President Robert Mugabe was gleeful on his return from Addis Ababa this week. He had just attended the 14th African Union summit which he described as the “best-ever” for him.
He had many reasons for his joyousness but many Zimbabwe watchers must have felt there was something sinister about his jubilation.
Mugabe had gained a propaganda coup in Addis, gained because he had not himself masterminded it. That bit had been done for him by British Foreign secretary David Miliband who, because of sheer ineptitude or a tendentious reading of the Zimbabwean situation, had told the House of Commons that Britain would wait for a cue from Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDC to end the sanctions imposed on top Zanu PF and government officials and some companies.
For the pan-African menagerie of heads of state and government gathered in Addis this was proof positive that the sanctions were not, in the first place, imposed for the good of the generality of Zimbabweans but were meant to change the government in Harare through unconstitutional means.
Their response to Miliband’s maladroit statement was unanimous: the sanctions had to be lifted without any conditionality. For Mugabe this was cause for celebration but for Zimbabwe watchers the decision was based on a one-sided reading of the story. The AU did not consider, at all, the real situation on the ground where the majority of Zimbabweans are still being denied their civil liberties, where the rule of law is still anathema to the elite in power, where the majority continue to be impoverished by a regime that thrives on greed and brute force.
But the implications of the AU’s call for the lifting of sanctions are a plethora.
Bolstered by the pan-African body’s support, Mugabe’s Zanu PF party will continue on their intransigent path in negotiations on the outstanding issues of global political agreement. Indeed the party has already dug in following its politburo’s pronouncement that it would make no further concessions in the talks until the sanctions are unconditionally lifted.
The European Union is meeting in Brussels soon to review its position on the sanctions and intelligence from diplomatic sources indicates that the sanctions would not be lifted any time soon. This is a classical impasse: The EU won’t lift sanctions before the outstanding issues are resolved; Zanu PF won’t resolve outstanding issues until sanctions are lifted! It doesn’t look like either side is willing to give. The winner is Mugabe.
The AU, together with Sadc, is the guarantor of the global political agreement that has resulted in the present state of affairs in Zimbabwe. The first’s stance on sanctions is likely to have far-reaching implications for the second’s ability to resolve the Zimbabwean question. If indeed the vote in Addis was unanimous it means Sadc countries, including the negotiations facilitator South Africa, are against the continued imposition of sanctions; again strengthening Mugabe’s position.
But Mugabe’s most important triumph in Addis was the elevation of Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika to the position AU chairman. Mugabe’s triumphalism was manifest in his effusive praise of this development.
Zimbabweans know the relationship between these two peas in the same pod: Bingu owns a farm in Zimbabwe which he won’t be dispossessed of, as is the case with other foreigners; Mugabe has about the most important highway in Malawi named after him.
Bingu doesn’t care a hoot how Mugabe treats his people living in Zimbabwe. Malawians bore the brunt of Mugabe’s land grab: they provided about all the labour on the farms and were left homeless and destitute when their former employers were chased away. There were no protests from Liliongwe.
In 2005 Mugabe embarked on an urban clean-up operation which destroyed 700 000 homes and left two million people homeless. Needless to say, the majority of these were Malawians who had for a century, generation after generation, provided cheap labour in Zimbabwe’s towns and mining settlements.
Bingu did not say as much as a nay.
If the Malawian president does not care about millions of his people who form huge minorities in all southern African countries, why should he care about ordinary Zimbabweans who continue to suffer under the repressive regime of his chief confidant?
But Mugabe’s coup de main in Ethiopia was the election of Zimbabwe to the AU’s Peace and Security Council. Commenting on this he said: “That is very important. We will be able to ward off interference from external forces that are always trying to tarnish our image.”
But where will this, Mugabe’s victory, leave his country?
One thing is for sure: Zimbabweans will not revel in the peace and the security the AU advocates, of which Mugabe will be a guardian angel. The miasma coming out of Addis will continue to choke them in the form of bad governance and denial of their democratic rights such as a free and fair election.