Zimbabwe Review

Reflections on Zimbabwe

Posts Tagged ‘Tsvangirai’

Impressions of Zimbabwe in August 2009

Posted by CM on October 25, 2009

Visitors to Zimbabwe who have been fed a BBC/CNN-type diet of news about ‘The Zimbabwe Crisis’ and how everything in the country has ‘collapsed’ will be surprised at how ‘normal’ Harare looks at first glance. Driving from the airport into town, there are certainly signs of decay since a few years ago, but no immediate or obvious signs of the ‘collapse’ that certain media have in recent years hysterically, lovingly and perhaps even hopefully talked about.

Looking out of the airplane’s windows as it circled to land and on the drive into town in early August, the most obvious change for me was how areas that had once been at least semi-savannah on the outskirts of Harare had been stripped of trees. One manifestation of ‘The Crisis’ in recent years has been the difficulty in accessing forms of modern energy that had once been taken for granted: petrol, diesel, paraffin, butane, coal, electricity, etc. Their availability had been erratic for many years and their cost prohibitive, forcing many people to resort to firewood for energy. Hence the massive deforestation, which I later found was widespread.

The still newish airport is clean and well maintained, though the number of vacant boutiques compared to, for instance, Nairobi airport’s full complement of seemingly thriving over-charging boutiques was one indicator that things were not quite ‘normal.’ On the drive home from the airport there was no dramatic evidence of ‘The Zimbabwe Crisis,’ though the buildings did look shabbier than before and there were definitely more potholes to dodge on the roads. But the over-riding impression for me was the powerful natural beauty and colour of Zimbabwe, not the indices of the difficult times the country has undergone in recent years.

Having had a few days to unwind at home, I began to gradually drive around and explore my home city Harare. There definitely seemed less traffic on the roads than I remembered from a few years ago. Finding a parking spot in the city center was surprisingly easy at any time of day and the roads there were generally in very good shape, as appeared to be most of the visible infrastructure.

In town and in many of the suburban shopping centers there were many more vacant shops than before, but I was also impressed by the number of businesses that had hung on during the difficult years. But almost all had ‘diversified’ in various ways, with all selling a much wider variety of goods and/or services to survive. I thought the general level of service in shops had declined noticeably. I didn’t encounter any outright rudeness but it seemed noticeably common to be met by disinterested, bored and sometimes almost sullen store personnel. Almost all stores I remembered from a few years ago had a much narrower range of goods than during ‘the good old days,’ but many people mentioned to me that what I thought was a limited range of goods was a vast improvement from the situation a few months ago, and that the availability of goods was improving dramatically by the day, one of the early benefits of the US-“dollarization” of the economy.

While the widespread shortages of all kinds of goods was rapidly receding into the past as price controls and currency restrictions fell away, most things seemed very expensive, sometimes absurdly so. In the weeks before my visit home I had visited Europe and the U.S., as well as having passed through Senegal’s capital city Dakar,  a city not known to be cheap, and so I particularly keenly felt the comparatively high cost of goods and services in Harare. It was easy to understand why many Zimbabweans are only grudging in their praise of the ‘normalization’ that has begun to take place. “We are happy the shops are full again but we can’t afford the goods” was a frequent complaint I heard. But even as people grumble about “we can’t afford anything” the shops are certainly not empty of customers, although many merchants and traders said the level of spending was still low and still limited mainly to necessities. Yet all I spoke to agreed that the situation was significantly better than before, and dramatically better than in 2008, the period everyone agreed was Zimbabwe’s low point, with hyperinflation, shortages, violence and political tension and so on at their worst.

As ridiculously expensive as almost everything seemed to be, even in just the one month I was there prices were creeping down to more realistic levels. And if one took the trouble to shop around, which many more people were doing than I remember from before, it was possible to find widely varying prices for the same thing. A big culture change was that even in ‘formal’ shops it was possible to negotiate for price reductions, common in many countries all over the world but previously almost unheard of in Zimbabwe’s stiff formal economy. So merchants are feeling the effects of consumer resistance and growing competition from the opening up of the economy and the greater availability of goods, and they are being forced to respond by lowering their prices. In the shortage economy that had prevailed for several years, the relatively few people who could raise the hard currency to import goods became accustomed to charging huge, arbitrary mark-ups. The merchant was king, not the customer.

One of the most disheartening remaining signs of how Zimbabwe has slid was in the complete absence of a daily media alternative to the state media. There are no daily independent newspapers and at US$2 an issue, the weekly private newspapers are way out of reach of most people. Of course there is no private TV or radio so there is a huge information deficit. But this is not to say the state media dominates the shaping of opinion. Despite its near monopoly, state newspapers, TV and radio are so dull and so blatantly pro-establishment that their credibility is extremely low. The public has largely learned to sense when they are being fed propaganda instead of news, which is rather often, and to dismiss and ridicule it even if they don’t know for sure what the other sides of the story are. Even more than before, the propaganda is so crudely done that I found myself often marveling that the government didn’t find it embarrassing and a negation of its attempt to win heart and minds. The stiffness, awkwardness and the over-the-top nature of much of the state media in the support of Mugabe and ZANU-PF and against Tsvangirai and the MDC had an almost surreal, self-defeating quality in its crudeness.

President Mugabe is still ass-licked by the state media as much as ever before, and in a way that I do not think does him any credit. One big change was that Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Gideon Gono was no longer the swashbuckling public hero the media had tried to make him out to be when he was first appointed five or so years ago, promising to swiftly bring down hyper-inflation and perform all kinds of other miracles. Even in the slavish state media Gono’s gloss had long turned dull, with him now struggling to defend his controversial legacy to a tired-of-him, sceptical public. One would have to have been there in his early days in office and to experience what a dominant public presence he came to be to understand how far the man has fallen in public esteem.

Electricity and water cuts were frequent, although even in these regards many people said I had visited when the situation was getting much better than it once was. People are inconvenienced but out of necessity have had to adjust, and the down times are handled very matter of factly. Up until a few years ago I had never even seen a fuel-powered electricity generator but now many in the cities who can afford them have them and they are widely advertised in the Press. Those who have boreholes or wells can avoid the worst inconveniences of the periods without running water, but I was shocked by the number of people who calmly mentioned having gone for months without seeing a drop of municipal water in their taps, a major cause of last year’s cholera outbreak.

Visits to some of Harare’s once-bustling industrial areas were depressing. A few years ago a quick drive through any of them would have been enough to show anybody why Zimbabwe’s economy was the sub-region’s most dynamic after South Africa’s. Now they are quiet, many companies still open but quite clearly operating at a low level. The areas do not have the bustle of before; buildings, roads and company premises are no longer maintained like they once proudly were. But from job-seekers to company owners, many people said whereas most companies were just treading water for several years, there are now signs of activity picking up as a result of the policy changes in the economy and the relative political calm.

With low productivity in agriculture and industry for several years, and given all the crises the country has undergone, it is startling to see the number and proportion of smart late-model luxury cars on the streets of Harare. There seemed a very bizarre disconnect between the economy under-performing as it has done for years and the number and types of expensive cars which would have turned one’s head even in a wealthy, ‘normal’ economy. While the signs of the lack of investment in many critical areas of the economy were everywhere, this certainly did not seem to extend to the cars many higher-ups in government and the private sector drive. I’m still trying to figure out what this says, and whether this is positive or not.

My impressions are of a tiny slice of life in Zimbabwe. For instance, I only made two one-day forays into rural areas to visit relatives, and only made one other one-day trip out of Harare during my one-month stay. There are obviously many parts of the traumatic economic and political period Zimbabwe is just coming out of that will only be fully understood by those who were there during it. But the instinctive adaptation that one “who was there” undergoes to the rapidly changing situation is also precisely why it can be hard for them to pin down and catalogue the changes, even though they will have an insider’s deeper understanding of events they were a part of. On the other hand an inside-outsider like me, visiting for the first time in about three years, can much more quickly see what is different even if he has no first-hand knowledge and experience of the factors and events that drove the change.

When I ended my previously visit to Zimbabwe, in early 2007, it was with a very heavy heart. The economy was very steadily declining and the tensions between the rival political parties escalating. That state of affairs had been on-going for close to 10 years. There was a widespread sense that the country was still going down, with no one able to guess when we would hit bottom or how bad things would be then. I left home then worried and depressed.

My feelings were quite different this time. There remain many political and economic problems but there is now a widespread feeling that the worst is behind the country. There is not the same feeling of widespread political dread and economic desperation, even though things are far from easy or back to any definition of ‘normal.’  Everybody grumbles about how high the cost of living still is, but unlike before, prices are stable and in many cases even declining, and goods are widely available, which is a very different scenario from early 2007!

I found widespread relief at the existence of the inclusive government of the major political parties, and I thought that most people were generally much less passionately partisan than I remembered. I also think cynicism about all politicians was higher and more widespread than before, which may be a good sign!

The last ten years or so have been a lost decade for Zimbabwe in many ways. And there is no guarantee that the beginnings of stabilization that are being experienced will take hold or that the country will organize itself to get close to meeting its great potential. The possibility of the political parties going back to the bitter fighting that has contributed so greatly to Zimbabwe’s misery remains very real. But when I left Harare in early September after a month at home, for the first time in many years I felt the stirrings of hope about the country’s prospects.

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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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Talks offer Zimbabwe the chance of a new beginning

Posted by CM on July 23, 2008

There was a lot of symbolism to digest at July 22nd’s historic meeting between Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai.

Mugabe looked even more surly than usual. It seemed clear he had been brought there kicking and screaming by the circumstances of his own awkward and embarrassing recent self-coronation and the disgust of even many who have been his knee-jerk sympathisers. Mr. Mugabe did not at all look like a man who was in a triumphant or celebratory mood over the recent election which he “won” by being the only candidate. He was a sorry, sulky sight.

Tsvangirai was pictured grinning from ear to ear, not seeming to believe he was there at all and finally having to be taken seriously by a Mugabe he knows has utter contempt for him.

Arthur Mutambara was pictured in one of his usual bombastic poses, trying a little too hard to look powerful and dynamic. Here is a man who has done little or nothing to justify being taken seriously as a political player, but he somehow worked himself there. The handful of MPs of his small faction of the opposition are how he found himself there of course, but they do not offer any vision or ideological differences from Tsvangirai’s MDC faction. Their participation in the talks will be mostly about making sure they are included in whatever spoils are parceled out: positions, cars and the other normal perks of the parasitic political class.

Poor Simba Makoni couldn’t talk his way there, not helped by the poor showing of his upstart, formed-just-before-the-election political movement. Yet Makoni has been  insisting to anybody who would listen that he was central to the resolution of The Crisis. An AFP report:”I cannot explain my absence from that signing ceremony,” the former finance minister told South African public radio, saying “many Zimbabweans” believed his movement should have a role in both the current talks and the future of the country.

“Many Zimbabweans” possibly being his family and hangers on who would have liked to have been there to simply be in the receiving line for any goodies that may be given out.

Thabo Mbeki played it surprisingly cool for a man seemingly on the brink of vindication after years of quietly suffering vilification for his insistence on “quiet diplomacy.”

It was conspicuously an all-African affair despite the valiant failed efforts of Britain and the US to work their way to the center of determining how The Zimbabwe Crisis is resolved. They have all been calling for some kind of negotiated settlement, but it will be interesting to see if they will be happy with a settlement in which they do not dictate the terms!

Gordon Brown, the EU & Co. have also insisted they would not be happy with any deal in which Mugabe remained in power. There is approximately zero prospect of Mugabe agreeing to step down unceremoniously, or even to accept a window-dressing role, so it will also be interesting to hear what sputtering comes from those foreign quarters to a Zimbabwean-negotiated, South African-aided deal that offers much less than they hope: the final exit of a Mugabe who has been a thorn in their flesh, with what kind of ruler he has been for Zimbabweans being a very distant second consideration in their raw, emotional distaste of him. It would be entirely excusable to them if he was merely a despot but who did as he was told, but the man insists on hurling the Anglo-American foreign policy and historical hypocrisies in their faces.

But the worst panic and disappointment at even the slightest hint of moves to resolve The Zimbabwe Crisis will surely be felt by the British media. What on earth would The Daily Telegraph, The Times of London and the Guardian have to write about if Mugabe was taken away from them as a target of their hysteria? Where on earth would they find another such perfect villain to serve as the object of their deeply racial, post-colonial angst? That hysteria is not for the stated reason that Mugabe has become a repressive despot, which he is. His greater sin is being an African native who dares to speak and act towards the Western world like an equal of theirs!

The Western world has insisted their targeted sanctions against Mugabe and his henchmen have been to moderate their behaviour, a claimed goal that over the years has failed miserably. But just when for the first time Mugabe has felt the heat of world pressure and economic trouble at home to come to the negotiating table, the EU under Gordon Brown’s pressure ups the sanctions ante! If sanctions are part of why Mugabe feels under pressure to now talk, how is increasing those sanctions at the point of

Talks don’t mean mean Zimbabwe is out of the words. Many have mentioned how Mugabe’s does not have a good record of negotiating in good faith, how he is accustomed to conceding little or nothing and why Tsvangirai should be on the alert for simply being co-opted as Mugabe has done with other opponents after first softening them up with ferocious violence.

There is also the considerable issue of the genuinely deep ideological divide between Mugabe and ZANU-PF on one hand and Tsvangirai and the MDC on the other. Kenya’s coalition government may be an uneasy one, but there are at least no ideological differences between the two main partners the way there are in Zimbabwe. Nothing is impossible, but even if the two parties agree to give it a try, it is hard to imagine they could really live together for long as co-governing coalition. The many differences between them are vast, deep and wide.

But Zimbabwe is on its knees and desperately needs to stop the bleeding. Any chance to do that must be explored, no matter how great the obstacles to success seem.

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On Tsvangirai’s Wall Street Journal article

Posted by CM on April 7, 2008

Putative but not yet installed president Morgan Tsvangirai has recently become quite the writer, with recent articles in the Wall Street Journal and in today’s The Guardian.

Let’s see what might be picked up from his thoughts in the WSJ of March 21, just over a week before the recent election, in his opinion piece headlined “Freedom for Zimbabwe.”

Mr. Tsvangirai starts his article off with a bang. “Daily, the representatives of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), the political party that I lead, are harassed, tortured, imprisoned without trial and even killed,” he writes.

There is no doubt about the onslaught the MDC has been under for years, and I don’t doubt the harassment increased in the days and weeks before the election, despite this also being lauded as a fairly peaceful election even by the MDC itself. It is important to remember “peaceful,” meaning here the relative absence of systematic, wholesale violence, does not necessarily imply the “free and fair” conditions that we so often talk about without precise definition.

But writing for a distant US audience, the wording of the sentence I have quoted suggests that torture and murder of MDC representatives are daily occurrences. Any death linked to election violence would be one too many. But any evidence of a pattern of daily murders of MDC members would be a pogrom that Zimbabweans would surely be widely aware of, and that the world needs to be provided evidence of. Mugabe’s regime is brutal, but I have not heard even the MDC claim that its officials or members are being targeted for murder in the way Tsvangirai’s wording suggests. No one I know of from any quarter has claimed that there have been any election-connected deaths at all in the run up to the just ended election, although I certainly stand to be corrected.

The average Zimbabwean reader would understand that Tsvangirai probably did not mean to imply the daily targeting for murder of his officials that the sentence could be intepreted to mean. But I think that is precisely how the primarily American audience of the WSJ article are likely to have understood it. Americans have not only been primed to think that Zimbabwe is a war-zone, they are already conditioned to think the absolute worst about Africa. And of course in this case, this fits in with the ogre that Mugabe has been painted to be, which far exceeds the reality of his still oppressive rule.

Overstating things in the way Tsvangirai does in the first part of his paragraph is probably considered fair game in the propaganda war against Mugabe, who is himself not above these sorts of tactics. And it allows a Tsvangirai who had expected to be sitting in the presidential palace at this point after the election, to cast himself to the Americans as a particularly brave fighter against the image-battered Mugabe.

Tsvangirai is indeed brave but pandering to American ignorance and prejudices about Africa in this way is a most unfortunate way to wage his propaganda war against Mugabe. The way this careless kind of tactic feeds American stereotypes about Africa and distorts the reality in Zimbabwe does at least as much long term damage as whatever benefits it might win Tsvangirai in the short term.

Before I am beyond the first paragraph of an article I am hoping will give me helpful insights into the thinking of a man who hopes to get my vote and to be my president, I am already asking myself, “What is he trying to do with this kind of language?” Assure and woo potential investors from among the WSJ’s prestigious readership? Ingratiate himself with the US political establishment? Rally the support and sympathy of Americans for his fight against Mugabe? Whichever it is, I am already very uncomfortable that he so makes his point by the kind of careless distortion implied by the phrase in his article I have picked on, whether the implication of a campaign of systematic daily murder was deliberate or just an “innocent” slip.

Having lived in the US, one of the things that would make my blood boil most frequently were just the kind of often crude stereotypes about Africa that pertain there, and that Tsvangirai walks right into by overstating the security situation in Zimbabwe at the time of writing his article. So after paragraph one of the article, I am not feeling too favourably disposed towards my possible future president.

Maybe I’mjust uptight, overly sensitive and critical of Tsvangirai and need to give the man a break. Let us move along with his article.

Tsvangirai then spends the bulk of the rest of the article highlighting Zimbabwe’s main problems over the last few years, Mugabe’s role in bringing them about and in broadly outlining how he and the MDC propose to address them. The way he identifies the economic issues and his prescriptions no doubt were sweet music to his WSJ readers. The article displays a faith in classic IMF-World Bank-US style thinking about how nations should get ahead.

…committment to protecting persons and property…compessions for those who lost property in an unjust way…balance between reconciliation and accountability…restoring the independence of the judiciary…slashing bureaucratic red tape…will open economic opportunity to all Zimbabweans…taming the government’s appetite for spending…reduction of the number of ministers to 15…government will have to live within its means…Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe must become independent of the government…Most state-owned companies are woefully inefficient, will be privatized or shut down…

Most of this sounds harmless enough and is the kind of non-specific campaign rhetoric one would expect from any politician following the script of the reigning paradigm of how the world is currently economically structured. Tsvangirai gives no indication that he recognises that there has been a raging debate across the world about the effectiveness and benefits of classic IMF thinking about how to alleviate poverty and foster widespread economic growth in developing countries. Many of the most dynamic developing countries actually owe their progress to discarding classic IMF-style advice which assumes free markets that all economies have equal access to, to give just one example. The need to slash public spending, another central tenet of that kind of economic dogma is now questioned by many economists.

However, even for those of his broad recovery proposals I am not completely at ease with, I still grant that countries that intend to get ahead economically must just be pragmatic enough to accept that they must master the rules of the game as it is played in the world today, rather than hope that they can first change those rules. This means finding ways of manouvering around the many parts of that game that are “unfair,” rather than just whining about the unfairness. This is a big part of the lesson we can learn from the emerging economies of Asia.

But I have the uncomfortable feeling that Tsvngirai is pandering to his American audience, trying too hard to impress and win over a foreign audience before he has won me, a Zimbabwean, over. The WSJ is surely a prestigious publication to get an article published in, but how relevant is that for a person running for president of a country in southern Africa? When last did Mr. Tsvangirai write an article for a Zimbabwe-dedicated website or publication ? Or even for any publication primarily read by Africans, whether on the continent or abroad. My point is not at all that he should not have written for the WSJ, but that this to me is a further reason to worry about his whole orientation.

I do not want another president who is a paranoid isolationist in the mould of Mugabe. But I do want a president who is more careful and smarter about his engagement with the Western world than I believe Tsvangirai to be. That for me partly means being cognisicant of Africa’s history and how being patted on the head as a good boy by Western powers can be an initially flattering blessing that may come back to haunt a naive politician. I want a president who has a deep knowledge of African history and of Africa’s present day aspirations to engage positively with the West, but with a cool, wary head, not a childish sort of over-excitement.

I know I am only supposed to be concerned about how the country can effect its rejection of Mugabe at the ballot last week. I am choosing to look ahead beyond that to try and say, “Tsvangirai, beware;watch your back.”

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Could Mugabe try to steal the election in plain sight of the world?

Posted by CM on March 31, 2008

Incredible. 48 hours after the end of one of the world’s most anticipated, most watched elections and there have only been a handful of results, and no explanation as to why. Could Mugabe be so foolish and desperate as to try to steal an election which many pointers suggest his party and him personally massively lost? Could be be doing the exact crooked thing much of Zimbabwe and the world suspected and feared he would do? Virtually in broad daylight?

It seems hard to believe that he would risk whatever little credibility he still has left by doing this, but it is very difficult to imagine any other reason for such an awkward, embarrassing delay.

Many questions come to mind. Why do this now, instead of just having postponed the election under one pretext or another? Having taken the trouble to organise an election, and knowing the sceptical global microscope under which it was being conducted, why make a mockery of your own electoral process in this way? If Mugabe once had a plausible reason for arguing that he could win or at least get a respectable proportion of the vote, the believability of that claim is going up in smoke with every additional minute of delay.

Is it possible that Mugabe and ZANU-PF really believed they could honestly win this election? Are they dis-oriented and trying to figure out what to do because they had not seriously considered losing? Could they really have been that cut off from public sentiment?

Rigging, like propaganda, requires a certain amount of believability on the part of the practitioner. If the delay is to figure out a way to cook the results to show victories for Mugabe and ZANU-PF in the presidential and parliamentary elections respectively, then surely that delay has been counter-productive. Even in those areas where they might have legitimately won, the effect of the tardiness in announcing the results will be to put a big question mark on all those figures. Even more than before the election, Mugabe & Co. have scored a massive own-goal by ensuring that the only  result that will be widely considered to be honest would be the declaration of wins for Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC.

If the decision has been made to disregard the will of the voters, then rigging the process by announcing victories for Mugabe and ZANU-PF would be the wrong way to do it. Elections are about giving the winner legal and moral authority; credibility. There is no way a rigged election at this time and under the present circumstances can bestow any of these qualities on Mugabe. It would almost be more honest to just say, “I lost heavily but I have decided to stay on as a formal dictator and see what happens.”

The few official parliamentary results that have been announced include the not very surprising news that close Mugabe henchmen have lost. The losers include justice minister Patrick Chinamasa, agricultural mechanization minister Joseph Made, information minister Sikhanyiso Ndhlovu. Vice President Joice Mujuru is also said to have lost in her parliamentary constituency, although another report casts doubt on the veracity of that result.

If the idea is to rig the election, then these announced losses also make that difficult. These people were not just at Mugabe’s right hand, they were in charge of portfolios critical to the whole thrust of what he said he wanted to continue in power for. It will be very difficult to argue that these close aides of Mugabe’s, and no doubt many others whose losses are yet to be announced,  could have been massively rejected by the electorate but their boss and appointer convincingly re-elected. They are making as much of a mess of the attempted rigging plot as they have done of the country.

Perhaps the delay is not to figure out a half plausible rigging strategy after all. Perhaps despite the shock and panic of having been rejected by Zimbabweans, there still remains enough common sense amongst Mugabe and his cronies to realise that although they have been able to get away with a lot over the years, pulling off a coup of this sort will be a tall, uncomfortable order.

Maybe the delay is to give Mugabe & Co. just enough time to perform clean up tasks like destroy incriminating documents, loot whatever is left in the treasury, pack their  bags and make preparations for a quick get-away to whatever countries will take them.

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