Mugabe’s mess doesn’t require British solution

By Jonathan Moyo



IF there is one major outcome of last week’s eagerly anticipated Banjul meeting between United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan and President

Robert Mugabe that has gone unnoticed yet it has far reaching implications, it is that Mugabe’s quest for self-preservation has now taken him back to the colonial trappings of the 1979 Lancaster Talks.


This is because the mediation between Zimbabwe and Britain by former Tanzanian president Benjamin Mkapa, which has since been endorsed by Annan, smacks of colonial history repeating itself — but now as farce.


Apparently, Mugabe hopes to use Mkapa’s mediation to initiate direct settlement talks with Britain as Zimbabwe’s former colonial power; and this after 26 years of the much-touted sovereignty and self-determination during which Zanu PF has been rallying the nation to become “our own liberators”.


Yet the Banjul meeting had a decidedly colonial outcome in that Mugabe used it to reveal his yearning for a British solution to the Zimbabwean crisis. He now wants the world to believe his Zanu PF propaganda that the cause of the Zimbabwean crisis is a bilateral dispute between Zimbabwe and Britain that started after the land reform programme in 2000.


But to accept this propaganda one would have to conclude that Mugabe’s legendary posturing about sovereignty is deliberately deceitful. Maybe this is indeed the case. And maybe this is what has been missed about Mugabe, namely, that he is principally a colonial politician steeped in an outdated nationalistic outlook.


African leaders with this mendacious nationalistic outlook always blame their former colonial powers for every major ill in their national politics or economy while accepting no responsibility whatsoever for their own policies or lack thereof. That is why such leaders come across as opposition politicians when they are actually in power.


Listening to Mugabe rant and rave while punching the air and pounding the podium always leaves the impression of a powerless and frustrated opposition politician.


This perhaps explains why Mugabe has remained incorrigibly unable to understand that the cause of the Zimbabwean crisis is deeply national and urgently requires a national solution from and by Zimbabweans supported by the international community.


Otherwise the mediation by Mkapa is bound to fail if it is guided by Mugabe’s claim that the crisis is mainly due to a bilateral dispute with Britain. Mkapa needs to understand that Mugabe’s claim is equivalent to the quandary of a drunkard who loses his car keys on the dark side of the street without lights only to look for them on the side with lights in the real but vain hope of finding them there.


But not everything about the Banjul outcome is negative. The fact that Mugabe has for the first time accepted mediation is very positive. It suggests that he now feels cornered and wants some breathing space if not a face-saving way out altogether.


That space should be positively exploited to get Mugabe to realise that he should provide the solution to the Zimbabwean crisis by accepting that he has become the historical, institutional and constitutional personification of the crisis.


In this regard, Annan demonstrated that he is indeed a suave international diplomat by endorsing Mkapa’s mediation and offering UN support. Mugabe must have been surprised by this because he had expected Annan to insist on coming to Harare on the back of lingering humanitarian questions around the horrible effects of Operation Murambatsvina.


But Annan appears to have understood that the best way of addressing the evil that was Operation Murambatsvina is by resolving the Zimbabwean crisis itself. If Mkapa’s mediation can achieve that, then Annan would have succeeded.


Besides, while Mugabe described Mkapa as “the appointed mediator”, he did not say who made the appointment. This alone leaves Mkapa’s mandate open for the taking because there can be no mediation without resources to underwrite the cost of logistics, travel and expertise. Even though Mugabe has unilaterally said Mkapa will work within Sadc, indications are that the mediation is likely to be funded by the UN thus effectively making it the key facilitator.


This would explain why Annan endorsed Mkapa’s mediation. It is better and strategic for the UN to facilitate than mediate. He who pays the piper has the comparative advantage to name the tune.


Another positive outcome of the Banjul meeting is that Mugabe formalised Mkapa’s mediation without insisting on the precondition that British, American and European Union targeted sanctions must first be removed. So far Mugabe has been using these controversial sanctions as propaganda to inoculate himself as the cause of the Zimbabwean crisis.


If Annan had sought to be the mediator as initially expected, Mugabe would have predictably insisted on the sanctions precondition. Those who have claimed that Mugabe outfoxed Annan in Banjul have missed the finer points.


While no terms of reference or timeframe for the mediation were announced, one does not have to be a rocket scientist to realise that the widening and deepening economic meltdown in Zimbabwe will itself impose inevitable terms of reference and provide an urgent timeframe.


In the circumstances, Mkapa has only two choices. Either he will work faster than the widening and deepening crisis he seeks to resolve or he will run a high risk of being overtaken by the momentous events on the ground. The latter would render his mediation useless.


One thing for sure is that as soon as Mkapa gets down to work, he will discover that the real critical issue is not about the alleged bilateral dispute between Zimbabwe and Britain but about the failure of governance, policies and leadership since 1980.


Mkapa will come to understand that the more things have changed in Zimbabwe following Independence in 1980, the more they have remained the same. He will recall that the core of the 1979 mediation at Lancaster revolved around three fundamental issues:


* a new democratic constitution;


* a new national economy; and


* a new accountable nationalist leadership.


But he will be shocked to observe that, ironically 26 years later, Zimbabwe is back to square one facing the very same three fundamental issues which were at the core of the Rhodesian crisis in 1979. He will see that, objectively speaking outside Zanu PF propaganda, no serious person can deny that 15 years of Ian Smith’s Rhodesian Front rule in Rhodesia and 26 years of Mugabe’s Zanu PF rule in Zimbabwe have produced a structurally similar crisis. This is why history is now repeating itself as farce.


Yet there is a qualitative and important difference between then and now. It is that unlike the Rhodesian crisis which required a British solution, the Zimbabwean crisis today does not require a British solution whether through mediation or whatever.


When Mugabe says the crisis started in 2000 due to the rejection of the land reform programme by Britain and its allies he is not telling the truth. Many in his government and party know that the crisis started on August 16 1997 when the compensation for veterans of the liberation war became an economic albatross to the fiscus.


It is also a widely known fact that the demands for a new democratic constitution started well before 2000. Indeed, the MDC itself was formed before 2000.


If the truth be told, the 2000 land reform programme was itself a hasty, brutal and chaotic response to serious national problems that were already present. It was not a sustainable policy action. That brutal and chaotic response was more about Mugabe’s political survival than about redressing historical injustice.


While there can be no doubt about the historic necessity of land reform in Zimbabwe and about the social justice of that necessity, the fact is that the brutal and chaotic response in 2000 necessarily led to serious mistakes being made. Those mistakes need to be corrected without making a bad situation worse or falsifying history through Mkapa’s mediation.


* Professor Jonathan Moyo is independent MP for Tsholotsho and former Information minister.