Mugabe's minefield

2008-04-15 00:00

WHILE the situation in Zimbabwe remains opaque more than two weeks after the general and presidential elections, some observers suggest that, in fact, President Robert Mugabe suffered several setbacks over the past weekend.

The High Court in Harare ordered the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) not to recount the results from 23 constituencies because the result of the presidential poll had not yet been released. Most of these seats were won by the MDC and a reversal in nine or more of them would deprive that party of its parliamentary majority.

Whether the court’s ruling will be respected, of course, remains to be seen. Usually, in earlier confrontations with the Mugabe executive, the judiciary has not prevailed.

Mugabe could probably take some comfort from President Thabo Mbeki. According to reports, at a recent meeting in London Mbeki persuaded British Prime Minister Gordon Brown to refrain from making any strong statement on Zimbabwe. If Brown was putting any reliance on Mbeki’s “quiet diplomacy”, however, his faith would have been misplaced. Mbeki met Mugabe en route to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) summit, after which he blandly announced that there was no crisis in Zimbabwe.

Mugabe boycotted the SADC meeting, apparently because he would not have been accepted as a head of state but as a presidential candidate — the same basis on which MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai was present. Just the fact that SADC, all of whose members are younger than Mugabe, was holding an emergency meeting to discuss developments in his country in his absence but with Tsvangirai present must have been galling to the Zimbabwean dictator.

What happens now? Clearly not only Zimbabwe but the entire region is facing an acid test. Will democracy eventually be allowed to prevail? Or will Mugabe be allowed to get away with it for a while longer? On that outcome hangs the credibility not only of SADC but of the ability of African leaders in general to lead their continent

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