Managing Mugabe

The Chinese certainly know a thing or two about managing difficult individuals. They have had Mr. Mugabe in their midst since Saturday and seem to have achieved all they set out to do. Treat him with dignity, puff up his ego and send him away with a raft of empty promises which may or may not have to be met in the future. But with North Korea on your southern borders I guess you get pretty adept at entertaining nutty dictators. They even laid on some computer equipment - no doubt heard about his campaign to supply computers to schools.

This is very important because if the Chinese had extended a massive aid programme to Zimbabwe it would have broken the stranglehold that President Mbeki has over the regime in Harare and allowed Mugabe breathing space with which to maneuver.

The ploy of getting a local University to award him an honory professorship was one that I would never have dreamt of. It was a perfect choice - free, no subsequent obligations, easy to lay on and it pandered to the one area where Mugabe is most vulnerable - his massive ego. An honory degree would not have been as effective - he has several of those, declaring him a General in the Peoples Liberation Army would have been an insult to the Chinese armed forces. No, a professorship at an esteemed State controlled University with a carefully tutored and assembled audience was a perfect choice.

He went on to visit Malaysia to also request for economic assistance. They were even less accommodating. China was always his best bet. By my reckoning he has approached 5 countries, South Africa, China, India, Malaysia and Namibia. Really there are no other likely takers - I am sure he would have canvassed Libya during the AU summit in early July. I doubt if he would get a tent peg out of that particular administration. So the Eastern world returned Mr. Mugabe to his roost, shackled and bound by a crisis of his own making and at the mercy of his African neighbours.

It has come to light that in fact the Mugabe regime asked South Africa for a massive US$1,4 billion dollars in new loan financing. No details on the hypothetical terms, which were also offered. South Africa is the only country to respond so far and we understand the offer is for a much smaller sum, extended as lines of credit with South African institutions for supplies of various key basic commodities; no cash.

When Mugabe came home last weekend, he did so empty handed, we were then confronted with the same problem that faced the Chinese - although with fewer options to play with. What do we face? Mugabe is an 81-year-old dictator who has ruled his country with an iron fist for 25 years. He has destroyed our economy and forced a third of our population into economic exile. In the process he has been responsible for thousands of murders, torture on a scale unusual for the 21st Century. He has undermined the rule of law and abused the democratic principles that his 30-year struggle for independence demanded from the white colonials.

We face a man who dares not leave his post and remain in Zimbabwe. If he did so eventually someone would take him to Court and seek redress. He might even find himself in an international Court facing charges of human rights abuse or worse. The specter of Saddam Hussein hiding in a hole in the ground to be found by a US military patrol and arrested without any dignity is a real fear, not only for Mugabe but many of his henchmen.

So how do we manage this situation so as to achieve the desired outcome? I define the latter as a peaceful, democratic transfer of power to whoever can win a genuine free and fair election in Zimbabwe. Perhaps to this we would have to add today - because of the scale and urgency of the economic and humatitarian crisis facing Zimbabwe, that we need an immediate arrangement that would allow the international community to come in and help an interim Zimbabwe administration fix our most urgent problems.

The MDC road map has been in place for over three years - it was put there when President Mbeki made his first abortive attempt to get talks going - remember that? The actual talks actually went a long way - far further than Mugabe ever wanted and when he woke up to what was happening he stopped them. The road map has not changed since then - an interim administration, new constitution and then fresh elections under international supervision.

This time the question of how we manage Mugabe is of even greater importance. The responsibility rests mainly with the South African and perhaps the other SADC leaders, but it also rests in part with those of us who live in Zimbabwe and are engaged in the struggle to regain our democratic rights.

South Africa has the advantage this time in that they know what sort of a man they are dealing with. The duplicity, cunning, ruthlessness is all well documented. At the same time they also know that the regime has run out of space in which to maneuver. Mugabe has his back to the wall - great position for a firing squad, bad for resistance motivation. So Mr. Mbeki will have to use both his stick and a carrot to get cooperation. The stick to ensure that we do actually go into negotiations and that the outcome is accepted and respected. A carrot to give the old man some security about his own future. Reports suggest that this has been taken into consideration.

A deal has been negotiated and is now with the two Presidents - South Africa is being devious about exactly what it has in mind but they have said "there is no point in extending a loan facility to Zimbabwe if the underlying political and economic problems are not addressed". In this respect they are absolutely right - but to get that wily old man to the table and then to stick to any agreement - that is another matter.

For us in Zimbabwe, we need to be clear about what we want - Mr. Mbeki has stated repeatedly that our future is in our hands, lets not blow it when the ball comes out of the ruck. Then we need to be committed to making the outcome work for us in every way. To start with by delivering some stability and the most basic needs of the majority of our people. Then growth and a better standard of living for everyone, not just a tiny minority who are well connected.

And when the time comes to chose our new leaders, let look for men and women who will serve the people and put their own interests last. People of integrity and vision, people we can trust for our future. Leaders who are humble and well endowed with simple old-fashioned common sense and compassion. Please Lord, let it be soon.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 28th July 2005