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Even Africa has few options on Zimbabwe

ZIMBABWE’S neighbours lack the will and the means to take action against President Robert Mugabe to avert a likely deeper economic collapse and possible bloodshed if he stays in power, analysts say.

Mugabe’s ruling Zanu PF lost control of parliament for the first time in the March 29 election.
 Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai said he defeated Mugabe in the presidential poll and accuses him of planning violence to overturn results of both votes. No result of the presidential poll has been announced.
On paper, southern African countries that have already mediated between Mugabe and the opposition appear to offer the best chance of preventing a bigger catastrophe. Mugabe’s fierce critics in the West hold no sway.
But the neighbours are unlikely to take any strong action against Mugabe, blamed by critics for an economic meltdown.
One reason for the lack of action is the wide respect still accorded to Mugabe on the continent.
While the West sees him as a ruthless dictator, fellow leaders of the 14-nation Southern African Development Community (Sadc) are overawed by his past as a liberation hero.
Sadc, led by South African President Thabo Mbeki, has resisted calls for greater pressure on Mugabe, favouring “quiet diplomacy” and saying anything more would violate Zimbabwe’s sovereignty.
Military intervention is certainly not an option.
“There’s very little Sadc can do to force out Mugabe. Zambia and Mozambique, who are involved in the mediation, have no military capacity to intervene in Zimbabwe,” said Mark Schroeder, regional director for sub-Saharan Africa at risk analysis firm Stratfor Strategic Forecasting.
“It’s not clear that South Africa has the military capacity to intervene either,” he added.
“It is believed that Sadc is not interested in a military intervention, and Mugabe would be sure to mobilise his political support among Sadc leaders to block any discussion of that,” Schroeder said.
Mbeki is widely seen in the West as an obstacle to a solution, not someone who would apply real pressure even if Zimbabwe’s suffering accelerated, worsening hyper-inflation that doubles the price of bread every 17 days.
Mbeki might have seemed like a logical choice to lead mediation.
As leader of Africa’s economic powerhouse and a country which overcame decades of apartheid, he was uniquely placed to influence Mugabe, who sees himself as one of the continent’s greatest leaders.
South Africa also has a clear economic incentive for change in Zimbabwe. Talk that Mugabe might be on the way out last week helped lift its rand nearly four percent against the dollar.
But Mbeki’s critics say toothless quiet diplomacy will never be enough to sway his tough neighbour.
“The South African role has been one largely of silence,” said J Anthony Holmes, Cyrus Vance Fellow in Diplomatic Studies at the Council of Foreign Relations in Washington.
Despite opposition appeals for African intervention to head off serious bloodshed, Mbeki is still reluctant to move. He told Zimbabweans this week they should continue to wait.
South Africa’s ruling ANC party president Jacob Zuma, tipped to take over from Mbeki next year if he can beat corruption charges, has taken a slightly tougher line in at least criticising the delay to the release of election results.
Although Zuma has no formal position in government, his role as ANC leader gives him influence in the development of the party’s domestic and foreign policies.
Zuma is backed by South Africa’s powerful Cosatu trade union federation, which is highly critical of Mbeki’s Zimbabwe policy.
So he may have a better chance of winning the confidence of Tsvangirai — a former union leader — if he becomes involved in mediation. Tsvangirai met Zuma in Johannesburg on Monday.
“Zuma is beholden to Cosatu for the help that Cosatu gave him in the ANC leadership race,” said Marian Tupy, a policy analyst at the Cato Institute think-tank. “If Mugabe stays, Zuma will be pressed to do something to get rid of him by Cosatu.”
But there are no signs Zuma is ready for much tougher action and Sadc has few effective options available.
Zimbabweans are unlikely to get quick relief from the United States and Britain, despite their constant accusations that Mugabe violates human rights, charges he denies.
Limited Western sanctions, designed to target Mugabe and his close allies, have already failed so there would be little incentive for the alliance to consider similar measures.
Zimbabwe’s neighbours would be the only countries able to enforce a more wide-ranging embargo, but that might only make life more miserable for ordinary Zimbabweans, provoke instability and further entrench Mugabe’s hold.
Covert support for any attempt to bring down Mugabe could also backfire.
So Mugabe may soon tighten his grip again, knowing he is safe in his own neighbourhood, and that will turn the spotlight on Sadc, which risks losing more credibility and suffering the economic consequences of inaction. Millions of Zimbabweans have already fled over Zimbabwe’s borders to look for jobs.
“If the region’s leaders were again to recognise an illegitimate government, Zimbabwe’s dramatic economic disintegration would continue, and the inevitable next round of the struggle over Mugabe’s succession could easily provoke bloodshed,” said Andebrhan Giorgis, senior adviser at the influential International Crisis Group think tank. — Reuters.

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