Running out of time

This past week has seen several interesting developments on the continent. The major one being the decision by the West African States to abandon their protective screen around Charles Taylor. He promptly slipped away from his hide out in Nigeria and was mysteriously picked up a few days later (I suspect by special forces) and today arrived in Monrovia to face trial for the atrocities he committed in the region over a period of nearly 15 years.

I remember when he first put in an appearance and the BBC picked up his voice from the depths of the West African bush, brash and outspoken, this American educated thug then went on to become one of Africa's so called 'big men'. Using child soldiers and others he is responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths. The slaughter that he unleashed in fact only stopped when a small force of British soldiers arrived and actually initiated a peace-making role that was astonishing effective. Like all bullies and thugs, when faced with a well-trained group who mean business, he was no match and his days were over when West African leaders ganged up on him and forced him into exile in Nigeria.

He now faces justice in a Court run by the government that he once terrorized. He did not look all that cocky this morning when he was bundled out of a helicopter and into an armored vehicle. Almost at the same time the Americans announced that they had taken into custody his son - once the key player in the Presidential guard for Taylor.

Then Mr. Blair - Prime Minister of Britain, made a series of key policy speeches - one in London and another to the Australian Parliament last week. I listened to the latter and was most impressed. He called for a coalition of countries to support good governance and democracy throughout the world. He argued that the historical practice of 'non interference in internal affairs' no longer held sway where the government in question abused their people, were a threat to regional stability and security or global security and stability. He actually cited Zimbabwe and Iran as two examples of States where he felt the domestic situation demanded concerted action by the international community.

I do not think for one minute that this means a return to gunboat diplomacy. But it does mean a much tougher stance by the majority of countries towards those who blatantly abuse their people and whose actions threaten their region. It also means that not only is time running out for many who fit into this category but also that there are fewer hiding places.

When Mengistu fled Ethiopia - at the behest of the United States and was flown to Harare in a US military jet to be given sanctuary by the Mugabe regime, the US was in effect ducking the issue and allowing a tyrant and a murderer to get away with his crimes - because it was thought that this was the only way to get him out of the way so that Ethiopia and the region it dominates, could find its feet and start to recover. He still lives in comparative luxury in Harare and his family seems to be able to move more or less freely throughout the world. I think this would be much more difficult to achieve today.

Then on the home front we saw the Zanu PF pantomime in full swing. One of the senior policemen in the close protection unit for the Mugabe clan died under mysterious circumstances - one report said his family thought he had been poisoned. It turns out this was the same man who had threatened to tell Mr. Mugabe about his wife's infidelities and as a reward he was unceremoniously dumped; only to be re-instated and then die. But the charade did not stop there - he was declared a 'National Hero' and without a postmortem buried with full military honors watched by a crowd that comprised men and women from the armed forces who were told to attend 'or else' and to do so in mufti.

At the funeral Mr. Mugabe completed the play by abusing all his detractors and reserving special venom for Morgan Tsvangirai and his MDC Party. Our great leader and senior African democrat, a 'big man' in a league all by himself, threatened the leadership of the MDC with death if they dared to challenge Zanu PF supremacy.

Then Mr. Mugabe moved into the Ministry of Finance and decided that the Commissioner of Taxes - actually quite a competent man in his own right who has done a reasonable job in very difficult circumstances - was not good at collecting taxes. So what does our 'big man' do? He takes the head of the Army - a very nasty character, and puts him in charge of the Tax Department. Heaven knows what he is going to do in this job - any way, not much going on in the army and if he does not collect big time soon, the army is going to starve along with the rest of us.

If anyone needed proof that we are now under a military junta - this is it. Military officers of various shapes and sizes and rank now run the National Parks, the Electoral process in Home Affairs, the Grain Marketing Board, the Attorney generals Office and Noczim. They are present in all the structures of government and whenever Mugabe encounters problems he turns to the military to step into the breech.

Understandable really as the military, police and the CIO are the last remaining pillars of the State under Zanu PF. If we had a real, free and fair election today under genuine democratic conditions, Zanu PF would cease to exist as a functioning entity. They know this and that is why they will do everything in their power to avoid such an eventuality.

But like the driver of a run away train - they know where they are headed, they know it means destruction and a huge crash with all of us passengers on board, but they simply do not know what to do. They cannot stop the train and they cannot divert it in another direction - the rails see to that. They cannot jump off and risk breaking their necks in the process - anyway the ‘big man' in charge is likely to shoot or poison any who try to defect at this stage.

I spoke to a diplomat this past week and he said he had met with a wide range of Zanu PF leaders in recent weeks - all of whom were in despair about the economy, inflation, the increasing isolation and the collapsing infrastructure. But not one of them had the slightest idea as to what to do. What he did not say was that time is running out on these goons and that it is most unlikely that the 'big man' has very long to go.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 4th April 2006