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Zim Crisis: Leaders Face Complex Reality March 29, 2007

Posted by publicpolitics in Uncategorized.
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Amid reports of a new police crackdown on the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), Robert Mugabe flew to Tanzania yesterday to attend a hastily called meeting of the Southern African Development Council(SADC ) a 14 member regional group of nations. The meeting was convened to address the Zimbabwean crisis, a maelstrom of hyperinflation, refugee flight, and political repression that finally attracted world attention this month when Mugabe’s police beat one of the opposition leaders nearly senseless. Yet

African leaders meeting in Tanzania yesterday to discuss Zimbabwe’s political crisis were not expected to bow to pressure to censure President Robert Mugabe’s police crackdown.

Source: businessday.co.za

The group includes South Africa, which despite the doubling of refugee flows across its borders to some 20,000 per month over the past year, has been pursuing a policy of “quiet diplomacy.” Zambia’s president has been less discreet, breaking ranks with colleagues to call for change in Zimbabwe. But most analysts expect little outright condemnation to come out of the two day meeting, despite widespread criticism of Zimbabwe in the press.(BBC Roundup)

Meanwhile, back at home, a critical meeting of Zanu-PF(news), Mugabe’s own usually obsequious political party, has been postponed until the summit is over. Several high ranking party members have been in talks with the MDC, and earlier this year Zanu-PF refused an outright endorsement of Mugabe’s plans to postpone elections for another two years.

The European Union recently launched an initiative(complete report PDF) to bring food to the country, which if not starving now, will soon be. The International Crisis Group published a comprehensive blueprint(reports on Zimbabwe) for change in Zimbabwe that addresses the role of the U.N., Zanu-PF, and the MDC. The U.S. and Britain have roundly condemned Mugabe, and have expressed hope that the SADC will take action. So why are expectations so uniformly low?

The answer is not simple. Each of the major players in this regime-change game has weaknesses that prevent one nation or political party from acting unilaterally and comprehensively to bring about a constructive change in Zimbabwean politics.

South Africa is Zimbabwe’s major trading partner, and has the most to lose by a continuation of the status quo. SA is preparing itself for the World Cup, and the last thing it needs is a continuing influx of refugees from the North. Yet until recently, SA has been pursuing a policy of self-branded “quiet diplomacy”, and has vowed to block any attempts by Britain to bring the issues to the U.N. Security Council.

This reticence becomes more understandable in view of the fears of many in SA that appearing to collude with Britain and the US , taken to its logical conclusion, couls lead to a Southern African Iraq style occupation of Zimbabwe with South Africa acting as point. Despite South Africa’s military and economic dominance of the region, that is something SA simply cannot afford, and would be the last desperate measure.

Policy statements that appear to endorse British and U.S.(Press release, U.S State Department) condemnations of Zimbabwe must be handled with the very finest of kid gloves, and the safest approach for SA is as close to silence as possible. That’s because Mugabe maintains that the MDC and other opposition are tools of the former colonial powers, particularly of Britain.

South Africa’s experience of British intervention in Southern Africa has not been a happy one, and the Mugabe’s anti-colonial rhetoric (news analysis) finds a sympathetic audience gathered in Tanzania.(news) More practically, Mugabe’s former role as revolutionary leader still has resonance with a wide range of people in the region, and in Zimbabwe itself. Too much enthusiasm for policies of foreign origin could have the paradoxical and unwanted effect of strengthening Mugabe’s hand, particularly in rural Zimbabwe where his support is strong. Nevertheless, SA cannot afford to ignore the crisis.

The U.S. and the U.K. have a limited role to play here. Both countries continue to lose international credibility because of the Iraqi debacle, and Mugabe can turn almost any official statement to his own ends. It is beyond doubt, given Mugabe’s rapacious behavior, that any increase in sanctions(news) would probably affect the ruling elite last, if at all. But the impact on ordinary people in Zimbabwe would be instantaneous and devastating. Worse, it would likely mobilize some public support for Mugabe.

Mugabe’s own political party is unhappy. Some high ranking officials of Zanu-Pf are at least talking to the opposition, but powerful as they are, these politicians are walking on a tightrope made of razor blades. If the SADC meeting fails to condemn Mugabe or to craft an acceptable exit strategy for him, Mugabe could well undertake a purge. Whether he has the power to do this is, at this point, questionable, but if enough of his political cronies feel that Mugabe’s end is the effective end of the party or the beginnings of political reprisals and punishments meted out by the opposition, Mugabe’s colleagues will have two choices: run into exile or fall into line with an attempt to purge the party, maintain Mugabe in office, and continue down the path to economic and social disaster.

Does all this mean that we should expect nothing from the SADC summit and that Mugabe will stay in power past his 90th birthday, as some people fear. Not necessarily. Each of the interested parties in the Zimbabwean crisis has limitations, but the right combination of those apparent weaknesses could be a powerful combination.

The first order of business will be to craft an exit strategy that both Mugabe and his party faithful can live with, and to do that it must be one based on an understanding that the status quo must change. The Movement for Democratic Change would be a less confusing entity were it not divided into two fairly antagonistic factions, but in any case it is important that both keep in close contact with members of Mugabe’s own party.

But with the opposition leaders jailed again as a result of presummit raids, one overly enthusiastic policeman could tip the whole country into a morass of disorganized violence. The country is near an implosion point already. The last thing Zimbabwe needs is a major political killing.

SADC, the opposition parties, and thoughtful members of Mugabe’s own inner circle certainly have their work cut out for them.

Tags: Pressure | police | meeting | Leaders | expected | Crisis | Censure | Zimbabwe | tanzania | Robert | president | Politics | Congo | African

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