HomeOpinionDeal May Land Britain With Dilemma

Deal May Land Britain With Dilemma

A ZIMBABWEAN opposition leader, lauded for his brave struggle against Robert Mugabe, arrives in London on an official visit as the new prime minister.


Morgan Tsvangirai asks Britain to recognise his government and offer millions of pounds of aid. He urges the lifting of all sanctions and declares that Harare’s era of isolation is over.

Tsvangirai requests Gordon Brown’s help in releasing large sums from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. He returns to Harare and reports back to his boss -–– one Robert Mugabe. After they formed a “government of national unity”, Mugabe stayed on as president and Tsvangirai became his prime minister. Now Britain faces a cruel dilemma –– recognise the government (led by Mugabe) and pour aid into its coffers (controlled by Mugabe), or face the blame for economic catastrophe.

At present, this scenario is pure imagination and fantasy but events along these lines could unfold in the weeks ahead, confronting the prime minister and David Miliband, the foreign secretary, with a conundrum. Would they recognise and fund a new Zimbabwean government that includes Tsvangirai in a senior position, but keeps Mugabe as president? The talks which opened at the weekend between the opposition and Mugabe’s Zanu PF party could have this outcome.

President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa is still mediating between the two sides despite Britain’s efforts to sideline him. Senior British sources believe the talks will probably fail. If so, London will avoid its dilemma. But what if they do sign a deal? Aside from total failure, there are two possible outcomes. The MDC wants a shortlived “transitional government” leading to fresh elections, which Tsvangirai would almost certainly win.

Exactly what role Mugabe would play in this interim administration is undefined. Tsvangirai has resisted pressure to recognise Mugabe as rightful president. At his insistence, the two leaders conducted their handshake inside the neutral venue of a Harare hotel, not in the presidential office in State House, where Mugabe wanted it.

Tsvangirai’s allies robustly declare that he will not serve as the dictator’s subordinate in any coalition government. Instead, Mugabe’s role in a temporary administration before new elections would be as titular, ceremonial president, with real executive power transferring to Tsvangirai. If this takes place, few would complain.

Having waged a ruthless struggle to hold power, inflicting untold suffering on thousands, Mugabe would have to surrender everything at the negotiating table –– 84-year-old leopards rarely change their spots, this seems unlikely. Instead, Mugabe will obviously press for the second possible outcome: a “government of national unity”. This would leave Mugabe in command as president, with Tsvangirai as a prime minister, able to travel the world, securing aid and diplomatic recognition. London would be his first stop –– and Brown and Miliband would face their dilemma.

There is a precedent for this. When President Mwai Kibaki of Kenya lost an election last December, he announced a fake result and stayed in power, triggering bloodshed that claimed 1 500 lives. The killing only ended when Kofi Annan, the former UN secretary-general, oversaw the birth of a unity government.

Kibaki stayed on as president, despite having lost the election. Raila Odinga, his leading opponent who actually won the poll, became prime minister. Kenya’s cabinet was doubled, so all the politicians who had lost the election could keep their jobs –– and all the winners could have jobs, too. Most senior politicians in Kenya now enjoy ministerial office.

If the same unfolds in Zimbabwe, the Foreign Office will have no grounds for indignation. If prime minister Tsvangirai shows up at Downing Street, he will doubtless ask: “If this was good enough for Kenya, why not Zimbabwe too?” –– The Telegraph (UK).

By David Blair

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