The responsibilities of Leadership

As I predicted, Obama won, and won by a large margin. I have made no secret of the fact that he was my personal choice for the leadership of the USA. My choice was based on what I saw of the man on TV, the way he handled himself and ran his campaign and his simple dignity as an individual. He also has a good family life, no scandal and a wife who was just as capable and seemed very straight.

Now that he has landed the job, he will quickly discover that being number one is very different to being a Senator or a number two. As President he has to accept that he takes responsibility, not just for himself but also for all that are associated with him. That is a tough call and history can be a harsh judge.

Here in southern Africa we are about to see another test of African leadership. The SADC Presidents will gather in South Africa on Sunday to discuss two major issues - the Zimbabwe crisis and the situation in the Congo. Both countries have been a problem for the regional leadership for at least 50 years. Both represent failures of leadership, both local and regional and to some extent international.

In the Congo, the colonial power hardly did anything to prepare the country and its leadership for self government. At its so called independence it had few educated and experienced people and with its wealth and ethnic make up, was ripe for trouble. The outbreak of post independence violence was not long in coming and has lasted right through to today. Corruption, greed and poor leadership make a fatal cocktail for failure and they are all there in the Congo.

In Zimbabwe the situation is less understandable or forgivable. While my forefathers were by no means saints, they did not do a bad job of running and developing the country. In fact at one stage I think the Rhodesian government could have been held up in any forum as a good example of a developing country administration that was reasonably honest, capable and efficient. Certainly they prepared the country for the eventual transition to majority rule better that many other States in Africa.

In the mid 80ís I had several discussions with the then leader of the new State of Mozambique, Samora Machel, in Maputo. During one of those meetings he said to me that if any country had a choice as to who would be their colonizer, the Portuguese would have to be low down on the list and the Rhodesians fairly high up the list.

The Mugabe regime is in fact one of the best educated in Africa - altogether I once counted 17 PhD Graduates in the Cabinet - many of them taken from well known Universities such as Princeton in the United States. Mugabe himself has six University degrees including law and economics and is by all accounts a very sharp intellect. But it made no difference - we still ended up almost in the same place as the Congo, a bankrupt, corrupt State with a failed infrastructure and deeply affected people where millions are dying early of a myriad of ills, many man made.

But we did not resort to violence to defend our rights or to gain power. This is interpreted by many as a weakness; I think it represents strength and wisdom as well as courage. It also represents leadership. The MDC had the choice of violence as a means to secure change.

For many this was the logical choice as the regime we were up against was using violence against the opposition. We had experience of violence - the struggle for majority rule was partially secured through violence and most Zimbabweans had participated. We know how to use a gun and we understand the power it wields.

But we chose to seek change the hard way - by peaceful, democratic, legal means. Since we are up against a tyrannical regime that has not hesitated to use force against all who oppose them and has access to the full resources of the State when seeking to defend their hold on power, this was never going to be easy.

Friends in South Africa pointed to the UDF and the efforts of young South Africans in the struggle against apartheid. They said we would never get what we were seeking if we did not use such means ourselves. We pointed out that with no independent media available inside Zimbabwe and facing a regime that would not hesitate to use maximum force against us, demonstrations were of limited value.

We stuck to our guns and despite going through 4 national elections during which we were faced with blatant manipulation and rigging of the electoral process, we finally were able, even under completely skewed conditions, to defeat Zanu PF in March 2008. No matter what they have done since then, they have not been able to throw off the mantle of change that that singular event threw over Zimbabwe.

Now we face what may be another seminal moment in the process of transition and change. All 14 heads of State will gather in Johannesburg on Sunday to decide what will happen in Zimbabwe.

The indications are hopeful. Ian Khama, the new President of Botswana has said that new elections should be held in Zimbabwe and that Africa cannot go on trying to justify frustrating electoral outcomes just because they involve regime change. The new South African leadership are impatient with the continued prevarication and want closure. Even elements in Zanu PF are saying we have to see finality. The one thing that the Sunday meeting is, without question, is another test of African leadership.

The Congo and the Zimbabwe crisis are an African problem. They require an African solution. Outsiders cannot really do much apart from help implement to a solution once it is found and agreed on. The only way regimes such as the quasi-military junta in Harare are going to give up power is if they are confronted with irresistible force. That can come from a major power through the use of military power, but that is unlikely to happen and, as Iraq has shown, might create more problems that it solves.

It is best for that pressure to come from the region in the form of leadership. It is quite clear what is required in Zimbabwe (the Congo is more complex) and all that is needed is for the SADC leadership to agree on the way forward in Zimbabwe. I have always said - the one country Zimbabwe cannot say no to is South Africa. If SADC makes a clear-cut decision and informs the Parties in the Zimbabwe conflict of that decision, backed by all regional leaders, the decision will be adopted and implemented.

Then the test of leadership will pass to the Zimbabweans. Just as Obama must now deliver through leadership, so must Tsvangirai and Mugabe plus the team they chose next week to take over from the Junta. We are on the edge of a momentous occasion - just like the Obama election in the States, an African conflict that has not descended into mindless violence and has been resolved by democratic means supported by dialogue. It could never happen without leadership.

Eddie Cross
Bulawayo, 6th November 2008