Mugabe’s Zimbabwe and the African Union

by Sabella Ogbobode Abidde

Zimbabwe looms large on the continent’s landscape; and indeed, it looms large on the African consciousness. You cannot think of the continent and not think of Zimbabwe. It is like the Nile: colorful and magnificent; and aside from Zambia, Mozambique, Botswana and South Africa, the country rests between the Limpopo and Zambezi. And as Ali Mazrui, David Basilson, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and others have averred, Zimbabwe is seductive, rich in history, intriguing, and a cathedral to many of the continent’s secrets.

For 6000 years or so, Zimbabwe was home to the Khoisan and the Bantus. It’s colonial era was from 1888 through 1965, followed by the Unilateral Declaration of Independence and the Civil War (1965–1979); and then by its political independence in 1980 by way of the Lancaster House Agreement, and then its gradual decline. Zimbabwe, like most African countries, has had several intriguing personalities: Ian Douglas Smith, Abel Tendekayi Muzorewa, Canaan Sodindo Banana, Ndabaningi Sithole, Joshua Nyongolo Nkomo, and Robert Gabriel Mugabe.

Of the aforelisted, Mugabe is the most enigmatic. He looms large over his country. He is feared and loved, despised and adored. At home and abroad, he remains unmoved and polarizing. He was a freedom fighter of no mean feat. To the White Rhodesians, he was a criminal, a fox; to continental Africans, he was a hero — a hero who led his people to the Promised Land. To be sure, Robert Mugabe was good for his people. He was good. But with time, he turned out to be like most African leaders: leaders who devour their own eggs and truncated their people’s hope and aspirations. Today, he and his country are now a shell of their original image.

In the last ten years or so, Mugabe became a pariah. But not totally. He has his ardent supporters. There are those who believe that he was being scapegoat because of his refusal to kowtow to western dictates (especially Britain and the US). And that his land policy was inimical to western interest. But for the land palaver, they reasoned, Mugabe would have continued being a darling of the West. Whether this is true or not, is a subject for another time. But really, after ten years in power, what more does Mugabe want? What was he hoping to achieve in his dying days that he could not and did not achieve in his early years in power?

In recent weeks, especially in the period leading up to and after the sham elections, the heat was turned up. Domestic opposition ratchet things up, and so did a segment of the international community. The intermestic objective was simple: Mugabe must go…Mugabe must go! But Mugabe went nowhere. He defied everybody. At 84 years of age, he was sworn in for a sixth term. He is bold, so bold he even attended the recently concluded African Union (AU) summit at Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. His government told the West to “go hang or kiss the donkey’s ass.”

Through it all, all the African Union and its collections of despots and dupes could do was to adopt a resolution “calling for talks in Zimbabwe between the ruling Zanu-PF party and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change to create a government of national unity… It came at the end of a day in which leaders appeared split over how to treat Robert Mugabe.” And when the Kenyans wanted to act righteous, they were simply reminded that their hands were — in reference to the recently concluded election Kenya “dripping with blood…raw African blood, and they are not going to be cleansed by any amount of criticism of Zimbabwe.”

According to published report, “The United States’ top envoy for Africa said she was sure that African leaders were taking a much tougher line with Mugabe in private than their public statements suggested.” The Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Jendayi Frazer was quoted as saying: “I do believe that the tradition of an AU summit is to reserve their strongest criticism for closed door sessions, particularly at the head of state level…I would suggest not to take the soft words of the opening plenary as a reflection of the deep concern of the leaders here for the situation in Zimbabwe.” Now, what Africa is she talking about? What is she talking about?

In the same vein, “The US ambassador to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad said he was preparing to circulate a draft sanctions resolution among Security Council members and was “cautiously optimistic” it would be approved…The United States is consulting with others to introduce a resolution perhaps this week to impose focused sanctions on the regime.” Also, “Italy announced that it was recalling its ambassador to Harare as a “political signal” of its disapproval of the regime.” Oh really? I can imagine Robert Mugabe and his posse smiling and giving the West his middle finger. What a foxy old man!

Being pragmatic, and knowing the cesspit that African leadership is “the continent’s longest serving head of state, Gabonese President Omar Bongo, insisted that African leaders should accept Mugabe’s poll victory.” “He was elected, he took an oath, and he is here with us, so he is president and we cannot ask him more.” In fact, not many African leaders, privately or publicly, is going to contradict Omar Bongo. They all know how they got into power: illegitimately! And they know they are like Mugabe, and in some cases, worse than the strongman of Harare.

Mugabe knows his colleagues and contemporaries. He understands their mindset and their worldview. He knows nothing will ever happen to him. Threats of expulsion are simply what they are: empty and meaningless threats. Even if the opposition had won, the sad and ironic part is that Mr. Morgan Tsvangirai would most likely have done to his people what Mugabe is now doing. The African continent has a long history of such men and situation — men who came to power shouting “human rights, democracy and development” but once in power, become monsters i.e. Yoweri Kaguta Museveni of Uganda who has been in power since 1986.

The African Union (AU) does not have the moral authority to condemn Mugabe. The union may want to believe otherwise, in reality, it does not have the clout to do and undo. It is safe to say that more than 90% of African Presidents have done — at one time or the other — what Mugabe did. So, in a way, they sympathize or at least understand what Mugabe did. Secondly, the AU does not have the political will to go beyond rhetoric. What can the AU do? What should it do? The body is mostly a collection of despots and western puppets. Thirdly, the AU does not have the military or economic power to effectively interfere in the internal affair of another country.

Except for two or three other countries, any African country that interfere (economically, politically or militarily) in the affairs of another African country, will most likely incur the wrath of its people and see its own internal cleavages expand and self-implode. This is so because virtually every African country has weak institutions and fragile foundations. And since virtually every African country is weak and fragile and is delinked from its people, on what basis will any country call for a “higher moral ground” in Zimbabwe? African governments are about the same: corrupt, inefficient, self-serving and morally bankrupt. Therefore, there will be no moral indignation vis-à-vis the events in Zimbabwe.

Asking the AU to do anything about Mugabe would be like asking a band of thieves to repent, forsake their ways and become saints. It is not going to happen in my life time. Symbolically, the AU could (1) Sternly and unambiguously condemn Mugabe; (2) Plead with him to respect the rule of law; (3) Ask for a revote or for a critical reformation of the electoral process; and (4) Advise Mugabe to co-opt the opposition into government and or to offer his main rival, Mr. Morgan Tsvangirai, one of the Vice Presidential positions. In order word, Mugabe should be advised to consider “unity government or government of national reconciliation.”

Beyond the aforesaid, the election and the swearing in of Robert Gabriel Mugabe is a foregone conclusion. In closing, if Mugabe is not assassinated, or if there is no military or palace coup against him, he will most likely die in office. Bob, as my Zimbabweans friends and colleagues like to call him, is here to stay for another one or two terms. African leaders come to power to steal and kill and mismanage, and if possible, to die in office. This sequence has been the history of contemporary African leadership. What’s the irony here? Simple: Mugabe just emboldened another African despot! And the people? They are on their knees…praying to God.

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