ADDITIONAL NEWS ABOUT ZIM!!
Thursday, 24 January 2008
Just before the latest collapse of talks between the ruling ZANU PF and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), South African President Thabo Mbeki was characteristically upbeat about the prospects of the two sides signing a final agreement to set the scene for the staging of free and fair elections within the next two months.
Mbeki was reported to have told visiting Irish prime minister Bertie Ahern about a week before flying to Harare last Friday that he was “within days” of getting the two parties to sign a deal to end the crisis in Zimbabwe. Following meetings with President Robert Mugabe and the leaders of the two factions of the MDC, Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara, Mbeki was equally positive about the progress that was being made.
It, however, emerged soon afterwards that the talks had collapsed because of Mugabe’s refusal to accommodate opposition demands for a new constitution to be in place before the elections and for the polls to be postponed so that any agreed changes to media, security and electoral laws would be enforced to the satisfaction and benefit of all stakeholders well ahead of the electoral process.
Over the years, Mbeki has been in the habit of predicting “breakthroughs” in the Zimbabwean crisis that have never materialized and that in fact have heralded major failures for him as peace broker. Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern is not the first head of state to be given an over-optimistic prognosis on the Zimbabwean crisis during a state visit to South Africa. Four years ago, United States President George Bush was given a similarly rosy impression when Mbeki informed the American leader that a lot was happening behind the scenes and a breakthrough was imminent. Shortly afterwards, then German chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, who visited South Africa in 2004, was told the same story.
Mbeki once publicly gave June, 2004 as the deadline by which he would announce a resolution of the differences between the opposition and Zanu-PF, heralding the end of the political crisis. Needless to say, his predictions came to naught. Not only was the impasse not broken but that year Mbeki washed his hands of the crisis and announced that only the people of Zimbabwe would have to put their heads together to confront their problems. No one, not even South Africa could “import” a solution to Zimbabwe, Mbeki stressed.
However, despite publicly throwing in the towel on this occasion, Mbeki eagerly accepted appointment by the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) in March last year to act as mediator once more. Over the past year of acting as SADC mediator in Zimbabwe , Mbeki has characteristically stuck to the same muddled approach that resulted in spectacular failure during the years when he touted “quiet diplomacy” as the best way to deal with Zimbabwe ’s wily octogenarian president. He continued to raise false hopes and to over-estimate the efficacy of his hands-off skills as a mediator.
In August last year, he gave an upbeat briefing to the SADC summit held in Lusaka about the progress he had made in bringing Zanu-PF and the MDC to the negotiating table. But as is now clear, this latest mission has gone nowhere and there are no prospects for breaking the logjam and bringing relief to the suffering people of Zimbabwe through a negotiated solution. The question to ask is whether Mbeki’s dismal performance stems from poor judgment or sheer lack of concern about the plight of the people of Zimbabwe.
In the past, his defenders have argued that Mbeki’s “quiet diplomacy” was the only approach that was likely to bear fruit as opposed to the West’s hard-line public condemnation of Mugabe and his government. These defenders of Mbeki’s lacklustre performance claimed that adopting a more robust stance on Zimbabwe would merely promote Western prejudices about Africans being unfit or unable to run their own affairs.
But after the many years of non-delivery of results under “quiet diplomacy” and a year of stagnation under the SADC initiative, it is time for Mbeki to do the honourable thing and admit he has not brought enough leadership, goodwill and diplomatic skills to his role as mediator to make a difference. This lack of progress in fact to lends credence to accusations by critics that the South African leader has colluded with the Mugabe government all along.
In the latest exercise, Mbeki who only stirs into action when he is due to brief his SADC counterparts, has demonstrated a propensity for leaning heavily only on the opposition to make concessions without exerting similar pressures on the ruling party to address glaring governance and other shortcomings. Last week, Mugabe gloated that there was no progress in the talks because the opposition was simply not ready for elections and needed an excuse to chicken out.
The opposition is of course not ready for the polls because it has been prevented from holding rallies, to mobilizing support and campaigning freely throughout the country. It has been thwarted at every turn. The two MDC factions do not enjoy access to the official media in which opposition politicians are only featured when they are being attacked or mocked. These unjustified tirades and the subjection of opposition and civic leaders to police brutality are some of the issues on which Mbeki as the mediator should have spoken out. Pointing out the urgent need to end state-sponsored violence, the political persecution of opposition figures and to restore the rule of law does not represent vilification and demonization of Mugabe as Mbeki and other African leaders have dishonestly claimed.
It is no secret that Mbeki and other African leaders within SADC and the African Union are hamstrung by their belief that dealing with their Zimbabwean counterpart more honestly by getting him to face his blunders and abuses would be playing into the hands of Western powers such as the United States and Britain. Despite clear evidence to the contrary, African leaders have continued to attribute all the problems in Zimbabwe today to the fact that the British government reneged on undertakings to finance the land reform programme.
Even granting that this argument may have once been true, it no longer makes sense to use it to explain the dire situation prevailing in Zimbabwe now. The government of President Mugabe decided in 2000 to go it alone on land redistribution and proceeded to violently seize farms from whites. The government now resorts to citing the former colonial power’s failure to keep its promise because the land reform exercise has been an absolute disaster.
It has failed to take off in eight years and chaos and corruption continue to be the order of the day. Foreign powers can surely not be blamed for the violent and disorderly manner in which the matter was handled. They are not responsible for the allocation of prime land to cronies and friends who have failed dismally to utilize the resource resulting in endless food shortages and a disastrous impact on the economy. Mbeki and other African leaders know this but choose to sweep it under the carpet in the name of solidarity.
After a visit to Zimbabwe last year to assess the country’s economic crisis, SADC Executive Secretary, Tomaz Salomao, submitted a report calling for political and legal reforms and an overhaul of the civil service. This report, based the situation on the ground, reflects Zimbabwe’s continual descent into lawlessness, political tyranny and rampant corruption, which cannot, by any stretch of imagination, be the result of Western machinations. But as long as African leaders are blinded by their need to demonstrate solidarity with the Mugabe government in its supposed fight with the West, they will continue to betray the people of Zimbabwe as Mbeki has done over the years
Mbeki’s opaque dealings with Mugabe have enabled the Zimbabwean leader to buy time and consolidate his dictatorship. Beyond that, the South African leader and SADC should accept that he has failed dismally to deliver as an impartial and honest peace broker. The effect of his involvement has been to prolong the suffering of Zimbabweans and to hasten the disintegration of the economy. Mbeki, who is distracted by his own political problems in South Africa, should now let others have ago.
It is perhaps time for SADC and the African Union to reconsider a proposal made by Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade two months ago that a panel of African leaders should be constituted to deal with the wily Mugabe. After the latest Mbeki debacle, it is time for African leaders to remove their blinkers and for once, do what is right for the people of Zimbabwe.
On the contrary, Thabo Mbeki has succeeded
President Thabo Mbeki has not failed over his mediation in Zimbabwe, suggested in the article yesterday (January 24) by Rose Maindiseka.
This might sound illogical but this is the truth. Mbeki's aim was to achieve something for his god-father President Robert Mugabe and he has succeeded. Mbeki wanted to buy time for Mugabe. He has managed that. He wanted to dupe the progressive world into thinking he was doing something about the Zimbabw crisis. He has achieved that.
He did not want to achieve any real progress and, indeed, no progress has been achieved.