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Candid Comment

Blair will keep his Britain

By Joram Nyathi

I AM enjoying the debate about UN secretary-general Kofi Annan and his chosen mediator between Zimbabwe and Britain, or more specifically, between President Mugabe and prime mi

nister Tony Blair, Benjamin Mkapa.

Comments are flowing fast and thick for and against Annan’s decision not to visit Zimbabwe as a follow-up to Anna Tibaijuka’s damning report on Operation Murambatsvina last year.

The more delusional opinion-makers go so far as to suggest that Annan is a coward — he should have told Mugabe to go. It is not said from what platform he would have been able to say that. Whether Annan should have visited Zimbabwe is immaterial now.

I have a problem with the whole proposition about mediation. The way it has been so easily spun smacks of another bid at “quiet diplomacy” — an attempt not to provoke a violent reaction by Mugabe and keep lines of communication open but without achieving anything.

Secondly, people are buying into government’s propaganda about a “bilateral” dispute with Britain and not misrule and damaging economic policies as being at the core of the current crisis. But we all know that Zimbabwe’s problems were already getting out of hand well before the land invasions started in 1999 — a point at which everybody now wants to locate the source of our national crisis. You would expect the opposition to see through this threadbare ruse.

The reckless financial splurge to war veterans in 1997 and the foolish adventure in the DRC the following year were signs of a desperate government trying to put the nation off the spoor. But at least then the country could still feed itself.

The violent nature of the land invasions was meant to spite Britain for refusing to do what it is our responsibility to do as a sovereign state — fund it. If the purpose were to empower landless blacks, a planned, equitable reform programme was possible and a legitimate and transparent taxation mechanism on commercial farmers could easily have been crafted to fund a more orderely “transfer” of commercial farms to interested, skilled and competent black farmers. That only outsiders could fund such a process is outright duplicity by politicians and bureaucrats who can’t think creatively.

It is easier for them to dream up Posa, Aippa and Constitutional Amendment No 17 than plan a sustainable land reform despite all the goodwill in the world. After all there were a lot of white commercial farmers already sharing skills and equipment with their poor black neighbours.

Instead, Mugabe turned the whole programme into a racial contest of egos between himself and Blair as eloquently dramatised in his famous “Blair keep your Britain and I will keep my Zimbabwe” protest.

Mugabe had by this time embarked on dangerous unilateralism that would brook no impediment by consensual issues of legality. For in the final analysis, it is to insult our intelligence to expect us to believe the myth that it was necessary to destroy our entire commercial agriculture and trillions of dollars’ worth of infrastructure to drive out a motley 4 500 unarmed white farmers. It’s like using a sledge hammer to swat a fly on your baby’s face.

My other problem is not whether Mkapa will be impartial or not, but what he will be taking to London. Is Mugabe demanding to be recognised as the legitimate president of Zimbabwe? Is the issue about Britain’s support for the opposition? Is it about Britain’s alleged interference in Zimbabwe’s internal affairs? Does Mugabe want to go back to the terms of the 1998 land donors’ conference or Abuja 2002? Does he need compensation for dispossessed white commercial farmers? Just what is this “bilateral dispute” that Mkapa is expected to resolve? In short, what will be Mkapa’s terms of reference?

Unfortunately, Britain may not have the power to resolve any of the issues raised if our Independence is no more than juridical. There is politics at play here. Mugabe is trying to buy himself a few more months in power on the pretext of resolving the cause of Zimbabwe’s economic ruin. The effort now is to locate that cause externally in the name of so-called “illegal” sanctions without dealing with why they were deemed necessary in the first place.

It would be naïve in the extreme for anybody to even hope that the British government might fall for this infantile subterfuge, and Mugabe knows they won’t. Which is what he wants, for it gives him a perfect alibi to blame Britain for intransigence, negotiating in bad faith or making unreasonable demands while the nation implodes. But at the rate things are deteriorating all round, he might not enjoy playing his lyre for long. Conditions in the country might soon force him to face the reality of the crisis he created which he now seeks to leave unresolved. Which is what the British will tell Mkapa.

Mugabe says he won’t have dialogue with opposition parties and civic society groups in Zimbabwe because they represent British interests. Instead, he wants to talk to their master directly. But once he gets to Lancaster House for the second time he will find that he is in Ian Smith’s awkward position of 1979.

He will be told that people want a new constitution, free and fair elections, a restoration of the rule of law and respect for property rights. Above all he will be told people want a reversal of the economic decline that he precipitated. They want food, jobs and reliable health services. That is what Zimbabweans are demanding without having to go via Lancaster House. It is hard to see how even a partial, pan-African Mkapa can avoid this incontrovertible reality. The rest are simply deceptive diplomatic niceties to avoid wounding egos and to appear to have hit a win-win situation without causing too much royal embarrassment.

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