No resolution for Zim

2008-07-09 00:00

Don’t expect any early resolution to the Zimbabwe crisis. Thanks to the pusillanimity of the African Union (AU) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), insufficient pressure has been brought to bear on Robert Mugabe to force him to agree to an acceptable power-sharing deal.

So the crisis will bleed on for many more months, as the collapsed economy leads to mass starvation and hundreds of thousands more desperate refugees flee into neighbouring countries, particularly South Africa.

A huge new exodus has already begun.

So it is to be hoped that President Thabo Mbeki, whose timid mediation is largely to blame for this alarming situation, has a plan in mind to accommodate this human flood so that we don’t have a recurrence of the xenophobic violence that did so much damage last month to our already battered international image.

What was needed at the AU summit in Egypt was a resolution based on the organisation’s own observer team as well as those of SADC and the Pan-African Parliament declaring Mugabe’s run-off election to be null and void and his presidency thus unrecognised.

It should have gone on to call for a panel of high-calibre mediators, including the likes of former United Nations (UN) Secretary-General Kofi Annan, to negotiate the appointment of an all-party transitional executive council such as the one we had during our own transitional phase in South Africa, backed up by an AU peacekeeping force, to hold the ring and arrange for a new run-off election to be held under UN supervision.

Reports indicate that Levy Mwanawasa, Zambia’s aged but gutsy president, had prepared a proposal along these lines. As chairman of SADC, he carried some clout and is said to have won the provisional support of several countries, including Botswana, Tanzania, Mauritius, Kenya and Rwanda. The hope was that acting in unison they would be able to get some momentum going at the summit.

But fate intervened with Mwanawasa suffering an incapacitating stroke. Without him the initiative faltered. Only Botswana, under its feisty new president, Ian Khama (son of the great Sir Seretse), had the courage to speak out in forthright terms against Mugabe’s sham election. The others went to ground and Mbeki had his way with his call for a government of national unity.

That enterprise, I believe, is doomed to failure for three reasons.

• Mugabe will not agree to serve in a unity government of which he is not the leader — and certainly not in one led by Morgan Tsvangirai.

• Tsvangirai will not agree to serve in a unity government led by Mugabe, whom he beat decisively in the March 29 election. He is not fool enough to be emasculated the way the old Zapu leader, Joshua Nkomo, was when Mugabe sucked him into a unity deal in the eighties. He also knows that his party would reject him if he headed that way.

• There will be no economic assistance for Zimbabwe from any of the Western powers or financial institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank as long as Mugabe heads the government. And without that there can be no economic recovery in Zimbabwe. The whole exercise will be pointless.

So the stalemate will continue, as will Zimbabwe’s precipitous economic collapse. Two weeks ago Zimbabwe’s inflation rate was estimated at one million percent. This week it is four-million percent. Next week it will be eight-million percent. Yesterday the Zimbabwe dollar was eight-trillion to the South African rand.

Supermarket shelves are empty. A whole range of businesses are collapsing. The country’s largest chicken producer closed down last week because it can’t get food for its chickens.

So starvation is staring the country in the face.

Yet the ruling elite still live high off the hog. They have exclusive access at an absurdly favourable exchange rate to what little hard currency is still coming into the country. The Reserve Bank is their private piggy bank. They are still building huge mansions and buying top-of-the-range sports cars.

It is obviously an unsustainable situation, but the question remains: “When and how will the crunch come?”

That’s a conundrum. The ruling elite are obviously reluctant to give up their fancy lifestyles. Even more compelling is their fear of prosecution for crimes against humanity during the Gukurahundi massacres in Matabeleland during the eighties — compounded now by the atrocities that they have committed during the brutal election run-off campaign.

Yet a starving population living on the bedrock of absolute deprivation has seldom been known to rise up in revolt. The lives of such people are focused entirely on the day-to-day struggle for survival. They tend to be politically submissive.

It was the prospect of that condition of a dominant elite, a demolished middle class and a passive peasantry arising in Zimbabwe that led me to suggest three years ago that Mugabe was following a course of “Pol Pot in slow motion”. Well, the Cambodian tyrant’s objective has now reached full measure in Zimbabwe.

Of course Pol Pot came to a sticky end. He was overthrown and imprisoned by other leaders of his Khmer Rouge party, and died in his bed hours after hearing they had agreed to hand him over to an international tribunal.

I am not one to suggest that history necessarily repeats itself, but it is worth noting that there are widening rifts within Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party and its military commanders in the powerful Joint Operational Command (JOC).

A report in last Saturday’s Washington Post — which corroborated information I received through diplomatic sources at the time — gives a detailed account of a meeting that Mugabe held with the JOC leaders the day after the March 29 election.

“In a voice barely audible at first,” reporter Craig Timberg writes, citing two people who were present at the meeting, Mugabe told the JOC leaders that he had lost the presidential vote and intended announcing in a TV broadcast next day that he was giving up power.

“But Zimbabwe’s military chief, General Constantine Chiwenga, responded that the choice was not Mugabe’s alone to make,” Timberg reports. Chiwenga went on to tell Mugabe that the military could either take control of the country and keep him in power, or Mugabe could contest a run-off election while senior army officers supervised a military campaign against the opposition.

Thus was born the strategy code named CIBD — coercion, intimidation, beating and displacement.

Timberg goes on to report that at a subsequent meeting of Zanu-PF’s Politburo, vice-president Joyce Mujuru warned that the violent strategy might backfire. But she was overruled by Chiwenga and JOC chairman Emmerson Mnangagwa, widely regarded as Mugabe’s heir apparent.

That, together with the fact that some participants at the meeting were sufficiently disapproving to leak the damaging information to a major foreign newspaper, is evidence of dissent at the very centre of the power structure.

Those rifts will surely widen as the economic crisis worsens and even the piggy bank shrinks. The crunch may well come when the Mugabe regime — which we now know is in fact a military junta — runs out of money and can no longer pay its soldiers.

But that is still some distance away. Meanwhile, the refugees are on their way.

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