Thursday, November 01, 2007

Few events are more depressing than meetings about Zimbabwe

Except, perhaps, reading about the EU's total spinelessness with regards to its own supposed rules of political engagement. It is now official: after all the humming and ha-ing and even harrumphing, the EU under its Portuguese presidency is inviting President Mugabe, the man who destroyed one of the most successful countries in Africa and either murdered, tortured or driven out large sections of her population, is to be invited to the EU-Africa Summit in December.

Why is it impossible to keep at least Mugabe out, given that the common position of the EU, that bedrock of the planned common foreign policy is that the man, his friends and relations as well as various henchmen should not be allowed anywhere in the European Union?

Because other African leaders have said that unless their chum Robert is invited they will not come. Of course, this says something about other African leaders, something that many African journalists and analysts have been saying for some time but, as we have already pointed out, the EU could have used that childish nonsense to get out of the whole plan.

No EU-Africa Summit? Well, what a shame. A lot of money will be saved, of course, and the people of Africa will see that we, in Europe, take their problems seriously. But then, of course, we do not. We care more about having Summits and being nice to bloodthirsty and kleptocratic dictators.

One waits to see whether Gordon Brown will do as he threatened and keep to that common position by refusing to attend the Summit and whether all those human-rights-loving Scandinavians will support him by not attending either.

As it happens, I attended a lunch at IPN on Tuesday that was supposed to discuss the post-Mugabe future of Zimbabwe. The speakers were Judith Todd, who was involved in Rhodesian and Zimbabwean politics for all her life and the journalist and editor Geoffrey Nyarota who has had to leave and now resides in Massachusetts from where he keeps in close touch with developments in his native country.

Mr Nyarota is a remarkably courageous man as can be seen from the briefest biography. Sadly, he did not do himself justice in his inability to convey any ideas to the audience as to what might happen in Zimbabwe, what should happen and what well-meaning outsiders can do.

On the one hand, he was annoyed with President Bush because the latter made it clear that, in his view, South Africa’s President Thabo Mbeki is the “point man” for the international community on Zimbabwe. On the other hand, he thought former Prime Minister Blair made a big mistake when he said that yes, the British government was involved in trying to sort out the mess and was working with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

This statement, he implied, gave President Mugabe the excuse to destroy the MDC. When pressed on the subject, however, Mr Nyaroto described the collapse of the MDC as brought about by a split, possibly engineered by Zanu-PF agents.

Nor was Mr Nyaroto too pleased by the attack on Mr Mugabe by Peter Tatchell. This, he assured us, brought all Zimbabweans together as it was seen an attack on them all. In this rather odd statement he was contradicted by several people who have dealt with Zimbabweans through economic discussions or by broadcasting to them.

There were messages and letters from that country that sounded very pleased that somebody, somewhere is taking their problems seriously and attacking the country’s tyrant.

Mr Nyaroto also said that, understandably, the people of Zimbabwe do not want to be "liberated" by the South Africans but will want to think that they had achieved their freedom themselves. To this end, it is necessary to mobilize them for the forthcoming elections.

The trouble is, as he genially explained himself, when not getting lost in extraneous matters, being a journalist, the media is completely under Mugabe’s control. The people are beyond poor – they are at the end of their tether. It is, let us face it, questionable whether most of them can think beyond day to day survival and, while some extremely courageous people do get mobilized for demonstrations and political meetings, the fact that they are almost inevitably beaten up and the elections are conducted in a fraudulent fashion would rather discourage people from getting involved.

So, that got us nowhere. Judith Todd was more focused in her presentation and discussions. In the first place, she explained, Robert Mugabe has not changed. He was never anything but a Communist-trained thug.

She talks about this in her book, "Through the Darkness: a Life in Zimbabwe" and gives a summary in this article in the Times, which is very well worth reading.

The book blows sky-high the usual picture of Zimbabwe as having been run more or less reasonably by Mugabe, until his defeat in the constitutional referendum of 2000 caused him to pull down the pillars of the temple. As becomes all too clear, the worm was in the apple from the start, with the new regime adopting a totali-tarian and often violent attitude towards opposition.

Torture, corruption and disregard for the rule of law were the norm right away – indeed, the real question is how on earth Lord Soames, Britain’s proconsul in charge of the transition to majority rule, could have permitted the 1980 election.

Mugabe broke all the rules – his guerrillas roamed the villages when they should have been at assembly camps, there was widespread intimidation and open violence against many opposition candidates: one such candidate was last seen pinned to the ground having red hot coals rammed down his throat.

What fooled many people was that once Mugabe had forcibly incorporated Joshua Nkomo’s Zapu into his ruling Zanu-PF the country was so close to a one-party state that Mugabe simply didn’t need to show the iron fist, but it was always there. “As I try to show, there were a few people, like the guerrilla veteran, Aaron Mutiti, who understood Mugabe from the start. Aaron said in 1980, 'Family life, religious life and economic life as we know it will progressively disappear if Mugabe gets to power'.
Better not ask too many questions about Lord Soames and some of the other British politicians who were so anxious to be rid of the problem they wilfully ignored what was fairly obvious to anyone who had even the slightest interest in the country.

It is, of course, true that, ultimately, it will have to be the people of Zimbabwe who will have to sort their country out. But when a country and its people have been reduced to the state that country and those people have, it is essential that the outside world give them support.

First and foremost the support should be coming from South Africa, a country that is taking much of the brunt of the refugee crisis. So far Thabo Mbeki has gone along with the ludicrous notion that Robert Mugabe is somehow a hero of the anti-colonial fight. It is hard to tell what motivates him as he must know what is really going on in South Africa’s northern neighbour. Would Mr Mbeki be waiting for Mr Mugabe’s death and the country descending into a Somalia-like chaos?

It is worth noting a couple more things that Ms Todd mentioned. In the first place, she told us about the Zimbabwe Institute, which produces interesting papers about what could be done in Zimbabwe in the future, though as she emphasised, it is essential that Robert Mugabe be disposed of first. (I suppose he must die some time.)

Secondly, she, unlike her co-speaker, thought that pressure from the outside world would actually have an effect. Mugabe, his friends, relations and henchmen, do not like not being allowed to other countries for fruitless political discussions, medical treatment, shopping and many other purposes. She must be somewhat disappointed, to put it mildly, by the EU's decision to ignore the tragedy of the people of Zimbabwe.


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