Attention must be paid

Samantha Power, author of a Pulitzer-prize winning book on genocide, had to quit as a foreign policy adviser to Senator Barack Obama last March after calling Senator Hillary Clinton a “monster”. Now she would like President Thabo Mbeki to be equally forthright, and self-defeating, about Robert Mugabe.

Her column in this week’s Time magazine deals with Zimbabwe and what is to be done about it. She calls for a show of hands at the UN on which of Zimbabwe’s two elections so far this year should count: March 29 or June 27. That way, she says, the friends of Mugabe will be exposed.

Then what? As in so many such analyses the question is left unanswered.  But of one thing Power is certain. Mugabe’s friends include Mbeki, of whom she says simply:  “Mbeki is not a mediator; he is an ally to a dictator.”

This is the assertion of someone who has not paid enough attention.  As the MDC itself admitted, Mugabe lost the March 29 election thanks to election procedures Mbeki pushed ZANU to accept.  Having lost, Mugabe was about to stand down, but for a de facto coup by his securocrats.

Speaking at the SA High Commission in London on April 6, Mbeki described the problem as he then saw it. He drew an analogy with the negotiations in Uganda to bring an end to the savage, mindless insurgency of Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army.

“To some degree what is happening in Zimbabwe is symptomatic of what is happening on the continent: in Uganda the government and the LRA have largely resolved their differences and are awaiting signing an agreement. The ICC (International Criminal Court) has warrants against some of the (LRA) leaders but the Ugandans are saying to achieve reconciliation it would be better to go the route of traditional justice, not the ICC. Here is a matter that is out there.”

He continued: “Whatever else, there is some spirit abroad on the African continent that says let’s take our destiny in our own hands and end dictatorships and all of those things.”

Parse those statements. Mbeki is indicating, first (but as always deniably), that he believes that Mugabe and his cronies have committed serious, Kony-esque, crimes. Second, he accepts that the criminals, like Kony, need some assurance that they will not be hauled before international tribunals if they are to give up the fight. Third, he defines the objective as ending “dictatorship”.  Hardly the sentiments of an approving ally.

Fast forward to New York in May and a press conference Mbeki gives after chairing the Security Council. He is asked if he can be “objective about Mugabe given his status as a freedom fighter”.  He replies:

“I think that…people might credit us with the capacity to think. I know as much as you do, that when something is wrong, it is wrong. The fact that I came from the liberation struggle doesn’t mean I can’t recognize a wrong thing… We are perfectly capable of recognizing something that is wrong. There are many things wrong with the politics of Zimbabwe, otherwise why go mediate something that is right?”

No glowing endorsement there of a comrade-in-struggle, yet reporter Joe Lauria, writing in his Huffington Post blog, used those exact words as proof that Mbeki was sheltering a fellow freedom fighter. Such is the brain-numbing power of an idée fixe.

It is fair to say that Mbeki has never believed the MDC could assume the reins of power as smoothly as, say, Obama’s Democrats will if they beat the Republicans in November. The post-March 29 putsch proved the point.  Some kind of transitional unity government was always going to be needed. Acknowledging that does not automatically imply bias towards ZANU, only a recognition that ZANU, the state for 28 years, was never going to relinquish its dictatorship easily.

As for Power’s call for a show of hands, perhaps she missed the AU communiqué last week. By insisting that ZANU negotiate with the MDC, Africa told Mugabe the status quo could not stand – that the June 27 election was not legitimate. He left in a huff. That’s progress. Mbeki deserves credit for it.

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