Wednesday, March 14, 2007

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Nothing to do but scream?

Zimbabwe opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai has been diagnosed with a cracked skull from a government beating, according to his spokesman. According to the Washington Post's Craig Timberg, this might be the trigger that actually unifies Zimbabwe's opposition movement:

Two harrowing days in police custody have left Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai with serious physical injuries but also renewed standing as head of an anti-government movement that is showing more energy than it has in years....

"If they ever wanted to boost Morgan Tsvangirai's popularity, they've done it," said David Coltart, an opposition lawmaker who is not aligned with Tsvangirai, speaking from Helsinki, where he was observing an election. "Whether Morgan intended this or not, this thing has been thrust upon him, and probably emboldened him."

At the gathering Sunday, police shot dead one anti-government activist, rounded up 50 others and beat many of them severely, opposition officials said. Those arrested appeared in court together Tuesday, wearing casts, bandages and bloodied, dirty clothing, and won both access to their attorneys and the right to medical care at a Harare clinic, news reports said....

[Tsvangirai's] harsh treatment left many people concluding that Mugabe, attempting to maintain control after 27 years in power, regards Tsvangirai as his most serious threat....

Despite his personal popularity, Tsvangirai was not able to turn discontent into effective demonstrations after tainted elections in 2000, 2002 and 2005 or during a brutal slum-clearance campaign in 2005 that left 700,000 Zimbabweans without homes or jobs. His party split later that year, and he has struggled since to regain his stature.

Even with the party fractured, opposition to Mugabe's rule began rising again late last year as inflation topped 1,000 percent and persistent shortages of gas and food affected millions of Zimbabweans. Trade union activists and several civic groups, such as the National Constitutional Assembly and Women of Zimbabwe Arise, increasingly drove this new activism. The breakaway faction of the Movement for Democratic Change grew more aggressive, issuing a flier for Sunday's rally that declared, "It is defiance or death."

But the events of recent days have altered the chemistry of opposition politics again.

John Mw Makumbe, a political analyst at the University of Zimbabwe, said Mugabe had blundered badly in mistreating Tsvangirai. "He has really raised Morgan's profile beyond his wildest imagination," Makumbe said, speaking from Harare, the capital. "This time, Morgan is almost being viewed as the president."....

Attention now is focused on what Tsvangirai will do with his enhanced stature when, and if, he is freed from jail. "We'll wait to see if Morgan will really rise to the occasion when he's recovered," Makumbe said.

The problem is that a unified opposition will be insufficient for Mugabe's government to fall. The regime has repeatedly displayed a willingness to use its coercive apparatus to maintain power -- a unified opposition will have little effect on that apparatus so long as they are willing to kill.

There need to be members of the ZANU-PF government who are willing to turn their back on Mugabe -- and that will not happen until Zimbabwe's neighbors demonstrate a willingness to ostracize the country and its leadership.

So why don't they? Alec Russell has an excellent analysis of the regional situation in the Financial Times:

Just two days before Morgan Tsvangirai was arrested, the Zimbabwean opposition leader delivered a trenchant ultimatum to the region’s leaders over their policy of “quiet diplomacy” towards President Robert Mugabe.

“When your house is on fire you depend on your neighbours to put it out,” he said in answer to a question from the Financial Times when on a fleeting visit to Johannesburg. “We cannot afford to have a failed state.”

Mr Tsvangerai, who was arrested on Sunday and accused of holding an illegal political rally, should not, however, hold out his hopes for the regional “firemen” to come soon....

In South Africa politicians are deeply exercised by the prospect of a Zimbabwean implosion, despite the callous impression given by their lack of statements of concern.

“Countries are concerned,” said Dr Jackie Cilliers, head of Pretoria’s Institute for Security Studies. “They see and feel the effect [of the crisis]. But that doesn’t translate into let’s go and do something.

“The analysis is that power resides in Zanu-PF [Mr Mugabe’s ruling party] and that the MDC is not a realistic alternative.”....

South Africa’s relations with the US are strained; it has long disagreed with the EU over how to confront Mr Mugabe and Pretoria is wary of acting unilaterally and so fuelling SADC partners’ concerns that it is seeking regional hegemony.

The government is under fire from the opposition and sections of the media over the apparent failure of its “softly softly” policy. Officials respond that condemnation will only entrench Mr Mugabe in his defiance.

To those who argue for economic sanctions, and even a reduction of the electricity supply, they counter that such tactics would hurt ordinary people most.

With South Africa facing its own succession battle this year, as African National Congress heavyweights vie for the party leadership, it is unlikely to risk provoking a bruising debate on foreign policy by changing tack on Zimbabwe, analysts say.

Zambia has indicated it may be keen to take a more forthright stance when it becomes chairman of the SADC in August.

Last week its foreign minister, Mundia Sikatana, made headlines when he said: “We should not pretend that all is well in Zimbabwe.”

But Zimbabwe still has allies in SADC, in particular Namibia. And Mr Sikatana’s follow-up comment that “ostracising Zimbabwe will not help solve the problems there” may be more significant than his more prominently reported opening gambit.

Western diplomats accept that the only meaningful diplomatic pressure can come from Mr Mugabe’s peers in southern Africa, but they are not optimistic. “We have seen a move from defending him to silence,” said one diplomat. “We’d like to see a move to expressing concern for the situation. But that’s not the African way.”

Dr Cilliers said that the realpolitik assumption of the region was that “stability comes before democracy. If it is a question of principles, then stability comes first.” So what if Zimbabwe is in such turmoil that the argument of stability no longer applies? That is the nightmare scenario for South Africa but analysts, diplomats and officials agree that the only way it would intervene would be with the approval of the rest of SADC.

The probability of joint SADC action is low. This leads Fletcher student Drew Bennett to despair:
I was in Zimbabwe a little less than a year ago and saw first hand that the political and economic elite in Zimbabwe, though a miniscule cabal, managed their portfolios just fine in a surreal economy dominated by the black market. Clearly, there are ways around sanctions when the international community has abandoned you.

But I'm not sure what those of us outside of Zimbabwe can do other than scream. It's our duty to condemn human rights violations and support those being violated, but beyond that, we're resigned to waiting this thing out.

So, to review -- a unifiying opposition, but little effect on government power without regional action, which is highly unlikely.

Developing.... in a very uncertain way.

UPDATE: Reuters reports that Mugabe is now resorting to unusual epithets:

President Robert Mugabe on Thursday told Western countries to "go hang" after international outrage over charges his government assaulted the main opposition leader in police detention.

posted by Dan on 03.14.07 at 09:18 AM


Mbeki won't do anything because,

1. ANC/revolutionary identity/nostalgia with Mugabe,

2. South Africa is making a mint supplying Zimbabwe's food and energy, enhanced by the crisis.

The idea they fear seeming hegemonous (word?) is ridiculous, though that might be chaff they are feeding reporters.

Article doesn't mention the bigger crisis for Mugabe. Last week his own party, unprecedently, expressed opposition to extending his presidency to 2010 from 2008, or him running again for a six year presidency in 2008.

The especially brutal attack may well be a message to dissidents in his own party.

posted by: Karl on 03.14.07 at 09:18 AM [permalink]

What are the respectable exit options of Mr. Mugabe? None.
Time to come up with an exile solution - How about Shanghai or Beijing?

posted by: Aruna on 03.14.07 at 09:18 AM [permalink]

what those of us outside of Zimbabwe can do other than scream?

Well, I remember when it was still Rhodesia, the country's government was condemned and shamed in all international fori. There was a boycott and talk of an intervention force. It worked. Maybe the international community can talk to Mr Mugabe and make him realize the error of his ways and convince him to return power to Mr Smith.

posted by: jaim klein on 03.14.07 at 09:18 AM [permalink]

very sad.

posted by: vocab on 03.14.07 at 09:18 AM [permalink]

Even at his worst Ian Smith was nothing like this. As far as an exit strategy, Mad Bobby has been offered the opportunity to retire in honor to life with his teenage girlfriend, but has declined. There is no assurance that removal of Mugabe will improve the situation much. His cronies at ZANU-PF are just about as bad as the old monster himself. M'beki is reluctant to act against Zim in large part because he is facing determined popular protests demanding that Mugabe's expropriation policies be instituted in SA. To many of SA's poor, Mugabe is still a revolutionary hero.

posted by: D.B. Light on 03.14.07 at 09:18 AM [permalink]

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