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Zimbabwe: Tsvangirai’s Choice

12 February 2009

Zimbabwe: Tsvangirai’s Choice

By Gwynne Dyer

On 11 February, in Harare, Morgan Tsvangirai drank the poisoned chalice, knowing that it was poisoned. He was sworn in as prime minister of Zimbabwe, in a government that is still controlled by his deadly enemy, President Robert Mugabe. He must know that his chances of success, even of political survival, are close to nil.

“We are not joining Mugabe,” he said bravely. “This is part of a transitional relationship, negotiated. Mr Mugabe has executive authority. I have executive authority.” But Mugabe has exclusive control over the army and the police, which are regularly used to harrass, imprison, torture and kill Tsvangirai’s colleagues and supporters. He also controls the courts, through the justice ministry.

What Tsvangirai got was the finance ministry (although Mugabe’s man still controls the central bank) and the various social affairs ministries.

In effect, he can go looking for foreign aid, try to fix the broken economy, and bring suffering Zimbabweans what help he can, but Mugabe’s people still run the key ministries that have real power over people’s lives.

Few Zimbabweans foresaw this outcome when the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) unexpectedly won a majority in parliament and Tsvangirai won more votes than Mugabe in the election last March. It was an accident that only happened because ZANU, the overconfident ruling party, was less thorough than usual in intimidating the voters and rigging the count, but the apparent defeat of Mugabe’s 30-year-old regime awakened hope in the hearts of despairing Zimbabweans.

The hope was premature. The regime declared that Tsvangirai’s majority was not big enough to avoid a second round of voting, and then launched a campaign of violence against MDC officials and supporters that killed over two hundred people and injured thousands. Shortly before the second vote, Tsvangirai withdrew from the race to save MDC voters from a bloodbath on election day, and Mugabe was “re-elected” without opposition as the president of Zimbabwe.

That wasn’t the end of it, because Mugabe’s brutal, corrupt regime has not just ruined the Zimbabwean economy; it is dragging the whole southern African region down. Unemployment in Zimbabwe is 94 percent, the currency is so worthless that even street traders will only accept foreign currency, cholera is raging across the country, and average life expectancy is now the lowest in the world.

About one-third of Zimbabwe’s twelve million people have fled to South Africa in search of work (and dozens were murdered there last year by resentful South Africans who believed that they were taking South African jobs). In a region that is relatively prosperous and well-governed by African standards, Zimbabwe sticks out like a sore thumb — and that is a problem for the neighbours.

Foreign investors are famously ignorant about the distant places they invest in, and easily panic if something bad seems to be happening in the vicinity. The other members of the Southern African Development Community, the nine-country regional organisation, had to do something about the catastrophe of Zimbabwe because they were all at risk of being tarred with the same brush by those ignorant foreigners. So the SADC intervened — sort of.

Their intention was to force some sort of deal that ended the mess in Zimbabwe, but they had no real plan — and they were in awe of Mugabe’s history as one of main heroes in the liberation struggle a generation ago.

South Africa’s then-president Thabo Mbeki was particularly determined to ensure that the old man (Mugabe will be 85 next week) be treated with respect, even though he is a murderous tyrant.

So the SADC, rather than supporting Tsvangirai’s complaint that Mugabe had stolen the election, forced him last August to accept a “national unity” government in which he would inevitably be the junior partner. Tsvangirai did not even get agreement on which ministries the MDC would receive, although it was obvious that Mugabe would never willingly surrender control of his main instruments of repression, the army and the police.

The last six months have been filled with futile wrangling as Tsvangirai tried to wrest those ministries away from Mugabe, while the country sank ever deeper into poverty, hunger and disease. Now he has joined the government anyway, although Mugabe’s thugs were still arresting and torturing senior MDC members even last week.

Tsvangirai’s vision for how this might succeed, insofar as he has one, seems to be that his presence in the government will unleash a flood of foreign aid that will rescue Zimbabweans from their desperate plight.

Then his grateful fellow-citizens will vote for him in such overwhelming numbers in the election that the SADC has mandated for two years hence that even Mugabe’s vote-counters cannot invalidate it.

It isn’t going to happen. Western aid donors have been giving Zimbabwe nothing except food relief (two-thirds of the population depends on foreign food aid) because they assume that Mugabe’s cronies will steal anything else — and they see no reason to change their minds.

As Tsvangirai was being sworn in, Britain took the highly unusual step of placing an ad in the Zimbabwe press spelling out that fact: “It is unlikely that any government involving Mugabe will inspire donor confidence and attract the support it so badly needs.” But if the aid doesn’t flow, Tsvangirai will have nothing to show for his desperate gamble. Game, set and match to Mugabe. Pity about Zimbabwe.

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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 3 and 7. (“What…lives”; and

“About…neighbours”)

Last Act in Zimbabwe

30 March 2007

When Thieves Fall Out: Last Act in Zimbabwe

By Gwynne Dyer

It will take a while yet, but the long and brutal reign of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe is probably nearing its end. Not because of the democratic opposition at home, whose members are regularly beaten up and sometimes killed by the regime’s police. Not even because neighbouring countries in southern Africa are at last putting pressure on Mugabe to go. Just because his own partners-in-crime have decided that it’s him or them.

The key moment actually came last December, when for the first time the senior ranks of the ruling Zanu-PF Party stood up to Mugabe and refused to accept his proposal to postpone the next presidential election from 2008 to 2010. It was typical Mugabe salami tactics — give me two more years, and maybe I’ll decide to resign in 2010 — but this time it didn’t work.

In that case, said Mugabe, I’ll run for president again in 2008 (which would keep him in the presidency for his 90th birthday in 2014). Given the speed with which Zimbabwe’s economy is collapsing and its population fleeing abroad, seven more years of Mugabe and it will not be worth inheriting power there — so Mugabe’s potential heirs within Zanu-PF itself have begun to rebel.

All that has followed — the vicious asaults of opposition leaders by Mugabe’s police in mid-February, the South African government’s decision a week ago to start talking to Mugabe’s Zanu-PF rivals and Zimbabwean opposition leaders, and the emergency meeting of the leaders of the 14-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) in Tanzania on 28 March — is a response to this new perception that Mugabe doesn’t have long to run.

“I have been to these SADC summits and I know that behind closed doors they are brutally frank,” Mugabe’s former information minister, Jonathan Moyo, told “The Guardian” last week. “They will remind Mugabe that he told them he would retire at the end of his term in 2008….They will tell Mugabe that his rule in Zimbabwe is dragging down the whole southern African region.” None of that got into the meeting’s closing communique, which ritually expressed solidarity with Mugabe, but Moyo is probably right, because Zimbabwe is becoming a blight on the region.

Inflation in Zimbabwe, at 1,700 percent, is the highest in the world (the next highest, Burma, is only 60 percent), and average income is less that a tenth of South Africa’s. Ten years ago Zimbabwe was seen as the bread-basket of Africa, and it earned ample foreign exchange from exports of tobacco and other cash crops; now it cannot feed half its people, and the tobacco crop is down by four-fifths.

There are an estimated three million Zimbabwean economic refugees in South Africa (two-thirds of the country’s working-age population), and they are the main support of those left at home, because unemployment in Zimbabwe is 80 percent or more. Zimbabwean life expectancy is now the lowest in the world: 37 for men, 34 for women.

Then there is the unbridled brutality of the police force, the official contempt for the law, the propaganda that blames all the failings of the regime on foreign imperialists plotting against it — it’s not exactly the image that southern Africans want for their region.

On the whole, southern Africa does not fit that image. From South Africa to Tanzania, most of the governments in the SADC are democratically elected and law-abiding. Most economies are showing good growth, and nobody is starving. But it is a well-known fact that people in other continents have difficulty in telling one African country from another, and that investors are the most ignorant of all. Zimbabwe’s multiple failures take up more space in the international media than all news about all thirteen other members of the SADC combined, and so the neighbours’ patience has run out.

In fact, it ran out some time ago, but being realists about the nature of politics in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, the other SADC leaders saw no point in publicly demanding change. Now, however, there is blood in the water. Mugabe managed to bully Zanu-PF’s central committee into nominating him for the presidency again on Friday, but everybody knows that two major factions in the party want him to quit. That has opened the door for others to demand change as well.

The main contenders for the succession are not without sin. Emmerson Mnangagwa was state security minister when 25,000 members of the minority Ndebele tribe were murdered by the regime in the 1980s for supporting the wrong political party. Vice-President Joice Mujuru is the wife of Solomon Mujuru, a former army chief who became very rich thanks to his involvement in illegal land-grabs during the seizure of all the farms owned by white Zimbabweans.

The ideal outcome would be an alliance between Zanu-PF dissidents and Zimbabwe’s democratic opposition in a transitional government leading to free, internationally supervised elections. The reality may be a good deal messier, because the Old Man doesn’t know how to let go. He has just imported 3,000 “security personnel” from Angola to stiffen his own police, who are deserting in droves and going to work in South Africa as security guards because inflation has made their wages in Zimbabwe almost worthless.

But one way or another, Mugabe’s long misrule has reached the beginning of the end.

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To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 3 and 11. (“In that…rebel”; and “In fact… Zimbabweans”)