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Candid Comment

My gripe with the ICG report

By Joram Nyathi

I WAS reading the latest analysis of the Zimbabwean crisis and recommendations by the International Crisis Group this week. In terms of the re

quired legal reforms, it is a summary of MDC demands about Posa, the voters’ roll, the RG’s office and demilitarising electoral institutions at the start of the talks with Zanu PF.

To me this was the easier part of President Thabo Mbeki’s mediation effort and Zanu PF can readily make concessions. It helps if you know your opponent’s Achilles heel. It is at the operational level that the MDC badly needs help.

My gripe with the ICG report is the predication of its recommendations; its failure to break with a patronising conceptual paradigm which sees African governments as surrogates of Western values and interests, a situation responsible for the current tension between the West and the rest of Africa over Zimbabwe.

The demand for “full Zanu PF cooperation” before aid can come suggests that Africans left to themselves are not discerning enough to decide what constitutes an acceptable electoral verdict. Why is Sadc being instructed on what electoral outcome to “endorse” and which not to? Is this not tantamount to telling them which result is acceptable?

There is also a grudging acknowledgement in the report that Sadc countries “are the only external actors with a chance to make a difference” on the political stalemate in Zimbabwe. “Condemnations from the UK and US, if anything (have been) counter-productive because they help (President Robert) Mugabe claim he is the victim of neo-colonial ambitions”, the ICG notes. Delayed epiphany?

The point is that while international sanctions on the ruling hierarchy have been “symbolic”, as the ICG claims, they have been more damaging in terms of relations between those countries and Zimbabwe. The US, UK and EU are now forced to depend on South African president Mbeki to mediate between them and Zimbabwe, and between Zanu PF and the MDC despite his much maligned “quiet diplomacy”.

Because of their isolationist policy, they have forfeited a chance to engage positively with the authorities in Harare to influence change. This has similarly weakened their ability to “close ranks behind the Mbeki mediation”.

Because the so-called “international actors” are preoccupied with foisting alien solutions and their preferred outcomes on those who have opted to remain engaged with Mugabe, they are doing more harm than good to their cause. Rather than getting Mugabe to retire using childish inducements of packages, they should be engaging influential members in his party ahead of the special congress in December to reconsider seriously his candidacy in next year’s election. There are many in Zanu PF who feel that despite his undisputed political acumen, Mugabe has become a liability to Zanu PF and the country.

Moreover, Mugabe is too clever to fall for so-called security guarantees so soon after Charles Taylor was betrayed and Saddam Hussein was hanged. Mbeki and colleagues better understand the cultural milieu in which they are negotiating, and I think all this threat of more sanctions amounts to backstabbing.

The MDC’s chief representative to the UK, Hebson Makuvise, made Africa’s position clear this week when he revealed that he had met a lot of EU embassy representatives but was snubbed by Africans who told him they deal only with governments, not opposition parties. They have also adopted a common position on Zimbabwe’s representation at the EU-Africa summit in Portugal. They are the same nations which will pass the verdict on the outcome of Zimbabwe’s elections next year, and Zimbabwe remains firmly one of them.

The ICG recommends that unless Zimbabwe meets idealistic Sadc criteria, which no country in the region has ever fulfilled, the West should “apply tougher sanctions” as demanded by the MDC. This is the posture which has caused a lot of image and credibility problems for African opposition parties even when the grievances they raise are real.

Which brings me to the wished-for opposition victory next year despite the obvious strategic and organisational shortcomings of the MDC. The ICG observes: “There is little likelihood that the opposition — so long as it remains badly fractured — can win an election in 2008 …” This key point is downplayed in favour of Zanu PF rigging the poll, much as if Zanu PF should lose even when there is no credible challenge.

The real trouble is that Mugabe, Zanu PF and Zimbabwe are often used interchangeably, so that so long as Mugabe remains in power, Zimbabweans must suffer, or alternatively, if people no longer like Mugabe, it means Zanu PF has lost support in Zimbabwe and hence can’t win free and fair elections. This confusion has led to the current burn and build stance in which Zimbabwe must be scorched with sanctions before it can be rebuilt after Mugabe.If Zimbabweans can’t drive out Mugabe, the “wider international community” will get them to act through tougher sanctions.

* But a divided MDC can’t win, whether they blame their split on Zanu PF dirty tricks or not.

* The panic button the MDC is always raising about the situation in Zimbabwe has led to an exodus of a critical mass of its urban voters. It means most of them will not be voting in its so-called strongholds. Set these against Zanu PF’s war veterans and a captive rural constituency who fear losing their land and you can see the mammoth task ahead for the MDC.

* In the absence of massive international aid inflows, the MDC might find that on voting day its urban constituents are standing in food queues than waiting on hungry stomachs to cast a vote for a whole five candidates in the synchronised elections. And Zimbabweans will be punished for a Zanu PF victory against a opposition calling for “tougher measures” on the country! True, Mugabe’s regime deals brutally with opponents, but that cannot be an apology for the MDC’s own strategic bungling.

Meanwhile we still await sanctions against George Bush for Florida.

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