe, the ‘illegal sanctions’ can indeed explain and justify all this.

“We believe that these illegal sanctions… have also contributed deeply to the suffering and the poverty-induced polarisation of the people of Zimbabwe,” says Mugabe.

Therefore the people are confused!  Because of the suffering they experience, they are no longer able to make the ‘right’ choice to support Mr. Mugabe’s ‘revolutionary’ government. This is why the people at every election have gravitated more towards the opposition. Not because of  democratically justifiable disillusionment with Mugabe’s government, but because of their poverty-caused  confusion as a result of the illegal Western sanctions!

I am poking fun at what I consider absurd “reaching” for arguments by Mugabe and his supporters to absolve themselves of responsibility for Zimbabwe’s mess. But there are many who actually seem to buy this “comrade Mugabe is an infallible angel, all our problems emanate from the West.”

So here you have the reason why it is perfectly okay to ignore the result of an election which show you no longer have the voters’ affections: the voters did not really know what they were doing, they were confused by the hardships of Western sanctions to vote against us! Therefore those results were illegitimate and invalid, therefore it is completely justified for us to hang on in power.

What is amazing to me is that Mugabe & Co. bother at all with this kind of circuitous justification of their incompetence and repression. I think it would be much more honorable to openly come out and say ‘ we have utter contempt for Zimbabweans and believe ourselves to have a divine right to lord it over them as we wish indefinitely.”

It is astonishing the extent to which Mugabe will go in his refusal to take any responsibility at all for anything.

Amore truthful and apropriate headline, and a fitting epitaph for his whole three-decades  rule, would be,  “Mugabe denies responsibility for anything and everything.”

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Hell, they’re just Africans

Posted by CM on February 3, 2009

On Bloomberg:

Starving Piglets Fed to Zimbabwean Crocodiles, Weekblad Says

By Carli Lourens  Feb. 3 (Bloomberg)

A farmer in Zimbabwe fed 700 piglets to crocodiles and slaughtered 250 breeding sows last week to prevent them starving after he ran out of animal feed, Landbou Weekblad said, without saying where it got the information. Farmers are struggling to find food for their livestock in Zimbabwe, which has suffered a decade of recession, the Cape Town-based magazine said, citing Deon Theron, deputy chairman of the Harare-based Commercial Farmers’ Union. Zimbabwe has an inflation rate that was last estimated at 231 million percent in July. At least 6.9 million people, more than half the population, need food aid, according to the United Nations.

http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601116&sid=a98ZGaKZSSxk&refer=africa

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Dear Carli Lourens,

Thank you for your sad, interesting Bloomberg story about the starving piglets who the Zimbabwean farmer had to feed to crocodiles.

Too bad none of the many who have written about this have chosen to ask: what about the starving people who would have been happy to have pork for a day, or even just a meal?

Oh well; hell, they’re just Africans.

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The confusing simplifications underlying calls for Mugabe to go

Posted by CM on December 9, 2008

On a surface level the many and escalating international calls for Robert Mugabe ‘to go’ could not be more clear cut. Many would find tremendous satisfaction at the idea of a passionately hated Mugabe to be forced out of office one way or another.  For a good part of the population in  Zimbabwe (I find myself unable to confidently say an overwhelming majority) and particularly in many parts of the Western world (not necessarily for the same reasons) Mugabe the person has come to symbolise all that has gone wrong in Zimbabwe. Whether this is fair or correct will occupy scholars for decades to come.

For those  for whom Mugabe has become the symbol of evil, the question of what exactly is hoped will be achieved by his departure probably sounds silly, if not downright suspicious or outrageous. Isn’t it obvious why Mugabe must go?

To some it is indeed obvious that once such an ‘evil’ presence is out of power, things in Zimbabwe must somehow improve, almost no matter what else happens in addition to the removal of Mugabe from power. To  others, it really doesn’t matter all that much what happens afterwards as long as the hate-inspiring personage of Mugabe is no longer on the scene.

The first assumption is naive, the second cynical. Unfortunately, both naivete and cynicism account for a lot of the (particularly distant) reaction to “The Zimbabwe Crisis.”  It has become such a symbolic cause for so many different things that for a lot of people, what becomes of the Zimbabweans is secondary. Many oppose or support what Mugabe symbolises for them (ideologically, racially, etc) more than they care about the eventual outcome of Zimbabwe’s multi-layered problems for its people.

Here are just a few of the many relevant but unclear details it would be necessary to know about the ‘Mugabe must go’ campaign.

Would it be considered enough for he as an individual to step down and be replaced by someone else from within his party to carry on with the currently stalled power-sharing talks between ZANU-PF and the opposition MDC? Or are the calls really for Mugabe and his ZANU-PF to resign as the government and hand over power to the MDC, based on the latter’s win of a slight majority in the recent parliamentary and presidential election?

There is the fact that the MDC won more seats than ZANU-PF in the parliamentary election of March 2008. And even according to government figures that many believe to have been fixed to save face for Mugabe, he was outpolled by Tsvangirai in the presidential contest, though allegedly closely enough to require a run off election. Mugabe’s legalistic reason for claiming to be the legitimate president who cannot be told ‘to go’ is that Tsvangirai chose not to stand in the run-off, citing unconducive state-sponsored violence, thereby automatically forfeiting the election to Mugabe.

Of course those who call for Mugabe to go are overlooking this election legalism as a ridiculous technical gambit. He in turn holds on to it very tightly as a reason for remaining president in any power-sharing agreement.

None of these details have been dealt with by those calling for Mugabe to step down for the obvious reason that the details are not really the point: for many the departure of Mugabe has become the point. But if the system he heads now remains in place after he goes, how much change would this represent? Is Mugabe so personally powerful that the system would crumble on his exit? That is possible but not a foregone conclusion.

Or is he merely (or mostly) the figurehead, albeit a powerful one, of a system that could continue in power, changed or not, without him?

If the system (ZANU-PF) were able to continue in power after the ‘sacrifice’ of Mugabe stepping down in response to international pressure, would this represent a meaningful change for Zimbabwe? Would those powerful forces who particularly revile Mugabe as a person be satisfied with drawing blood by having him step down? Would they then be willing to ‘work with’ a ZANU-PF successor on the basis that anybody would be better than Mugabe as president, even if the ‘preferred option’ of Tsvangirai as president were not achieved ?

Is Mugabe such a dominant force in ZANU-PF that if the party were able to hold on in power even after his forced resignation, there would be a dramatic change in the party’s policies? And if so, would those changes necessarily result in an overall improvement of the situation in Zimbabwe, assuming also that the party under a new ruling leader would be able to re-engage with the ‘international community?’  Is it enough (for Zimbabweans and for that ‘international community’) for the main change to be Mugabe’s departure?

Or would ZANU-PF as the ruling party with someone other than Mugabe at the helm remain essentially the same, complete with its refusal to share power with the MDC, and with its so far disastrous go-it-alone attitude with regards to a Western world that is simply not accustomed to dealing with such a ‘rebellious’ African state in a continent of weak, Western-dependent countries?

These questions are vital to the fortunes of Zimbabwe, and are relevant even if Mugabe is eventually forced out by age or natural death, rather than immediately by local political and foreign diplomatic pressure.

Mugabe is an unusually powerful symbol, both for his supporters and for his opponents. Such is the nature of the combination of his political cunning, his clarity of articulation, his fearlessness, his ruthlessness and his intellectual sharpness.  And there is no questioning how unusually personally dominant he has been able to become in the party he leads and over Zimbabwe’s whole political landscape. But it is far from sure that the general intransigence that is come to be associated with Zimbabwe’s government is entirely due to Mugabe’s personal dominance.

We may not know to what extent except in hindsight several years down the road, but ZANU-PF as a political force, positive and/or negative,  is far more than just Mugabe. It would suffer a serious dent as a force to reckon with if it no longer had him to lead it, but the assumption that it would either crumble or radically change course is not necessarily correct.

It has been seriously corroded over the years, but there is no doubting that ZANU-PF was forged and toughened over many years by a very strong defining philosophy of African independence.  The internal cohesiveness that was formed by its bitter path to power through a bloody liberation struggle is poorly understood and under-estimated abroad. It is far from being a simple political gathering of mindless, bloodthirsty looters and murderers as shallowly portrayed in much of the media we are exposed to.

This is not to deny that greed, intimidation, power-lust and murder have increasingly come to the fore as the party has lost its way over the years. And in the the increasingly messy efforts to retain that power in the face of economic and moral decline it  has lost much of its gloss amongst a population that once overwhelmingly supported it.

The point is that however diluted, corrupted or out of fashion it may have become, there still remains a strong ideological core that binds ZANU-PF together. A broad Africanist thrust may have been increasingly replaced by ‘the white world is out to get us’ consipracy-theorising, but both are powerful glues within ZANU-PF in a way that much of the media that has made Zimbabwe its specialty shows very little sign of appreciating. And of course at many levels of the party, its role as a means to the benefits of patronage in a dilapidated economy is another very strong incentive for members to stick together and try to fight off local and foreign foes by any means available.

So ZANU-PF is still very much a system, and its resistive/intransigent power cannot be simply or entirely reduced to that if its current leader, no matter how personally, politically and militarily powerful he has been allowed to become.

ZANU-PF as a system may therefore be severely wounded without Mugabe as its powerful figurehead, but those who put all their hope of positive change in Zimbabwe in the mere exit of Mugabe the person may be barking up the wrong tree.

It must also be remembered that for all its many failures and its repressive excess, it’s history and what remains of its original ideological defining center still has a core of support amongst the voters. Given what is widely assumed to have been widespread rigging in several of the most recent elections and the voter intimidation that accompanied them, it is very difficult to accurately gauge the real level of remaining support for ZANU-PF amongst ordinary voters. But such a core of support undoubtedly exists, and may be larger than may be guessed by the messy state of the country.

For this reason, if by ‘Mugabe must go’ it is meant not just the exit of the individual, but the capitulation of ZANU-PF to an MDC government, it is not clear whether this would be universally or overwhelmingly considered a good thing amongst the Zimbabwe electorate. MDC has done well to assure the many new land holders that it has no plans to reverse ZANU-PF’s messy but popular land reform. Doing so was to recognise that the fear that this was part of the MDC’s agenda would have turned many who want Mugabe ‘to go’ against the opposition party. This is but one example of how some/many who may agree that Mugabe should move on nevertheless do not necessarily have in mind the dismantling of his entire legacy, the way many of his more distant detractors might have in mind. With all his warts and his many failures, Mugabe in Zimbabwe is not regarded as the one-dimensional un-mitigated disaster that the British in particular so feverishly tries to sell to its readers, who are quite inclined to buy that messege because of the “kith and kin” sympathy with Zimbabwe’s Mugabe-dispossessed white farmers.

The lingering support for ZANU-PF maybe partly because of the incompetence of the MDC in managing its image in light of the still strong anti-neocolonialist streak that remains a part of Zimbabwean politics. But even amongst those who have reason to fear ZANU-PF for its long record of ruthlessness going back to before independence, there are many new landholders to whom having piece of land to call their own really represents a revolution. This is so even if overall economic conditions are so poor that few are able to work that land in any meaningfully commercial way at present. But on speculative, sentimental and also on future economic levels, the vote-getting power of ZANU-PF having made new land owners out of many who could not have dreamed of it otherwise cannot be under-estimated. The fact that all the prime farms with houses and infrastructure went to the ZANU-PF elite does not change this.

So it is folly to assume that because it has become violent, corrupt and disrespectful of election outcomes, ZANU-PF necessarily does not have a support base. The question mark over the size and the depth of that support base  also muddies the ‘Mugabe must go’ call. Many of those grateful for the ’empowerment’ of being new land-owners may be tired of Mugabe for over-staying and for seemingly being so out of touch with successful day to day management of the country. But this is not to say that they reject the overall ZANU-PF ‘project’ of un-abashed African empowerment, no matter how flawed and corrupted it has become.

Of course, on a purely propaganda level it makes for a much clearer, sexier, easier-to-sell message to reduce the ‘solution’ to ‘the Zimbabwe Crisis’ to ‘Mugabe must go.’  Particularly in the West, and especially in Britain, people have over many years been set up to think of Mugabe as a frightening ogre of almost supernatural powers. So they have been softened to understand and positively receive the ‘Mugabe must go’ message. And in Zimbabwe Mugabe has loomed so large over the country’s affairs during good times and the current awful times that many also believe that his exit alone may on its own somehow change things for the better.

And perhaps it just might. Being sure of that requires the kind of star-gazing skills I am not capable of . But my point is that this is far from guaranteed.

There are now so many forces who have their reputations wrapped up in the exit of Mugabe that they are not at all really worried about the details I have tried to explore here of what exactly is meant by ‘Mugabe must go.’ For the many individuals, organizations and countries with only cynical point-scoring or self-serving interest in Zimbabwe’s politics, they would have ‘won’ as long as Mugabe is no longer the president of Zimbabwe. That is partly how large (mostly but not totally in a negative way) a symbol and a personality ‘Mugabe’ has become in the minds of many people.

But for the Zimbabweans whose lives and country’s fortunes far into the future depend on the answers to questions such as those I have tried to pose here, these are far from academic or irrelevant points to ponder.

It is possible for Mugabe ‘to go’ but still leave a lot of the system that he represents in place, in which case there might be little change from the status quo. Perhaps  ‘the system’ might use Mugabe’s exit to cling on to power by Mugabe-like ‘by any means necessary’ ways, but appoint a less polarising figure as its head that ‘the international community’ can do business with, even if s/he is less than the democratically elected leader that ‘the international community’ claims is its main concern. But we have countless examples all around the world to show us that ‘the international community’ is not as concerned about democracy as they claim: they are quite happy to live with a despot who speaks and behaves as expected of him, unlike an independent-minded loose cannon of a despot like Mugabe!  So it is not so much that Mugabe is a despot, it is more that he is a despot that refuses to fit into the prescribed pockets of ‘the international community.’ A more malleable despot as president of Zimbabwe, even under ZANU-PF, may be quite acceptable to ‘the international community.’

‘Mugabe must go’ is a catchy, easy-to-market phrase, sold by many different groups who have many various motivations including but not necessarily exclusively Zimbabweans’ best interests. Mugabe has aroused many other passions, especially in Britain.

But ‘Mugabe must go’ is not in and of itself a ‘solution’ to the many things that ail Zimbabwe. His going is long overdue and may represent a welcome psychic watershed for his party and for the country, but the solutions to Zimbabwe’s problems will be as complicated as their causes. Even if many of the foreign voices who have adopted the cause of Zimbabwe for their various interests cannot be bothered about these fine points, Zimbabweans have no choice but to look much deeper than the ‘Mugabe must go’ campaign for the solutions to their messy, complicated problems.

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Zimbabwe government shows how to lose friends and fail to influence people

Posted by CM on November 26, 2008

The way the Mugabe government mismanaged the abortive Kofi Annan-Jimmy Carter-Graca Machel visit last week shows just how out of control over its image that regime has become, despite ever more strident propaganda from the media it controls..

The proposed visit was a no-win situation for the Mugabe government. To reject the visit of the self-appointed team of “Elders” gave the world all the wrong signals, despite those elder being self-appointed global troubleshooters with no defined role. And yet it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that the visitors would earn the government added high-profile negative international publicity by simply stating what all Zimbabweans already know: the situation in their country is becoming increasingly desperate and is showing all the signs of “humanitarian crisis.”

The Mugabe government rather predictably accused the trio of pro-opposition bias. But the fact of the matter is that Mugabe & Co. have over the years conducted themselves with such arrogant callousness to the people of Zimbabwe that even the points on which they might have once been legitimately able to claim a shady “conspiracy” against them pale in comparison to their own misdeeds.

That reputation for callousness was only re-enforced by the government’s mishandling of the proposed visit, or even of the rejection of the visit. It was awkward and bad enough to refuse the visit, but it was worse to then give confusing, conflicting and implausible explanations for having done so.

‘We are busy with talks with the opposition’ was one early excuse for not welcoming the visitors I read. ‘We are busy with the agricultural season now that the rains have started’ is another I heard intimated. ‘We have already done our own assessment of humanitarian needs’ was yet another. And it just seemed to go down from there onwards.

It got worse when the resulting international derision at these weak excuses proved so bad and and made the Mugabe regime seem so insecure that it reverted to its standard mode when cornered: to lash out with insults, particularly at Annan and Carter,  that only further re-enforced an image of thuggishness.

Having analysed that they would get negative publicity either way, on a purely propaganda management  basis it would have probably been better to let the “Elders” in than refuse them entry, even if it meant then tightly choreographing their itinerary. Repressive governments have to do this all the time, and it is fascinating that the Mugabe government believes its image is now so low that it could not get much worse by the entirely predictable firestorm of negative publicity resulting from keeping Annan and Company away. This suggests really having given up the propaganda fight; of having accepted that way beyond the issue of how things got to this point, the situation in the country is so dire that almost no objective observer could rule in favour of the Mugabe government in terms of responsibility for the country’s very worrying state.

Despite the government’s efforts to restrict access to the local and international media, Zimbabwe is enough of an open country and covered well enough by home-based and visiting citizens,NGOs, diplomats, etc that the indeces of dysfunction are fully on display: closed schools and hospitals, the police beating up peaceful demonstrators, whole neighbourhoods that now go for weeks or months without water or electricity, etc. The much publicised cholera epidemic has probably been building up for along time now given the situation with water and electricity; there is hardly anything sudden about it.

So for all but the most gullible or cynical “fact-finders,” the country is in an accelerated crisis mode that is impossible to dismiss on the basis of “ah, but it is all because of the ‘illegal sanctions’ and the worldwide conspiracy against a Mugabe who is just trying to ’empower’ his people.” Too much water has gone under the bridge for that to stand ground for all but very few.

The cholera epidemic is probably no worse than in the DRC or other places on the continent, but that is to judge Zimbabwe by a very low standard. And the government propaganda machinery is probably quite right to say there are no “facts” the elders were likely to “find” that are not already widely known about the extent of the breakdown in Zimbabwe and the suffering it has spawned. There is unlikely to be any more world assistance that would have been mobilised by the three “Elders” than the UN, the Zimbabwe government itself, NGOs and others who are already engaged have been able to raise. Probably quite intentionally, the visit of the three sent out the message that the Zimbabwe government has (1) lost control over many of the basic systems of a functioning modern society of Zimbabwe’s (once) level of “sophistication and (2) that the Mugabe government just doesn’t care very much for the plight of the people in whose name it still claims to cling to power by every gambit imaginable.

Yes, Annan has previously let slip that he has as little use for the Mugabe government as it does for him, so I do not find the regime’s charges of his likey sympathy for the opposition to be far-fetched. And the trio’s claims that they were only going there for humanitarian monitoring purposes sounded hollow for other reasons. It is not possible to separate the humanitarian situation from the failure of the opposing political parties to find some practical way of sharing power as they committed to do way back in September. The extent of the suffering has gone beyond it being important “who is to blame” for this shameful state of affairs, ZANU-PF or the MDC. Flush with his “success” at brokering a political deal in Kenya, Annan a few months ago almost seemed desperate to follow that up with a similar effort in Zimbabwe. He volunteered his services in that regard but no one seemed to take him up on it, hardly surprising given the Mugabe government’s antipathy to Annan when he was UN Secretary General. He was considered either not supportive enough of the Mugabe government, or too critical of it.

In any case, it sounded vaguely disingenuous of Annan and friends to say “we just want to go and see for ourselves how much people are suffering,” as if it is a kind of show to be enjoyed. On many grounds, the stated reasons for the visit were as thin as were the hapless would-be host government’s reasons for blocking it.

There was a lot of to and from between the three and the Mugabe government about when the process of trying to bring about the visit came along. We may never know how the process was begun and how it proceeded before the visit was finally called off when the Mugabe government made it clear it was going to hang tough and possibly even be willing to embarrass the visitors had they gone ahead with the visit even in the absence of a welcome mat. It would have been awful to all concerned, but far from unthinkable, if the three had been turned back at Harare airport if they had tried to use their star power to enter the company. Whereas most other countries would then have sheepishly, reluctantly let the dignitaries in at that point, the Mugabe government might well have been delighted to brush up its bad boy image by turning them back, perhaps roughing them up before video cameras for good measure!

That aside, it was also awkward and ill-advised for Annan and his colleagues to give the impression they would try to barge in even after the regime had made it abundantly clear they simply would not entertain the visit. Purely on a tactical basis, by saying so Annan only pushed the paranoid, cornered Mugabe regime further into its isolationist bunker. It was naive for Annan to think that a regime that is particularly prickly about issues of “sovereignty” would contemplate backing down on and at that point. There was a brief point at which the “elders” insistence on attempting to go ahead with the visit minus visas or an even unofficial guarantee of entry seemed every bit as childish as the Mugabe government’s hot-headed, overdone bravado to prevent it.

I have no trouble seeing how the Mugabe government really must have felt panicky and resentful at having to deal with the additional image headache thrown up by the proposed visit. It has enough to try to deal with given a widely publicised array of many other things not working. But in how it dealt with the difficulties presented by the abortive visit, it took decisions which arguably only made that image, and possibly also therefore the actual situation on the ground, much worse.

The refusal of the visit and the attempts to impugn the reputations of the three visitors, coming as it did at the same time when there is a new barrage of reports about the failure of many systems which had for years been creeping along (hospitals, schools, electricity distribution, water reticulation,etc), has been a big net loss for the Mugabe government.

Carter in particular seemed shell-shocked that he was not able to barge his way into Mugabe-land, perhaps for the first time really coming face to face with the hard-headed “the world can go to hell” toughness that has made Mugabe ride roughshod over all opponents for his almost 30 years in power. Carter and friends then had to contend with meeting Morgan Tsvangirai in South Africa, after which the one-time US president then rather lamely said at a press conference that the situation in Zimbabwe was “much worse than they had expected.” “Lame” because of how implausible the given “fact-finding” aspect of the visit was to begin with, given the many sources of readily available information about how much the level of hardship in Zimbabwe has increased in recent weeks and months.

But by design or default, “the elders” have shown how the Mugabe government seems much more concerned with scoring debating points than at actually tackling political, economic or other problems for the benefit of ‘the people’ it still claims are its main reason for ignoring the electoral wishes of those same people!

Carter then also became the latest of a long line of people to predict total “collapse” in Zimbabwe “soon.” Obviously this is somewhat a matter of definition: Zimbabwe continues to work in ways many African countries have still never done, yet there are many grounds on which some might say the country has already “collapsed.” But this is usually taken to mean a general Somali-type breakdown, including not just of centrally controlled systems, but of the state itself. If that is what Carter means, Mugabe has shown for the ten years or so we have been hearing these sorts of predictions that counting him out may be premature, no matter how dire the situation may have become for the ordinary citizen. Carter may have been politically correct for his circles to predict as he did, but outspoken US Ambassador to Zimbabwe James McGheeemay may have been more realistically on the ball when he recently said Mugabe may be more firmly in control today than he was a year ago. If “collapse” therefore is taken to mean “Mugabe weak, soon gone,” well, much worse suffering in Zimbabwe now does not necessarily equate to that definition of “collapse” at all!

There may not be collapse in that sense, but there seems little doubt that this episode is another major milestone in the Mugabe regime’s many self-inflicted wounds. However long its eventual exit may take, this was a public relations fiasco that in one way or another will contribute to the eventual tipping over.

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SADC did not guarantee Zim parties a particular mediation outcome

Posted by CM on November 26, 2008

We all now know ZANU-PF and the two MDC fantions recently went to SADC to ask for the regional body’s help to break the parties’ impasse over how to divide up cabinet portfolios. And we all know that many Zimbabweans are outraged at SADC’s recommendation that the parties share the ministry that is said to be the main bone of contention, home affairs.

First of all, how embarrassing that a country’s politicians should fail to resolve such a basic function of governance on their own, and should not feel ashamed to appeal to foreigners to help them find a way out. If they can’t find some agreement on their own on such an issue, what hope is there that they will manage the many weightier issues that will come after they all get their desired ministerial portfolios and associated perks?

A partisan, no-longer professional police has been an important instrument of control and repression for Mugabe. It is has been used with devastating, ruthless effectiveness to prevent the MDC from assuming the power that they quite likely first out-rightly won in their first electoral contest, back in 2000. It is therefore understandable that for the MDC, a power-sharing agreement with Mugabe is largely meaningless as long as he retains control over the instrument of repression that the ministry of home affairs has become.

And I can understand the concern at the great difficulty in implementing a shared responsibility for the ministry between the two main parties, as SADC recommended as an outcome of their mediation. The very fact that Mugabe seemed ready to live with such an unlikely arrangement is an indication to many cynics of how he is probably quite satisfied that this allows him to retain effective control over the ministry while posing as being very reasonable to SADC and the world.

Many Zimbabweans who have commented on this recommendation have correctly pointed out that the parties are under no obligation to accept SADC’s proposal. This has been partly in response to those like junior MDC faction leader Arthur Mutambara, who argue that having agreed to go to SADC for mediation on the issue, they cannot now be seen to be “defying” the regional body and that they must live with the recommendation. Mutambara has been careful to point out that his faction has been in favour of Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC faction being “awarded”  the home affairs ministry, and that he like many others was surprised and disappointed by the SADC proposal that ZANU-PF and Tsvangirai’s MDCfind some way to effectively co-run it.

But here is where a messy, embarrassing saga that reflects extremely poorly on all of Zimbabwe’s politicians gets even more murky: it suggests the Tsvangirai MDC agreed to the idea to be bound by SADC’s mediation under false pretenses. Once you agree to binding mediation, you have accepted that you and your opponent have failed to find a satisfactory resolution to your differences on your own.

It also means you accept the possibility that your chosen mediator may recommend a solution you find unpalatable. If the parties did indeed agree beforehand to abide by the recommendations of  SADC, to then turn around afterwards and say “ah, we reject them, we had thought they would be more favourable to us” sounds churlish at best.

As understandable as is the MDC’s disappointment at the SADC ruling and the justification of their suspicions of Mugabe, their stance does nothing for their image, particularly if all the parties agreed beforehand to be bound by that ruling. Knowing the possibility of an unfavourable-to-them ruling, it might have been better for the MDC not to commit to such binding arbitration. They would then have been left with the challenge of finding other ways to try to exert leverage to get control of the home affairs ministry and the police.

But that is part of the problem, and presumably an important part of their reason for agreeing to mediation by SADC in thefirst place : the MDC’s electoral showing and whatever moral high ground they occupy in the opinion of a good part of the world have not swayed Mugabe, who still has control of all the instruments of force.

It is an admittedly very thorny issue, but agreeing to the very ideas of power-sharing and external mediation is to accept that all the parties will have to live with some things they are not happy with.

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