Beginning of the end for Mugabe?

By Charles Frizell

THINGS are not going well for President Mugabe and Zanu at this time. There is confusion and infighting within the party. Six out of the ten district chairmen have been dismissed. MP&#8217

;s and cabinet ministers are accused of spying on the country on behalf of South Africa. The economy continues to crumble and the spectre of starvation once more rears its ugly head.


Well-known fighters for democracy and human rights such as Desmond Tutu are openly critical of Mugabe, as are church leaders within the country.


Land reform has been a disaster and has exposed the naked greed and corruption of many senior party members. Despite pleas by Mugabe, multiple farm owners refuse to give them back and are openly defying him.


On top of all this, the AU has adopted a report critical of human rights abuses in Zimbabwe, despite strenuous efforts by the government to suppress it. This must be a particularly bitter blow, coming as it does from those Mugabe thought he could rely on to shield and protect him from international condemnation. And then there is the Sadc election protocol tabled in Mauritius.


As with Abuja, Mugabe happily signed up to this with absolutely no intention at all of abiding by the letter, let alone the spirit, of the document. It has come as a nasty shock that this time he actually is expected to do as he promised. We have therefore seen a number of spurious “reforms” rushed through parliament that do nothing to cure the underlying sickness.


Mugabe and Zanu PF have a deep emotional antipathy of all forms of democratic expression, and even more so when a democratic election would see a fall from power, a loss of looting privileges and in many cases could also mean being hauled before the courts for past transgressions.

Unfortunately, I believe that Mugabe has in many ways lost touch with reality. The “Anti-Blair” election campaign is an example of this. It is all very well to work up emotions at a public meeting by shaking one’s fist and frothing against so many real and imaginary enemies, but when people go home and the emotional hysteria dies away they are still faced with a collapsing economy, a shortage of food and jobs and endemic corruption.


The so-called land reform that has been such a reliable promise in the past has come to nothing. Everything lootable has already been looted; what can now be given to buy loyalty and the vote?


The carrot has failed; or to be more accurate the carrot has been eaten and there are no more carrots. So only the stick remains. Food is and will be used to buy votes. Headmen have been bribed to coerce the villagers and rural people. And finally there remains outright violence, which I believe we will see more and more of. The rural people also have long memories and are well aware of what Mugabe’s supporters are capable of doing.


What will happen in the forthcoming elections? They will certainly be violent and bitterly fought. I was at first against the MDC participating, but have since changed my mind because I believe that circumstances have changed. Mugabe has shown himself to be extremely reluctant to let anyone, even Sadc members, observe the elections and the run-up to the elections.


This obviously raises serious suspicions as to the honesty of the so-called electoral reforms. I predict that the outcome will be somewhat similar to last general election, with the MDC possibly losing a few more seats due to rampant violence and intimidation. However, once more they will hold the urban areas where intimidation is not so easy and where the electorate are better informed about current affairs and the many failures of the present regime.


The big crunch will come after the elections have been held. Mugabe will protest that they were “free, fair and democratic”. There will be widespread disbelief at this statement. In the past he could drum up enough support from other African countries to save himself, but will that happen this time? He has steadily “used up” his friends on the continent. When we look at the various countries, this is what we see:


South Africa is becoming increasingly critical, Botswana is no friend, nor are Ghana or Nigeria. Zambia, Mozambique, Malawi, Kenya, Uganda and the DRC do not want to get involved. Tanzania and Namibia may show some lukewarm support.


Even Libya has distanced itself because of increasing rapprochement with the West, and also maybe they would like to be paid for their oil? Iran’s friendship is a negative quantity.


So, after the elections are over pressure will steadily mount on the regime.

Zimbabwe’s leaders will become even more isolated and there may even be moves to arraign Mugabe and other close associates for crimes against humanity. One must also assume that there will be mounting pressure on South Africa and Nigeria to “do something” about Zimbabwe if they are to benefit from Nepad.


The Americans too will be applying increasing pressure and holding out an economic carrot to those countries able to bring an end to the regime. It would be very unwise to take Condoleezza Rice’s “outpost of tyranny” statement as mere empty rhetoric.


The real danger to Mugabe comes of course from South Africa. They are capable of closing the border and bringing down the government in a matter of weeks. We should remember that it was South Africa, under pressure from America that forced the Rhodesian government to the negotiating table. Though the bush war was economically debilitating, it was in the end economic pressure from South Africa that succeeded.


The more democratic states will increasingly distance themselves from Mugabe, and will also apply increasing pressure on his government. Zimbabwe is becoming an ever growing embarrassment to a continent that is trying hard to shed its image as corrupt and lawless.


Finally, we should remember that the question of moral right and wrong hardly ever influences a country’s foreign policy. What always guides and drives foreign policy is what is in that country’s best self-interest. Zimbabwe has become more and more of an embarrassment to the AU and South Africa in particular. The US and the EU will ensure that dropping support for the current regime in Zimbabwe is in the best interest of all the critical African nations.


*Charles Frizell is a Zimbabwean based in the UK.

Top