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Editor’s Memo

The weak link

THE government is clearly miffed that the report of UN secretary-general Kofi Annan’s special envoy Anna Tibaijuka ignored what it calls the positive aspects of Operation Murambatsvina. In other words, the government expected the UN

envoy to ignore the negative impact of the blitz and instead praise the authorities for what appears to be an afterthought, Operation Garikai. That is naivety of the highest order.

It is equally naïve for President Mugabe to try and change the course of events by inviting Annan to come to Zimbabwe and see for himself the beauty of Operation Murambatsvina. Last Friday Mugabe said he called Annan imploring him to come to Zimbabwe and have a look around. But his office has made it clear he won’t be coming any time soon — at least not before political dialogue is underway.

Mugabe expects Annan to see things differently. He expects the UN boss to endorse the blitz and in the process disown the excoriating report by Tibaijuka. Then the operation will get international acceptance and support, thoroughly embarrassing Tony Blair, Alexander Downer, George Bush and all of us who saw evil in the operation from its inception. That, at any rate, is the plan.

But it’s a flight into fantasy. Annan, in typical high-level diplomacy, did not tell Mugabe: “I am not coming to Harare.” But neither would he give the president a date for his visit.

Annan is not heading this way because there is no need for him to come. It would be a huge diplomatic gaffe for the secretary-general to follow up a visit by his emissary and pronounce a different verdict on the situation. That would be to second-guess his own envoy who is a specialist in the field of human habitat and who spent two weeks here observing the situation together with her expert team.

ut our spin-masters will take Annan’s polite response as a firm commitment which they will use to their advantage if the visit fails to take place. Expect a headline like: “Annan chickens out”! We should expect this gobbledygook from government which is trying to take on the world on the back of promises of support from the Chinese.

But Annan is sticking to the report. Tibaijuka is right. It is his report and his worry at the moment is how to use it. This could be his opportunity to deal with the Zimbabwean problem.

With the report, he has his foot firmly in the door of the Zimbabwe crisis. Tibaijuka had a good look at the situation in Zimbabwe. Contrary to the facile claims being made by President Mugabe and his publicists she did not come with any preconceived notions except perhaps to think of ways to assist Zimbabwe. Nor were her hands tied.

She got a good insight into the politics of the country. She saw the manipulation of the media by the state. She detected the absence of dialogue. She saw people struggling to get to work because of the lack of fuel. She heard first-hand politicians making promises that they could not possibly fulfil. She saw a government fighting its own people. She saw a country desperately in need of help.

Annan through the report has elevated the Zimbabwean issue to a higher pedestal where it is too compelling for the international community to ignore. Mugabe believes that he can convince the world that the United Nations is wrong and he is right.

ut Annan’s diplomatic hold on Zimbabwe has tightened. He is pledging to provide material support to Zimbabwe so that the country climbs out of the humanitarian mess. He wants to do more and is working closely with Prime Minister Tony Blair, Nigerian leader Olusegun Obasanjo, currently chair of the African Union, and President Thabo Mbeki.

“Once the most acute human needs are addressed, the United Nations will play its part, and give whatever help it can in implementing the report’s other recommendations,” he said last Friday.

“Among these is the call for dialogue between the government of Zimbabwe, domestic constituencies and the international community with a view to working together to address Zimbabwe’s serious social, economic and political problems.”

Mugabe’s government calls this meddling in the country’s internal affairs because the subject of internal dialogue instills fear in the heart of the establishment. It means a dilution of power and control. It means climbing down from the high stool of arrogance and facing the problems without posturing. It is putting the country ahead of personal motives. This is alien to our rulers’ view of governance. Tichaitonga kusvikikira yashakara!

But the focus is now on Annan. He has appealed for international support to assist Zimbabwe. The UNDP will co-ordinate that effort. But donors have not forgotten the disastrous 1998 Land Donors Conference. Mugabe has to make concessions this time. The donors will demand a form of internal settlement first. As the South Africans have emphasised in regard to Gideon Gono’s loan application, there will be no free lunch.

The United Nations has now put Zimbabwe under the spotlight by raising issues of governance and dialogue. The aim is to tie international rehabilitation to an internal settlement. All this is likely to infuriate Mugabe who will use his Chinese alliance to block progress. But in the end even the Chinese will realise that their ambitions for trade and mineral extraction in the region are not served by having one link in the chain that is weaker than the rest.

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