Mugabe met the presidents of Zambia, Guinea and Malawi in past months. In public however he has been attacking other fellow African leaders, intensely clamouring for the revival of the Pan-African ideals and spirit during the AU summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Mugabe’s sentiments were mainly projected by Herald columnist Nathaniel Manheru — believed to be presidential spokesman George Charamba — who amplified his boss’ clarion call to heroically fight a new wave of Western imperialism.
Yet it is clear the ideological drive behind all this is designed to camouflage a repressive domestic agenda meant to derail Zimbabwe’s inclusive government and revive Mugabe’s Zanu PF party which has been on a precipitous decline for over a decade now. Mugabe is deliberately trying to delegitimise AU states that are likely to disapprove of his political agenda and actions during Zimbabwe’s current transition leading to elections.
As the inclusive government goes through its final year Mugabe, who does not belong to a confederacy of dunces, knows that without embarking on machine-gun politics his party will lose state power. Yet if Mugabe resorts to his machine-gun politics, some AU states will publicly denounce his rule and question his legitimacy.
Within this matrix, more worrying to Zanu PF is the growing pool of African states that will condemn Mugabe given recent political developments in countries like Ivory Coast, Libya, Egypt and Tunisia.
There are poignant divisions among AU leaders along lines of those who believe in African solutions to African problems and those who are more dynamic and take a global view of the situation.
Without delving into the AU divisions, what is clear is that they are a threat to Zanu PF’s agenda. The divisions within the AU which played out openly during its recent summit in Addis Ababa are a portent show of how the AU could become a problem for Zanu PF during Zimbabwe’s transition. Given that Zanu PF’s predominant international political base is largely confined to Africa, the rhetoric about Pan-Africanism is a necessary and immediate political currency for the party.
In these continental circumstances, the Zanu PF-styled Pan-Africanism constitutes an attempt to deligitimise some AU states before they speak on Zimbabwe as “fronts of Europe” or “agents of imperialism”. This is quite clearly the reason why Mugabe is now agitated enough to brand those countries he does not agree with as allies or agents of imperialism. It is not so much that they are what he claims, but more of a problem because they don’t agree with him.
By the time the targeted African states condemn Zanu PF’s machine gun politics, Mugabe would be in a position to say “I told you!”
Over the years, Mugabe has mastered the art of creating camps of patriots and sell-outs, and insiders and outsiders, when faced with opposition such as the one he potentially faces from the AU. His anger is always expressed against defenceless Zimbabweans. He skillfully articulates an anti-imperialist, anti-colonialist and pan-Africanist agenda to camouflage political repression at home. With some success Mugabe has managed to project himself as a champion against “new imperialism” in Africa.
However, Mugabe’s rhetoric is losing currency and relevancy because it is based on selective narratives and amnesia as he has either forgotten or deliberately ignores the question of civic and political rights which were equally important in the anti-colonial struggles. No-one has responded effectively to this, giving a correct version of Africa’s founding fathers that embrace political and civic rights. A recent outburst by Zambian President Michael Sata shows some African leaders have bought into Mugabe’s rhetoric although such remarks are merely spectacular and can never become a political game-changer.
The other salient point is Mugabe has failed to develop an anti-imperialist and anti-colonialist narrative in speech which is also truly anti-imperialist and democratic in practice.
The progressive forces require some ideological sophistry to counter the selective articulation of African ideals by Mugabe and Zanu PF, particularly so when imperial wars are sometimes hidden behind the discourse of human rights across the globe. Civic and political rights can be disconnected from the neo-imperial agenda. The idea is to articulate the virtues as part of the African agenda.
It is possible for Mugabe to observe human rights but at the same time reject neo-colonialism and neo-imperialism. Zanu PF wants Africa to fall in the trap of throwing the baby with the bath water. The challenge is to develop a 21st century critique that embraces good governance, democracy and human rights while critically challenging neo-colonial projects.
With the next AU meeting scheduled for June, Mugabe will continuously play his game of regimenting AU leaders as sell-outs, fronts, stooges or puppets against a camp led by himself which he sees as comprising patriots, nationalists and anti-imperialists.
Mugabe knows that if Zimbabwe escapes discussion at the June Malawi AU meeting, the next one will be in January 2013 by which time he would have completed his project to derail Zimbabwe’s transition from dictatorship to a democracy. This is in the same way Zanu PF has used the same anti-imperialist card to try to delegitimise its rivals and the current inclusive government.
While aware of this AU divide, Zanu PF will push very hard to limit the discussion of Zimbabwe’s inclusive government to Sadc where it thinks its stale and static nationalism still resonates. This is why Mugabe fought hard to persuade the outgoing AU chair not to put Zimbabwe on the AU agenda recently.
This is also the reason Mugabe has been meeting leaders from Sadc countries and will continue to do so. In those meetings, amongst other things, he is most likely to be cunningly seeking support to derail the transitional project, claiming the GNU is dysfunctional and hence the need for early elections without creating conditions for credible polls.
Being a juggler, Mugabe would also be seeking to delegitimise perceived opponents in the AU, arguing that the Zimbabwean question must be left to Sadc where he thinks he still has some leverage or room to manoeuvre. Mugabe’s strategy is a calculated move to pre-empt and delegitimise AU opposition to his continued rule in a bid to mask his repressive agenda at home to keep himself in power.
Phillan Zamchiya is a PhD candidate, Oxford University, United Kingdom. He can be contacted at Phillan.firstname.lastname@example.org.