Comment

Neither a tyranny nor a democracy

PRESIDENT Thabo Mbeki’s statement this week berating the United States for calling Zimbabwe an outpost of tyranny should come as some relief to Zimbabwe’s rulers grappling with an image problem.


>“Of course not,” according to Mbeki. Zimbabwe could not be lumped together with Burma or North Korea. It is true Mr President that Zimbabwe’s oppressive rulers pale into caricatures when compared to the junta in Burma. The Zimbabwe government feels that it is a victim of machinations by the West. And Mbeki feels that United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice exaggerated the gravity of the dictatorship in Zimbabwe.
 
As a defence, Zimbabwe has sought to associate itself with the same countries perceived to be bad apples in the community of nations.
 
The official response to Rice’s controversial statement two weeks was revealing.

“Zimbabwe, together with other independent-minded countries, is being victimised…,” we were told. Zimbabwe does not mind sailing in the same boat with North Korea or Burma or Belarus so long as our rulers believe that club can form a bulwark against the West. To sum up the argument, Zimbabwe believes it is not an outpost of tyranny but an independent-minded state free to do as it likes with its people.

But that is not the issue really. Condy’s remark could be an overstatement of the issue while our information dealers see it fit to understate the country’s democratic deficit. Zimbabwe now wants to use Mbeki’s statement as an endorsement of the status quo and a certification of Harare’s clean bill of health.

Of note — as read from Mbeki’s FT interview — is that Zimbabwe might not be an outpost of tyranny but that doesn’t make it a fully-fledged democracy and has numerous problems that need urgent attention.

President Mbeki did not say Zimbabwe was a good boy in the neighbourhood. By saying Zimbabwe was not an outpost of tyranny, Mbeki never meant that the situation in Zimbabwe was normal. He did not mean that the country was going about its business properly. The interview, which we reprint in full on Page 16, reveals that Mbeki sees problems in Zimbabwe which have to be addressed, albeit not through the confrontational US template.

Mbeki is aware of the problems Mugabe’s “successful land reform programme” has created.

“We agree that there must be land redistribution but the manner in which it is being handled is incorrect, and the way the conflict has arisen between black Zimbabweans and white Zimbabweans is not what we want,” said Mbeki. “But, you see, to take a posture which would say — which I think could be quite easy — we would sit here and say we are gong to shout at the Zimbabweans, that’s the beginning and the end of any contribution we would make . . . It was a choice for us. The easier route was to sit in Pretoria and say whatever we like,” said Mbeki.

The South African president is also aware of Zimbabwe’s economic ills.

“There are certain things which have gone wrong in Zimbabwe, which we’ve said publicly… They’ve run a budget deficit of 10% for 20 years . . . You end up with the economic crisis that you have now. It derives from an economic policy that had good intentions in the sense of raising standards of living of the people, educational levels, improving health and so on and so on. But it produced particular consequences, economic consequences which then also had political consequences…”

Mbeki’s comments on the formation of the Movement for Democratic Change are also important. He sees the opposition party as “essentially emerging out of the economic crisis”. He said Mugabe’s government had responded to the crisis in a wrong way by using unnecessary force.

“When I was in Harare I said to them publicly this business of using the war veterans is incorrect. You can’t solve these problems by beating up people. So there were things that went wrong there.”

What then do we call this? Isn’t it tyranny?

We hope that Mbeki’s observations are shared by other regional leaders who have been told over and over again that the MDC was formed by the British to recolonise Zimbabwe or that the land is at the core of Zimbabwe’s drawn-out crisis. Until now, it was only Botswana’s President Festus Mogae who recognised that Zimbabwe was facing “a crisis of governance”.


Mbeki also correctly diagnoses the reasons for Zimbabwe’s economic problems. The malaise dates back 20 years.
 
It was not caused by “illegal sanctions” imposed by President George W Bush and Britain’s Tony Blair on Zimbabwe. Our problems stem from poor management. Zimbabwe may not be an outpost of tyranny, but it certainly is not the “best democracy” in Africa as claimed by Didymus Mutasa last week.