This is in no way meant to suggest that Mugabe is the prophesied beast in the Bible, but the fixation with Mugabe sometimes only serves to divert us from real issues which need urgent attention.
While the West needs no introduction to Mugabe’s beastly tendencies, particularly his chequered human rights record, its handling of this emotive issue has occasionally been rather disingenuous.
For example, last week the biggest story in Zimbabwe was Sadc’s insistence that elections only be held at the conclusion of the constitution-making process and completion of reforms outlined in the Global Political Agreement (GPA).
The regional bloc’s bold stance was a major setback for Mugabe’s push for elections this year without implementing electoral, political and other reforms as agreed in the GPA his party signed.
In the run-up to the Sadc summit in Luanda, Angola, Mugabe went on a charm offensive, dispatching several envoys to lobby regional leaders to support his push for elections this year so as to ostensibly start 2013 free from conflict-ridden election issues as Zimbabwe co-hosts the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) General Assembly with Zambia in August.
Sadc leaders were not persuaded by this argument, and made their position clear.
Probably sensing that its position on early elections would be rebuffed, Zanu PF’s propaganda machinery went to work, with the feel-good spin in the state media claiming Mugabe had been appointed a UN international tourism ambassador.
Western media and human rights groups fell for the bait hook, line and sinker so the outcome of the Sadc summit could have been overshadowed by the West’s protest at the UN’s “bungling”.
So serious was the matter that Canada announced that it would boycott the UNWTO General Assembly in protest, and has since done so.
In other words the Ottawa government took a major policy decision on the basis of a non-event. No such appointment had been made. Mugabe was to be a host but not an ambassador.
While the West is perfectly entitled to its opinions, moves such as that of Canada can easily give Mugabe and his backers reasons to continue with their anti-West rhetoric. That would be a shame, coming as it does at a time the West is trying to mend relations with Zimbabwe as demonstrated by the recent Brussels meeting with the EU. A more useful way of looking at the whole issue is that it is Zimbabwe’s enduring conservationists, and not Mugabe, who are being honoured.
Mugabe is no conservationist. Look at what he has done to the wetland in Belvedere next to the National Sports Stadium in Harare. The area was declared a wetland and African leaders, including Mugabe, planted indigenous trees there in the 1980s. But Mugabe gave the land to the Chinese who are building a hotel and a shopping complex there. His Tourism minister, Walter Mzembi, is on record as saying “Since when did locusts and lizards take precedence over a country’s development!?” So much for conservation!
Under Mugabe dozens of conservancies have been invaded and reduced to barren land in the past decade, courtesy of the chaotic land reform programme.
Zimbabweans know this full well, hence the little or no debate over his so-called appointment.
Western protests over the honour divert attention from the real issues –– the use of violence and intimidation against Zimbabweans opposed to Zanu PF, and the GPA’s reform implementation deficit.
The West must not be seized with this non-event because it plays into Mugabe’s hands leaving ordinary Zimbabweans to bear the consequences.
It is instructive to remember that before the advent of democracy in South Africa in 1994, Mugabe was the West’s “pointman” in Africa, in spite of his gross rights violations. It was only after the inauguration of Nelson Mandela as the former apartheid state’s first democratically-elected president that the West woke up and suddenly started pointing fingers at Mugabe as it leaned towards Mandela.
The West is better advised to expend more effort in helping ensure the next elections are free and fair, not on some purported ambassadorial appointment of Mugabe which does not exist in the first place.