US embassy cables: Mugabe, the 'spider at the centre of the web'
US embassy cables: President Robert Mugabe, the 'spider at the centre of the web'
Wednesday, 02 December 2009, 14:01
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 HARARE 000930
AF/S FOR BRIAN WALCH
NSC FOR SENIOR AFRICA DIRECTOR MICHELLE GAVIN
EO 12958 DECL: 12/02/2019
TAGS PREL, PGOV, ZI
SUBJECT: AMBASSADOR RAY’S VISIT WITH GERMAN AMBASSADOR TO
Classified By: AMBASSADOR CHARLES A. RAY FOR REASONS 1.4 B,D
1. (C) SUMMARY: There is a strong need in Zimbabwe for security sector reform, as without it, none of the efforts at political reform can be assured. After Robert Mugabe leaves the scene (either through death or retirement) ZANU-PF as a political force in Zimbabwe will be irrelevant, although some of the party members are likely to continue to be involved in the country’s politics.
We need to start now to identify the next generation of the country’s leadership and begin the process of influencing them. According to an MDC member of Parliament, there are three ZANU-PF factions in government and Parliament; a few mostly younger people who want to work with MDC and move the country forward, a large percentage (including Mugabe) who want to hang on to power for as long as they can, and a small number of extreme hardliners (Emmerson Mnangagwa among them) who for ideological or personal reasons want the coalition government to fail regardless of the consequences to the nation.
South Africa, at the end of the day, is not likely to be as helpful as we would like in improving the situation here, and we need to look at how to involve the PRC as the Chinese have Mugabe’s ear. China is likely to be agreeable to efforts to improve economic stability and just might be helpful in achieving success in security sector reform. END SUMMARY.
2. (C) I met Dr. Albrecht Conze, German Ambassador to Zimbabwe, at his embassy on December 1, 2009. Unlike most of the other EU ambassadors who waited for me to ask them questions, Conze immediately began probing for the U.S. position on a number of issues, most notably how to engage with the government in the medium term, and our views on security sector reform. He stressed that the need for success in dealing with the security chiefs cannot be underestimated. Without reform in this sector, our efforts at political and economic reform risk failure.
Conze agreed with me that we need to do more to identify the next generation of leadership in Zimbabwe and start influencing them now. He is concerned about the obsessive focus on Mugabe, who is admittedly part of the problem, but is also essential to its solution. Should he suddenly die, or otherwise be moved from office, it could lead to chaos and violence as competing groups vied for control. Conze believes that ZANU-PF in a post-Mugabe world will be irrelevant and will not exist in its current form, although some ZANU-PF members are likely to continue to be involved in Zimbabwe’s politics.
3. (C) Conze said that in conversations with MDC-M politician David Coltart, he was told that in Parliament and government there are three ZANU-PF factions. A small number of mostly younger ZANU-PF members want to cooperate with the MDC to move the country out of the rut it is in. The vast majority (including Mugabe himself) are in a second group that is willing to make only grudging concessions but is primarily interested in hanging on to their positions as long as they can.
A smaller, third faction (which includes Defense Minister Mnangagwa) of extreme hardliners work hard to cause the coalition government to fail without any regard to the impact this would have on the country. Some of them are motivated by revolutionary (Marxist) fervor, some by personal grudges and animosities, and some are, in Conze’s words, just evil and greedy. Despite his advanced age, Mugabe is the spider sitting at the center of this web and has full control over all the factions. Without him, many of them would be nothing and would have nothing. Even most in the MDC recognize that he is key to the future of politics here.
4. (C) The Peoples’ Republic of China (PRC) plays a significant role in Zimbabwe and the Western nations need to involve them more in cooperative activities wherever possible. Conze agreed with me that while they are not likely to want to participate in pro-democracy programs, economic stability is clearly in their interests. He considered an invitation to the PRC ambassador here to periodically attend the Fishmongers Head of Mission meeting (a group of US-Canada-Australia-EU ambassadors who meet weekly) to explore potential areas of cooperation. Conze believes that the PRC might even be useful in moving security sector reform forward as it has a potential impact on economic stability, and he does not believe South Africa will be really useful in this regard.
5. (C) COMMENT: While Conze, like many of the European ambassadors here, often puts too much faith in utterances by
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MDC officials, the characterization of the ZANU-PF factions seems right on the money. It also indicates that change here will come slowly, and that Mugabe, who has without a doubt been a large part of the problem, is essential to maintaining control long enough to allow reform to take hold. He will continue to make meaningless concessions here and there, but is not likely to cede any power or control for the foreseeable future. MDC for its part seems to understand and accept this.
Conze’s views on involving China are intriguing, given the general attitude of most EU personnel here. Most don’t know much about PRC activities, and view those they are aware of with suspicion. Conze is the first to acknowledge that China too is part of the problem and could possibly be part of the solution. His idea of involving them in security sector reform, however, is likely to cause strong pushback from some of the more conservative EU members; and in fact, his idea of inviting the Chinese ambassador to the Fishmonger’s meeting is also likely to meet some resistance. This promises to be an interesting food fight.