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The Rehabilitation of Robert Mugabe

24 July 2013

The Rehabilitation of Robert Mugabe

By Gwynne Dyer

Robert Mugabe, the president of Zimbabwe, is now 89 years old, but he is running for another five-year term in the elections on 31 July. Perhaps his optimism is justified, given that his mother died at 100, but why is he doing it? More importantly, why is the ruling party, ZANU-PF, still backing him as its presidential candidate, given that he has spent the past decade as an international pariah?

He is doing it because, although he is an intelligent man, he has convinced himself that it is only his presidency that forestalls an imperialist reconquest of Zimbabwe. And ZANU-PF is backing him because a) it thinks he can win the election, more or less; b) it believes the international community will grudgingly accept that result; and c) it will then control the succession when he finally dies.

Mugabe was always a despot, but his history as leader of the independence movement meant that he probably did win honest majorities in the elections during his first two decades in power. He only went off the rails completely when constitutional amendments that would have let him run for two more presidential terms were rejected in a referendum in 2000.

That was when Mugabe began seizing white-owned farms and handing them out to his own cronies, with the result that Zimbabwe’s agricultural production dropped by half. The country’s economy virtually collapsed, jobs melted away even in the cities, and runaway inflation completed the country’s ruin.

The country is still far poorer than it was in 2000. A quarter of the working-age population has sought work abroad, mostly as illegal immigrants in South Africa, and life expectancy has fallen from a high of 64 years to the present 37 years. Some of that fall is due to the AIDS epidemic, but as much is due to other diseases and simple malnutrition.

Mugabe’s election campaigns have always been accompanied by tight controls on the media, blatant manipulation of the voting process, and a great deal of violence and intimidation. He almost certainly wouldn’t win an election that is “free and fair” this month – but as long as there is less violence this time, the rest of the world will accept his reelection as “credible”.

When ZANU-PF’s vote-rigging and intimidation were at their most outrageous, a lot of countries felt they had no option but to impose sanctions on Zimbabwe. But some of those sanctions affect ordinary Zimbabweans too, so no foreign government wants to maintain them any longer than absolutely necessary. And the emergence of a legitimate political opposition that is going to lose the forthcoming election will give them the excuse to stop.

The opposition, the Movement for Democratic Change, emerged in response to Mugabe’s increasingly violent repression. Despite all the usual vote-rigging and intimidation it managed to win a one-seat parliamentary majority in the 2008 elections. Moreover, the MDC’s leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, got more votes for the presidency than Mugabe, although not enough to win in the first round.

ZANU-PF and its allies in the army and police went into over-drive, killing or “disappearing” hundreds of MDC members, and Tsvangirai pulled out of the second round of the election. At that point the Southern African Development Community intervened and negotiated a “power-sharing” government in which Mugabe remained president but Tsvangirai became prime minister. Ironically, that has worked to Mugabe’s advantage.

Tsvangirai and his colleagues, given responsibility for the economy and social services, have pulled the country back from the brink. Switching to the US dollar ended the runaway inflation and there is food in the shops again, although poverty is still omnipresent. But Tsvangirai and his colleagues have also enthusiastically filled their own pockets with public money.

Tsvangirai now takes holidays in London and Monaco, and lives in a $3 million home. Many people believe that he and the other MDC ministers have been coopted by Mugabe’s people, and they will not vote for him again. So ZANU-PF now thinks that (with the help of the usual manipulation and intimidation, but minimal amounts of actual violence) it can not only win the election, but get the rest of the world to accept Mugabe’s victory.

However, ZANU-PF’s strategists are clearly not completely convinced by this scenario. Their election posters carry a picture of Mugabe dating from the 1980s, not one that shows the 89-year-old man of today, which betrays a certain lack of confidence. So why didn’t the party just change horses and run somebody younger?

The question of the succession has been a live issue for a long time: US embassy reports leaked to Wikileaks in 2011 revealed that many senior people in ZANU-PF wanted to see if they would have US backing in the post-Mugabe succession struggle. But uncertainty about who would win that struggle means that the leading rivals would rather postpone it and have Mugabe lead the party to victory one last time.

Can he do it? Reliable opinion polls are scarce in Zimbabwe, but one conducted by Freedom House last year showed that ZANU-PF had overtaken the MDC in popular support. If Mugabe wins, everybody will acknowledge his victory and wait to see who is appointed vice-president – because that is the person who will be the president of Zimbabwe before long.

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To shorten to 700 words, omit paragraphs 5, 12 and 13. (“The country…malnutrition”; and “However…time”)

Kyoto Comes into Effect

6 February 2005

Kyoto Comes into Effect

By Gwynne Dyer

That sound you don’t hear in the street outside is the crowds who aren’t cheering to celebrate the entry into effect of the Kyoto Protocol on 16 February. Thirteen years after the Climate Change Convention was agreed at the Earth Summit in 1992, and eight years after each country’s targets for cuts in greenhouse-gas emissions were defined in a marathon haggling session at Kyoto, they are finally starting to do something about global warming. No wonder the euphoria has worn off a bit.

It almost didn’t happen at all. Under the treaty, industrialised countries responsible for at least 55 percent of total rich-country emissions had to ratify the treaty before it went into effect. (Otherwise, the minority who did enforce Kyoto’s expensive emission-control measures would be at a disadvantage competing against the majority who didn’t.) Once President Bush “unsigned” the treaty, it meant that practically everybody else had to ratify, since the US alone accounts for 36 percent of the industrial world’s emissions.

Despite the best efforts of the Bush administration to sabotage the treaty entirely by persuading other countries not to ratify either, they almost all did. Only four of the original 34 developed countries at the talks — the US, its faithful sidekick Australia, and Monaco and Liechtenstein — have refused to take part. Russia’s assent was vital, however, since its own emissions are second only to those of the United States.

Moscow stalled for an extra two years while it considered whether to annoy the Americans or the Europeans, but it finally jumped down off the fence last autumn. Its decision to ratify was driven partly by the fact that it could make a lot of money off “emissions trading” if it adhered to the treaty, but its motives don’t matter. So there it is at last, thirteen years in the making: the Kyoto protocol What can it do for us?

It is certainly not going to stop global warming in the short term. All the greenhouse gases that will cause the next thirty years of damage have already left the chimneys and the tail-pipes and are moving up through the atmosphere now.

That’s worrisome, because the climate conference at the United Kingdom Meteorological Office in Exeter heard last week that the West Antarctic Ice Shelf, previously seen as stable, is probably starting to melt, which would ultimately raise sea levels worldwide by 16 feet (3 metres). And a study by the Met Office’s Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction (just published in “Nature”), showed that the impact of man-made greenhouse gases on climate may be twice as great as we previously thought.

It was the Met Office’s study that really rattled everybody. It concluded that if man-made greenhouse gas emissions just doubled the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from the 260 parts per million of the pre-industrial era to 560 ppm – and we’re about a third of the way there already – the resulting global temperature rise could go beyond anything the planet has experienced since the time of the dinosaurs. The upper limit of likely outcomes is not 6 degrees centigrade (10.4 F) hotter, as previously thought; it’s eleven (19.9) degrees.

“If we go back to the Cretaceous, which is a hundred million years ago” Professor Bob Spicer of the Open University told the Independent, “the best estimate of the global mean temperature was about 6 degrees C (10.4 F) higher than present. So 11 degrees C (19.9 F)is quite substantial, and if this is right we would be going into a realm that we really don’t have much evidence for even in the rocks.”

Measured against such potentially catastrophic consequences, the modest controls on greenhouse emissions ordained by the Kyoto protocol — a few percentage points less than the 1990 level, for most countries — seem like a total waste of time. The cuts are shallow and will not even be enforced until 2008-2012, the world’s leading polluter, the United States, has opted out, and developing countries, including the rapidly industrialising Asian giants, China and Japan, don’t even have to stop increasing their emissions.

And yet it is worthwhile. It is the first legally binding international treaty on the environment, with a system of auditing greenhouse gas emissions for each country and financial penalties for those that do not meet their targets. Getting countries to surrender their national sovereignty over domestic industrial policy in this way was so unprecedented — but so vital to dealing with a global problem like climate change — that the equally painful question of deeper cuts was left until the next round. In an ideal world it would all have been done at once, but governments only have so much political capital to spend.

Now, however, the principle is established, and the next round of talks, to set the post-2012 targets and rules, will have to agree on much deeper cuts in emissions than this time. Moreover, the developing countries, which were exempted from the first-round controls because the existing problem was caused almost entirely by the old industrialised countries, will have to accept emission control targets too. It’s cumbersome, because human politics is inherently cumbersome, but it is heading in the right direction.

If the measures we take today can stop global warming by 2050, say, with a temperature rise of only 2 degrees, global warming will still be a very big problem, but it probably won’t be an utter catastrophe. That is what Kyoto is about, so get out there and start cheering.

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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 7 and 8. (“It was…the rocks”)