Is Mugabe running scared?

OPINION: Last week I warned in this column that the African Union (AU) Summit in Addis Ababa would go down as another damp squib if the continental body did not take the opportunity to seriously reflect on lessons drawn from the Arab North revolutions and how these will impact on Africa’s democratization challenge

I also made an observation that the current crop of African leaders was caught up in a time warp and that it has failed to transform the continent into a politically stable and economically prosperous bloc that can claim its space on the international stage because it has failed to embrace change and to respect the wishes of African citizens.

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Predictably there was nothing spectacular that came out of the summit, save for the electoral stalemate for the AU Commission Chairmanship. Both incumbent Jean Ping of Gabon and aspirant Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, South Africa’s Home Affairs Minister, failed to garner the required two-thirds majority after four rounds of voting. The joke doing the rounds in chartrooms, on websites and on the streets of Harare right now is that perhaps one of candidates should have enlisted support from Zimbabwe’s Mugabe or Kenya’s Mwai Kibaki, making the election so violent that the two candidates would have been forced to go into a power-sharing arrangement after lengthy negotiations!

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A fresh election will be held in June at the next AU summit in Malawi but Ping is now out of the race as is required by the AU voting procedures. His biggest undoing is that his home country is part of the Francophone bloc. In the build up to the summit there was intense lobbying by both South Africa and Gabon and it became a battle between the Francophone and the Anglophone blocs. The SADC caucus mounted a campaign for Zuma predicated on portraying Ping as a political pawn wont to taking instructions from France. Mugabe was livid that the AU had extended an invitation to French President, Nicholas Sarkozy, a man he accused of having Colonel Gadhafi’s blood on his hands. On arrival at the Harare International Airport returning from the summit Mugabe went into another tirade, accusing the Francophone countries of being used as ‘fronts by Europe’.

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South Africa’s diplomatic architects have indicated that Dlamini-Zuma will run again. But she is not a shoe-in. The problem is that everyone does not trust South Africa’s intentions on the continent.  Because of its huge economic muscle, it has acquired so much political power and clout that its critics view it as wanting to have some kind of ‘United States” big brother status over the whole continent. South Africa has and is till mediating in several conflicts on the continent, from Burundi, Ivory Coast, Sudan to Zimbabwe. Ever since he was ignominiously booted out of office, Thabo Mbeki has been traversing the length and breath of the continent trying to convince warring parties to come together. South Africa’s successes and failures have created both friends and enemies. By vying for the AU Commission Chairmanship South Africa was viewed as trying to cement its hegemony on the continent.

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I doubt that Mugabe would prefer Dlamini-Zuma being the Chair of the AU. In as much as his public statements have been abhorrent of the Francophone bloc, ZANU (PF) insiders have indicated that the party would prefer not to have Dlamini-Zuma as the Chairperson of the Commission as this would be diplomatically suicidal. This is because South Africa is the SADC-appointed mediator in Zimbabwe and both the AU and SADC are the guarantors of the Global Political Agreement (GPA). ZANU (PF) has not made a secret its disappointment with Jacob Zuma’s mediation. Party ideologues like Jonathan Moyo have publicly chided Zuma’s facilitation team for ostensibly meddling in the internal affairs of the country.

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Clearly ZANU (PF) misses the golden days of Mbeki’s mediation. The party has fond memories of Mbeki holding hands with Mugabe and boldly declaring that there was no crisis in Zimbabwe, even after the bloodbath of the 2008 presidential election run-off. Mbeki loathed Tsvangirai and the MDC so much that his facilitation was blatantly biased. Like Mugabe he believed that the MDC was a creation of neo-imperialist forces, that ZANU (PF) was under siege from the West and that the party of revolution needed protection. Relations between Tsvangirai and Mbeki were so cold that two hardly saw eye to eye. In his book At the Deep End, published last year, Tsvangirai blames Mbeki for the October 2005 implosion of the MDC. Tsvangirai writes, “The splinter group now invoked their man in Pretoria to put me at a disadvantage. President Thabo Mbeki had shown antipathy towards me and the cause I represented on several occasions but he was now pulled directly into the MDC’s domestic dispute…”

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Zuma’s mediation has been a breath of fresh air for many Zimbabweans. Never mind the fact that he has failed to break the impasse between the parties. He has not shielded Mugabe the same way Mbeki did. Witness the manner in which Zuma’s International Relations Advisor, Lindiwe Zulu, has refused to be cowed by ZANU (PF) hardliners like Jonathan Moyo. The Livingstone Troika and Sandton Summit resolutions also attest to differences in approach between Mbeki and Zuma. There has been no ego stroking, as SADC has been forthright in ordering Mugabe to stop political violence and adhere to the principles of the GPA.

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But perhaps what generated more interest for many Zimbabweans at the Addis Summit were Mugabe’s rants about an alleged Western conspiracy against Africa. He berated the AU for failing to defend Libya against NATO aggression. Mugabe lamented, “Gadhafi was killed in broad daylight, his children hunted like animals and then we rush to recognize the NTC”. I warned last week that if African leaders fail to draw lessons from Gadhafi’s experience, they risked going down the same way. What Mugabe did not care to tell his audience is that Gadhafi and his children were hunted down like animals because they treated Libya like a personal fiefdom that they could loot and plunder with reckless abandon. Never mind NATO’s intervention, the people of Libya stood up and said enough was enough.

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After carefully listening to Mugabe’s statements I thought one could be forgiven for getting the impression that the octogenarian is running scared. From what, I do not know. It was almost as if he was saying ‘they are out to get me”. How else would one explain this statement? “Well, well that was Libya. Who will be next?” Does the President fear that he will be next? And why would he fear that he would be next? He seemed so angry that the AU had recognized the National Transitional Council NTC) that ousted Gadhafi and one wonders whether this fear is not generated by an inane fear of his own political opponents. Perhaps to him the NTC epitomizes the MDC and he is crying out to the AU not to recognize the MDC.  

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The problem is that dictators never learn from the experiences of other dictators. Since the time of Hitler they have fallen, one by one, at the hands of their own people. But the next one always thinks he is smarter than the previous one. Today Bashar al Assad is mowing down protesting Syrians as he alleges a foreign plot to unseat him. But he will sure go down the Gadhafi route. No amount of force can defeat an idea whose time has come.

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Journal of Zimbabwean Politics

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