Diplomacy: Can’t we just talk about it? by underground

Death of a nation – Part Three: Diplomacy: Can’t we just talk about it?

Behind the scenes, whilst condemnations are conveyed, grand speeches made and newspaper columns are scribed, negotiations are taking place to try find a solution to the Zimbabwe problem. The international community, led mainly by Britain and the commonwealth, Europe and the United States, are attempting to pressure Mugabe’s regime into submission, and criticised China and Russia for not supporting moves against Mugabe. Within Africa, Botswana, Kenya and Zambia have been the most vocal against Mugabe, and are eager to get other African countries to oppose the regime more openly. The African Union, and in particular South Africa, are trying to negotiate with Mugabe and mediate between the two parties. These talks have not been without their critics. South Africa has been at the thick of both the diplomacy, and the criticism.

A few months back (when I started what was meant to be a small post on Zimbabwe’s elections in March!), there was a lot of criticism of South Africa’s Thabo Mbeki and elder statesman Nelsen Mandela for their lack of action against Mugabe. In what was perhaps the first article I had read which had anything nice to say about South Africa’s prime minister, the Herald’s Andrew Austin says we should not give up on his “quiet diplomacy”. Recognising the difficult situation Mbeki is in, Austin believes his tactics may pay dividends in the end. He argues Mbeki’s position as the assigned mediator between Mugabe and Tsvangirai is much more complex than most people first think, and does not believe accusations of inaction are fair. Mbeki does not have the respect of Mandela, and Mugabe will not like to be told what to do by a man who is far younger than him. Austin says those who know Mbeki claim he is “a skilled operator who can bring resolution to the most difficult situation”. Austin says people should not be surprised if something positive results from Mbeki’s mediation. He concludes:

Mugabe is a bitter old man who wants to leave with his dignity intact and Mbeki might just be the one to allow this to happen.

Mbeki knows that to reach the settlement you want, you need to be open to compromise. The popular feeling is that the world should not negotiate with a monster like Mugabe. Well, what is the alternative? The United Nations is unlikely to send armed forces in to overthrow Mugabe.

The situation has gone beyond punishing Mugabe for his wrongdoing.

It is now all about saving Zimbabwe. Hindsight may well prove that Mbeki’s way was the best way to achieve this.”

Perhaps Austin belief in Mbeki is not misplaced, as the MDC and Zanu-PF have engaged in talks, which is at least a start. However, there appear to be far too many obstacles in the way. Mugabe has asserted the precondition that no agreements can be made without the MDC accepting the validity of Mugabe’s success in the presidential election, which he won uncontested. This is surely unlikely to happen. Tsvangirai has also said that he is not going to enter into negotiations with Mugabe until the violence ceases and is frustrated with the mediation efforts led by Mbeki. He has even accused Mbeki of being biased towards Mugabe. Also, how much can Tsvangirai forgive, and how much power can Mugabe allow to slip from his grasp, in order for negotiations to be fruitful?

Austin is not the only one who argues the international community needs to be more patient with Mbeki’s quiet diplomacy, and African diplomatic efforts in general. South Africa’s Mail and Guardian has understandably covered the story extensively and the paper’s Binyavanga Wainaina says the international community’s rhetoric and sabre rattling has only encouraged Mugabe and given him justification for the claims that the world wants to interfer. Mugabe is considered by many Africans to be an anti-colonial hero, and pressure from the West reinforces this image of him. Wainaina believes Mugabe’s time is at an end, and he knows it:

“…the truth is that Mugabe’s regime is on its last legs. The hysteria of his actions now, the escalating political violence and the general incoherence of things are more about his sticky end than any sort of meaningful triumph. He knows this and wants to go down grandly. We may not see the vengeance we want.”

I can’t help but think this is a little too optimistic. As the regime gets weaker, it will get more desperate. I think we are seeing the results of the increased desperation through increased violence. I fear that if he were to stand down, he would hand over the reins to one of his associates, who would perhaps employ the same tactics against the population, before ever conceding power to Tsvangirai.

My idea of a successful resolution through diplomacy involves Mugabe standing down, gracefully, and a South Africa style resolution taking place (truth and reconciliation for example) before new free and fair elections. However, as Austin says, compromises may have to be made, and lives of Zimbabweans must be placed before all other matters. For this reason African leaders are considering a power sharing arrangement, with Tsvangirai as prime minister, in charge of the nation’s affairs, with Mugabe in a largely ceremonial role as president, with immunity from future prosecution.

The Mail and Guardian‘s Jason Moyo, Percy Zvomuya and Edith Kaseke argue without dialogue between the MDC and Zanu-PF neither party can govern effectively, as the MDC have a slight majority in parliament. However there are large problems with the idea of a unity government, as there are conflicts of interests involved and large policy differences between the two parties, particularly on foreign affairs and security.

Critics of the proposed government of national unity question whether an opposition minister can be put in charge of the police or army, whose commanders have declared their allegiance to Mugabe and Zanu-PF.

How would those who have spied or tortured Tsvangirai and his politicians go about working for these men in the future? Tsvangirai is concerned, after all, that the military appears to have effectively taken control of the country, and that Mugabe is now a “figure head” anyway. And Tsvangirai is not keen to enter into a unity government with Zanu-PF unless he himself is recognised as winner of the presidential election. So beyond the problem of actually getting both parties to talk, it is going to be incredibly difficult for them to come to any agreements about the future. Mbeki and his African partners have their hands full.

In the end, diplomacy remains the preferable option. As much as I don’t like the idea of a despot getting off without punishment, if the power sharing arrangement is the most effective way to help those suffering in Zimbabwe, it is probably the ideal option. Perhaps with a unity government in place Zimbabwe can move back towards stability and democracy, although I am not altogether sure.

Part Four: Sanctions: Can we starve this disease?


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[…] Diplomacy: Can’t we just talk about it? […]

Pingback by Democracy: Is there promise in the polls? « Undergroundnetwork

[…] the challenges to democracy (Democracy: Is there promise in the polls?), the chances of diplomacy (Diplomacy: Can’t we just talk about it?), the option of sanctions (Sanctions: Can we starve this disease?), and the last resort (Invasion: […]

Pingback by Zimbabwe: Death of a nation « Undergroundnetwork

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