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Talks:The importance of subverting bitterness in the interests of Zimbabwe’s future

Posted by CM on July 23, 2008

The reasons that so many have called for some kind of negotiated settlement to The Zimbabwe Crisis are fairly obvious: there seems to be virtually no hope of any other neat resolution to the country’s deep and multiple divisions and hurts.

It is possible to accept the reality of this long-running impasse and the need for negotiations between the major political parties and yet still have very mixed feelings when those long-called for talks seem like they are finally, actually about to get underway. One of the reasons for this is accepting the need for negotiation is to accept that one will have to give up some things one considers fundamental to one’s position, to compromise on even those things that one considers of immutable principle.

Another reason why accepting negotiation as a way out of a deep conflict such as Zimbabwe’s political divide is because of how either part has to “give” in its sense of whether justice has been achieved or not.

It is the nature of politics for its most aggressive ‘professional’ practitioners to be egotistical and to a large extent motivated by personal visions of grandeur and the desire to exercise control over others. There is no reason to believe MDC politicians are fundamentally different from ZANU-PF politicians in this regard. But aside from the selfish personal motivations of their officials, there is also a broad difference in national vision between ZANU-PF and the MDC.*

This substantive difference means the MDC is extremely reluctant to sit at the same table with a party that has countenanced the beating, torture and killing of its members, and who they believe to be illegitimately occupying power. For its part, there are many ideologues in ZANU-PF who are offended by the very idea of negotiating with what they genuinely consider an upstart group of ‘sell-outs’ who do not ‘deserve’ to rule the country even if they got the majority of votes! Both sides would have preferred some sort of winner-take-all resolution in which they came out on top, but this is precisely what successive messy elections have failed to achieve, and why there is any talk of talks!

The fact that no one has been able to devise and enforce an easy way out of this impasse is presumably why both sides have reluctantly agreed to hold their noses in each others’ presence but agree to try to panel beat an accommodation for the sake of a country that is battered and down on its knees.

Everybody will have to swallow very hard for the talks to be seen to be successful, and then will come the even harder job of implementing what would have been agreed.

But there is a precedent in Zimbabwe for putting aside hard-headedness to try to stop the country from sliding backwards. Ian Smith’s government and Mugabe’s ZANU-PF and Joshua Nkomo’s ZAPU provided that precedent at the Lancaster House talks that led to the birth of Zimbabwe. They had no particular love for each other and tens of thousands of civilians had perished before they agreed to negotiate. “Never ever” for all  of them became doable and necessary because the situation forced that upon them.

To many white Rhodesians Smith was a hero who was keeping the African barbarians away from the gates of their fairy tale existence. To many Africans he was a racist war criminal, even if “the trains ran on time and inflation was low” under him. To Africans Mugabe and/or Nkomo were towering African revolutionaries who gave them pride, dignity and hope, to most whites they were ‘communist terrorists.’ Still they had to talk and bitter, impassioned loose talk of retribution had to be put aside.

Thirty years later, Zimbabwe is at a pass requiring similar compromises between bitter enemies.

But into this mix is thrown the interfering calculations of those who have bestowed on themselves the right to try to influence events in Zimbabwe in certain ways, not necessarily to support whatever consensus the Zimbabweans decide is in their own best interests.

David Blair, the UK Daily Telegraph’s resident “Africa expert” very nicely shows this potential spanner in the Zimbabwe works with his article A Mugabe deal could land Britain with a dilemma.

Blair worries what Britain would do if the current talks ended up in a ‘Kenya scenario” in which Mugabe held effective power and Tsvangirai was given the consolation prize of Chief Window Dresser. What on earth would Britain do if Tsvangirai as prime minister came knocking on Bwana Gordon Brown’s door asking for the release of aid to help begin reviving Zimbabwe’s economy?

If a negotiated resolution of the crisis which Zimbabweans themselves can live with is all that Britain wants, as it insists, Blair should not need to worry about what difficult compromises the Zimbabweans agree to make to reach that resolution. But things aren’t that simple, are they? Blair ever so delicately tiptoes around the issue of why, well, even if the Zimbabweans were willing to accept a ‘Kenya settlement’ that Britain would not be able to consistently oppose, the ex-colonial master might decide to not play ball.

The issue for the British, you see, isn’t so much just the ‘resolution’ of the crisis, but the exit of the bitterly hated Mugabe! No, you see, Zimbabwe is completely different from Kenya: both sitting presidents might have stolen the elections they use to justify holding on to power, but Kenya’s Kibaki is clearly a gentleman and a Good African while Mugabe is clearly a Bad African! Surely the world would not expect civilised Britain to continue to live and do business with such a monster!

Even if the Zimbabweans, including the British-friendly MDC, have reluctantly accepted Mugabe’s continuing presence as the price they must pay for moving on? Which consideration would be uppermost in Britain’s course of action: respect for the decision of the Zimbabweans to proceed as they deem fit, or pique at the fact that the all-important goal of Mugabe’s immediate exit from the scene would not have been achieved?

Mr. Blair ends his article with:

Britain endorsed this subversion of democracy and, astonishingly, senior officials cite Kenya as a recent success story. If the same unfolds in Zimbabwe, the Foreign Office will have no grounds for indignation. If prime minister Tsvangirai shows up at Downing Street, he will doubtless ask: “If this was good enough for Kenya, why not Zimbabwe too?”

Blair coyly avoids answering his own question but we all know why for the British, Mugabe is the Irredeembaly ‘Bad African’ Who Must Be Deposed At All Costs.

As so often happens, it was a reader responsdig to Blair’s article that spoke that which Blair left unsaid:

Kibakism, as atrocious as it seems, does not compare to the entrenched evils of Mugabism: Kenya didn’t expel British farmers, confiscate their land and property or terrorize them as Mugabe and his Zimbabwean gendarmes did.

Kibakism, unlike Mugabism, did not mastermind, orchstrate and execute large-scale ethnic cleansing of  minority opposition leaders, members, tribesmen and women. Ethnic conficts broke out to protest election
results supposedly rigged by the Kikuyu-tribe-dominated government; using instruments and powerful
infrastuctures of ethnic-electoral majoritarianism. Zimbabwe’s bloody xenophobic, tribalistic machinery is
a year-round operation, unlike Kenya’s seasonal rage.

The attempted distinctions between why Kibaki should be considered so much better than Mugabe are almost funny. The “large-scale ethnic cleansing of minority opposition leaders, members, tribesmen and women”. the reader offers for the particular un-acceptability of Mugabe were official policy under Smith’s Rhodesia and apartheid South Africa, but everyone gushed that the Africans were ever so incredibly noble for reconciling with their tormenters in a way the British would have us believe should now not at all be possible in Zimbabwe!

But I give the reader responding to Blair credit for being honest about why Mugabe is British Public Enemy Number One. Its not the usual sentimental fare of ‘oh, those poor African oppressed and impoverished by one of their own, how terrible.’

Blair’s article and the reader reaction to it are a refreshingly revealing and honest insight into just why Britain is so emotional about Zimbabwe, and about Mugabe in particular.

It ain’t about human rights or democracy!

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