http://www.pambazuka.org/images/articles/385/49176mugabeout.jpgIt may be too early to speak of a positive response to calls for a government of national unity. It would be most encouraging to conclude that both parties are agreed on the essence of a GNU. But this would not be an accurate or even remotely hopeful analysis of the scenario. First, there is the violence in ...read more
http://www.pambazuka.org/images/articles/385/49176mugabeout.jpgIt may be too early to speak of a positive response to calls for a government of national unity. It would be most encouraging to conclude that both parties are agreed on the essence of a GNU. But this would not be an accurate or even remotely hopeful analysis of the scenario. First, there is the violence in which unarmed citizens have been victims of mayhem. Secondly, there is the unresolved question of who should head this GNU - Tsvangirai or Mugabe. If this were going to turn out to be a defining moment for Zimbabwe, you could argue, with good reason, that both men would lower their own personal expectations in favour of their country’s and their people’s. But would that be realistic? asks Bill Saidi.
In essence, what came out of the African Union summit in Egypt, which presumably ventilated the Zimbabwean imbroglio thoroughly, was to leave it to the people to gird their loins for what might turn out to be a bruising or an amicable struggle to rescue the country from the brink of a disaster.
The mildly critical declaration for a call for a government of national unity contained no muscle that one could detect from a distance. Its politeness, as with everything the AU has attempted on Zimbabwe, must have been greeted by huge yawns of boredom by both combatants in the struggle.
It was Zanu PF, rather than the MDC, which appeared to react with a degree of animation to the proposal. Sikanyiso Ndlovu, the Minister of Information, sounded so upbeat it was as if the AU had responded specifically to his government’s call for a government of national unity (GNU). The MDC, almost predictably, introduced the rider that such an arrangement ought to be headed by Morgan Tsvangirai, who beat President Robert Mugabe to the presidency in the 29 March presidential election. Zanu PF would probably engage in a fit of gnashing of teeth before responding to that proposal - just as predictably – with the rejoinder that its leader ought to be the head of such a government.
This will be on the nebulous basis of his so-called victory in the 27 June farce which Zanu PF insists was a free and fair affair in which 85 percent of the voters, presumably, voted freely for Mugabe. There were widespread reports that some voters marked their ballots with “You will rule yourself, not us – we are fed up with you”.
How Zanu PF reached the conclusion that all voters turned up at the polling booths willingly shouldn’t surprise any objective analyst of the Zimbabwean situation. From the beginning, Zanu PF wanted it known throughout the world that it would not accept an arrangement which it had not controlled. The 29 March elections produced results which showed the party being resoundingly trounced by the opposition. But almost all that was overturned: the government took its own sweet time to announce the results. By that time, according to the opposition, “certain things” had been “doctored” and Zanu PF had suddenly performed quite creditably in all the polls.
Yes, it had lost its parliamentary majority in one fell swoop and had performed less than spectacularly in the presidential stakes, but it would live to fight another day – in the run-off of the presidential election.
About 70 people, most of them opposition supporters, were killed in the run-up to the run-off. Mugabe declared publicly that “only God could remove him from office”. It was the kind of contemptuous statement Mugabe has recently made to emphasise his utter disregard for even the elementary requirements for a free and fair election.
Why he would expect the opposition to participate in such a poll is beyond comprehension. Nobody, not even Thabo Mbeki, with his mealy-mouthed stance on Zimbabwe, could speak of the poll as anything other than what others thought of it: a travesty and a sham.
Mbeki would not use those words, but even he must have been frightened at the temerity with which his political idol seemed to regard that charade. Mugabe was swiftly sworn into office and just as speedily flown off to Egypt for the AU summit. Television footage of his reception by his colleagues at Sharm el-Sheikh suggested most of them were a little embarrassed, if not ashamed, at his presence. He may have met some of them privately, but there was notably no TV footage of such tête-à-tête meetings.
What we did see, though, was his media spokesman, George Charamba, almost foaming at the mouth as he shooed off reporters from the president. It was amazing that Charamba found it necessary to tell the West, on camera, “to go hang”. At some time in the future, that portrait of him may return to haunt him time and time again.
Mugabe himself was shown as if he was about to lunge at a reporter who apparently had asked him a question which he evidently found “cheeky”. All in all, it was not at all a worthwhile public relations exercise for Zimbabwe: the president, a man generally regarded as being unfriendly to the media, could only have sent that reputation plunging to the pits of notoriety.
The performance of the AU at the summit was once again as shameful as that of its predecessor, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), which somehow agreed to hold a summit in Idi Amin’s capital of Kampala, at a time when that odious dictator had displayed the worst traits of a megalomaniac, with a touch of cannibalism thrown in.
Only Raila Odinga seemed courageous enough to speak on camera of a call to expel Mugabe from the AU until free and fair elections are held in Zimbabwe. This is crucial for any future debate on the Zimbabwean situation by the AU or by any other regional or international blocs.
Elections in the country have generally contained an element of farce which most African leaders have refused to acknowledge as such. One good reason for this is that there are only a handful of African countries which could boast of truly free and fair elections since their independence. Many are led by people who achieved power through the barrel of the gun.
Although Mugabe has recently boasted that Zimbabwe’s independence was won solely through the armed struggle, it should not be forgotten that there were protracted negotiations in London – with not an AK47 in sight - at which all the players took part and had to sign an agreement.
Angola and Mozambique, which became independent after a 1974 coup in Portugal ended that country’s colonial adventure in Africa and elsewhere, were handed their independence, virtually, on a platter. Incidentally, that did not ensure a smooth transition. Hundreds of lives were still lost in the internecine bloodshed that followed this orderly handover of power.
In Zimbabwe, 20,000 were killed in a virtual civil war after 18 April 1980. After the AU summit, there appeared to have been noises of conciliation emerging from both Zanu PF and the MDC. It may be too early to speak of a positive response to calls for a government of national unity. It would be most encouraging to conclude that both parties are agreed on the essence of a GNU. But this would not be an accurate or even remotely hopeful analysis of the scenario.
First, there is the violence in which unarmed citizens have been victims of mayhem. Secondly, there is the unresolved question of who should head this GNU - Tsvangirai or Mugabe. If this were going to turn out to be a defining moment for Zimbabwe, you could argue, with good reason, that both men would lower their own personal expectations in favour of their country’s and their people’s. But would that be realistic?
The 27 June election was described as a “joke”, which would sound ghoulish if you considered that people were being killed even as the voting got under way or when the president was being sworn for another term of office. Why most people do not dwell on the bloodstained nature of the election campaign is probably an “African thing”. Most election campaigns on the continent feature a certain amount of bloodletting, witness that in Kenya.
Many Zimbabweans, observing from afar the TV footage of the gory situation in Kenya, swore it would not happen in their country. But it did and most were thoroughly disgusted that they had allowed themselves to be duped by Zanu PF into believing that the party had turned over a new leaf and would exit the political arena quietly, having been thoroughly humiliated by the MDC.
Mugabe was in competition with nobody, Tsvangirai having pulled out and being holed up in the Dutch embassy in Harare. Tsvangirai has been criticised for not standing firmly alongside his supporters in their time of greatest need. He has spent time in exile in Botswana and South Africa, apparently fearing for his life.
One point in his favour is that there is no denying that, if an opportunity was presented to his enemies to liquidate him, the chances are that they would grab it with both hands. He has been severely brutalised in the past, by the war veterans and by “men in dark glasses”, officers of the murderous Central Intelligence Office (CIO).
In 1990, one such officer was charged, found guilty and sentenced to a term in prison for his part in the attempted assassination of Patrick Kombayi, then a candidate for the opposition Zimbabwe Unity Movement (ZUM). The two men were pardoned by Mugabe. Officers of this same clandestine unit have reportedly participated actively in the so-called “retribution” campaign launched by the government and Zanu PF after the 29 March elections.
The impunity with which this campaign was carried out convinced many people, previously unable to believe such brutality could be carried out in the name of a government professing to be democratic and a respectable member of the international community, that Zanu PF was in a real bind. Its chances of winning the election had been eroded by an economy so tattered and derelict its likelihood of ever recovering seemed almost non-existent.
It is this tottering economy which the government has said has been the target of Western economic sanctions. The government, in fact, blames the sanctions for all its economic woes. But an influential British commentator has dismissed sanctions as an effective tool against what he calls “brutal rulers” of Mugabe’s ilk.
Simon Jenkins says in an article in The Guardian newspaper this week: “Economic sanctions are a coward’s war. They do not work but are a way in which the rich elites feel they are ‘committed’ to some distant struggle. They enjoy lasting appeal to politicians because they cost them nothing and are rhetorically macho.” Jenkins refers specifically to the decision by the supermarket group Tesco to stop buying produce from Zimbabwe, “while the political crisis exists”. He contrasts this with the stance of the company’s competitor, Waitrose, which has decided not to stop buying from Zimbabwe. “It believes withdrawal would devastate ‘the workers and their extended families.”
There has never been any universal applause for economic sanctions against recalcitrant nations. Jenkins makes the point by referring to sanctions imposed on a number of nations which he claimed had no effect whatsoever. “In almost every case, sanctions make the evil richer and more secure, and the poor poorer.” Jenkins quotes the dictionary meaning of sanctions “as a specific penalty enacted in order to enforce obedience to the law”.
While he suggests that only an invasion would be effective, he refers to the invasion of Iraq as being considered as “a step too far.” “We toss gestures that will not bring about Mugabe’s downfall, only make the poor less able to resist his thugs. And all so that Tesco can feel better for a day.” "Yet there are many who believe that “every little bit helps”. In other words, even the mildest inconvenience to the people of an offending nation is likely to have an effect on their attitude towards the government.
Zimbabwe’s economy is in the proverbial doldrums, some of it totally unrelated to sanctions, but caused by malfeasance and maladministration. For instance, Mugabe himself has railed against his own cabinet ministers over the corruption involving the land reform programme. Some of them have two, three or even four farms, when he has decreed that they should have only one. Moreover, others have not developed these previously white-owned properties to their previous level of productivity, using them for speculative purposes, instead.
In insisting that the sanctions have hurt most ordinary, average-income earners, the government had hoped to persuade voters not to continue with their support for the opposition. The idea has been to paint them with the same brush as the West, which the government alleges launched its anti-Zimbabwe campaign after the land reform programme.
All this has failed to impress most voters, because, for a majority of workers, the luxuries accorded to cabinet ministers and the heads of parastatal companies are so lavish, they cannot imagine the country suffering any real pain from the sanctions – unless there is a political reason for making the workers the main targets and sufferers.
And since the opposition draws most of its support from the workers, that conclusion is not difficult for them to arrive at. Tsvangirai once said he believed if the South Africans imposed any kind of sanctions on Zimbabwe, they would have such a devastating impact on the economy Mugabe would soon rush to Mbeki on bended knees to beg him to reverse the decision, in return for anything he wanted – including the immediate re-opening of direct talks with the opposition.
Recently, the MDC leader has not been vocal on sanctions, perhaps in the perhaps forlorn hope that Mbeki, under enormous criticism for his lacklustre performance as the main mediator, would at last bend to the wishes of the Zimbabweans and make their geriatric and despotic leader the kind of deal he wouldn’t resist.
* Bill Saidi is the deputy editor of The Standard, an independent newspaper in Harare.
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