Mugabe at large

The EU/ACP summit has come and gone and to me, even from this distance, it looks like they succeeded in restricting Mugabe's ability to dislocate the summit. They seem to have done this by carefully managing his movements and opportunities and seem to have had the help of most African leaders - especially those from the SADC region. His body language this morning was very revealing - an old man looking tense and somehow reduced in stature. There was little of the swagger and arrogance that we have seen previously.

A large billboard on the road from the Airport to Lisbon stated - 'Mugabe, Racist, you are not welcome' and today a light aircraft flew over the conference venue dragging a large banner that said - 'Mugabe, you are next for The Hague. Then the Vigil guys from London and their Portuguese associates did a great job, actually forcing Mugabe to change hotels and clashing with a group of local thugs employed to defend Mugabe - all grist to the mill, there was no other story and the media blitz on the Zimbabwe delegation was total - I doubt if Grace managed any of her legendary shopping.

The current Chairman of the G8, the Chancellor of Germany, was typically straight on the issue of Zimbabwe. 'This situation, economically, socially and politically, was unacceptable and was not the responsibility of the European States to address. This was an African problem and required an African solution'. At least 6 European Heads of State stayed away from the summit on account of the attendance by Mugabe - that is a significant number of the 27 States that make up the European Union today. Overall I rate the summit as a diplomatic disaster for Mr. Mugabe.

It also sounds as if the summit did some good things. It is now many years since European States administered colonies in Africa and it is time we moved on and established a more modern relationship between the sovereign States and groups of States of both Europe and Africa. The negotiation process of the new Economic Partnership Agreements is now well down the path to finality - the one with the SADC will be finalized in 2008 and hopefully the MDC will be the government to do it for Zimbabwe. The colonial era is past and we must now concentrate on the future - for all our sakes.

Then there is the situation behind closed doors at the summit. I doubt very much if Mugabe could have ever imagined that his timing could have been so far out. Just 4 weeks ago we stated our view at the SADC sponsored talks that if action was not taken to enforce the decisions made at the talks and to halt the violence against the MDC, we could see little point in continuing. This resulted in the direct intervention of President Mbeki who came to Harare on his way to Chogum and had a session with the main principals to the talks.

The talks resumed immediately afterwards but a week later, Zanu PF submitted a document to the facilitators making the outrageous statement that since there was insufficient time to implement the agreements reached after months of negotiation, that the elections to be held in March 2008 should be held under current laws and administration. They had the audacity to suggest that the government elected in the March elections should then take responsibility for implementing the agreement and that this would then govern all future elections! If this is what they have been angling for since March, they must have been shaken by our response. Enough to say we totally rejected the suggestion and instead demanded that the negotiators agree to a list of minimum demands by the 15th of December - two weeks away, or we will review our whole participation and consent to what had been discussed.

Our National Executive met to discuss the stance taken by our leadership and endorsed it unanimously and issued a statement to the media to that effect as Mr. Mugabe took off for Lisbon. In Lisbon were all the leaders of the SADC region - the actual sponsors of the talks as well as a high-powered delegation from South Africa led by the State President. I have got no doubt that sideline meetings have been held and that in those meetings there were strong words. From the very beginning, the Zanu PF team and Mr. Mugabe in particular, have dragged their feet, agreed to things in private with the SADC leadership and then gone on to do the opposite. They have tried to circumvent the region and to subvert the South African role at every step. Last week, they went a step too far and the timing could not have been worse.

I expect that very shortly, in one form or another, we will see evidence that Mr. Mugabe has been forced to back down and agree to the minimum demands of the MDC. The talks are continuing in South Africa and by next weekend (in fact the 15th) we expect to hear that the agreement has been wrapped up and signed. At our request it then comes back to us and we have a period during which we can take the agreement to our structures and partners in civil society and get their reaction and approval to sign off on the deal. If that goes as we expect, we would then agree to the implementation of the agreement and proceed to the next step, which is implementation with full international and regional supervision and then the campaign and the elections themselves.

In a strange way the EU/ACP summit may have been the exact sort of event that was needed to bring this situation into focus, get leaders to meet together and agree on what was needed and then take the required steps to see that it happens. I am glad that it did not derail the main agenda and that real progress was made. This was an historic event for both Europe and Africa and might well have been a running point in the resolution of the Zimbabwe crisis.

As for the situation at home, it's raining and that is always welcome, it looks as if we will have a decent wet season. But nothing else has changed or improved - prices are doubling weekly, the dollar has crashed and everything is in very short supply. People are desperately poor and hungry and it is going to be a lousy Christmas for all of us. Lets just pray that we can report back to the people of Zimbabwe that there is light on the horizon at last.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 9th December 2007