Candid comment: Mugabe hostage to his own system

“WHEN you join in a political fight by way of an election you must be prepared to lose,” President Mugabe told a rally in Nyanga, just three days before the elections. “You must accept it. If Zanu PF wins you must accept it, if you (MDC) win we will accept,” he said.

We almost believed Mugabe’s assurances that he was ready to play fair. On election day, he reiterated his assertions, saying he would not sleep with a “clear conscience” knowing  he had won the elections through rigging.
“There was no language of rigging in this country until the (arrival of the) MDC,” he said in Nyanga. That may be true semantically. After all, even as people in Matabeleland and the Midlands were being brutalised under curfews and a state of emergency in the 1980s and were beaten and had their homes burnt down during the 1985 elections for supporting PF-Zapu, nobody cared to raise the flag about rigging or human rights violations.
Mugabe was such a fine guy then. His “principled” stand against apartheid South Africa’s brutalities against blacks placed him beyond reproach. It provided him with a convenient cloak for his atrocities against political rivals at home. Up to now, you still get political analysts who talk of that grim era as Zimbabwe’s golden hour — low inflation, a good exchange rate and the orgy of consumption!
There was no rigging until Mugabe encroached on to white commercial farms in 2000 and we are all paying the price for that voluntary blindness to what Mugabe has always been.
I am stating this because of the serious claims of “vote-rigging” in what the state media now call a “stalemate” in the presidential election results, notwithstanding Zanu PF’s cynical antics about being more sinned against than sinning.
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission has not disclosed what President Mugabe and MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai each got. It is duplicitous for anyone to speculate about a stalemate, a re-run or a run-off. The simplest thing would have been to let the electorate know the results; a run-off would then suggest itself if no party demanded a recount.
So what became of Mugabe’s promise that they would accept the election results? Where are those results? Why has the ZEC stopped the pretence of scrutinising them?
To me whatever rigging might have occurred in the presidential election, it was unlikely to have had a material effect. The original outcome was simply unacceptable and had to be suppressed. And this is exactly where international diplomacy has been a disaster for Zimbabwe.
In its haste to play midwife to the political transition through the MDC, the West has compounded our problems like they did in Kenya, prejudging the outcome or announcing false results. By rushing to announce unauthenticated results as a victory for the MDC, they have strengthened the case of the hawks in Zanu PF who have always argued that the MDC is pushing a foreign agenda.
Similarly, by rushing to condemn Mugabe for rigging, they have made it almost impossible for their “pointman”, South Africa’s Thabo Mbeki, to make any adverse comments on the conduct of the elections without sounding like a ventriloquist’s dummy for Gordon Brown and George Bush.
In short, there was never a chance of “free and fair” elections in Zimbabwe, with others pronouncing verdicts on the polls months before the vote. While Mbeki and regional neighbours were still consulting on the “delayed results”, Britain, the US and the European Union were already talking of a US$2 billion annual aid package to the “new government”. More than imprudent, I find this insolent to people like Mbeki who are trying to work out a peaceful transition and avert another Kenya on their doorstep. This partly explains Mbeki’s angry outburst in Britain last week that Zimbabwe is not a province of South Africa.
Why should he accept blame for not putting enough pressure on Mugabe to go when bellicose Western powers who are least able to do anything are the first to make his job that much more difficult through what George Soros recently called “counterproductive interference”? Shouldn’t they be lending support to regional initiatives such as the weekend summit in Lusaka?
In the end it wasn’t clear what the timing of the US$2 billion aid package was supposed to achieve at the most critical juncture in the announcement of the election results: to incite people into street protests; to cajole Mugabe to retire or to spite his government?
Unfortunately the third option appears to have been the official interpretation and made the military establishment and party hawks more obdurate. The reckless sabre rattling by MDC spokespersons has only exacerbated anxieties among those closely linked to the Zanu PF government.
It reinforced another campaign statement by Mugabe just before the elections. He warned Bulawayo residents against voting for the MDC because that would be “a wasted vote… there is no way we can allow them to rule this country. The MDC will not rule this country.”
Those who care can rewind to the Defence Forces statement in 2002 and just before the March 29 elections and the essence is clear. How does one reconcile Mugabe’s promise to accept the results with this categorical denial of an MDC government?
The contradictions suggest a leader who has become hostage to the patronage system which he initially created to secure his power. There are bigger forces than Mugabe in this electoral debacle and those forces cannot be dealt with through brash Western diplomacy. Now whether there will be an election re-run or a run-off, you can add a lot of blood-letting to the final equation.
The truth is that while there are many in the establishment who want “change” there are only a minuscule number who believe that this should come about through Tsvangirai because of the perceived overbearing influence of the British and Americans on the MDC’s policies, especially on land.
All of which doesn’t save the Zanu PF government from being  a huge embarrassment to the continent.

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