01 July 2008

Time for leadership in Zimbabwe

Mugabe's time has passed and Tsvangarai's has not yet come. There's a stalemate in Zimbabwe and there is only one way to resolve it.

Even though Tsvangarai won the first vote and the "runoff" was always going to be a joke, the reality is that the MDC (the party opposing Mugabe) has been smashed. It cannot perform the role of a political party, namely tying the elite to the community and vice versa. Tsvangarai's appeal is that he has stood against Mugabe, and he may yet stay standing after the old man has fallen. It's hard to know what else he stands for, really. He says all the right things - but then so did Milton Obote, long thought to be wronged victim of Idi Amin but actually had more in common with him than anyone dared imagine. Tsvangarai can no more save Zimbabwe single-handedly than did Mugabe wreck it single-handedly.

It's pantomime politics to say that Mugabe alone is to blame for everything that goes wrong in Zimbabwe, the flipside of the equally silly claim that he's that country's savior. Clearly, he has a trusted group below him, and they them, down the line to most areas of Zimbabwean life. The people within the army/etc. have seen Mugabe decline and have witnessed things getting steadily worse. The fact that their economy is the world's worst cannot have escaped these people. Tsvangarai's criticisms had to have struck a chord with even the most diehard Zanu-PF loyalist. And yet, even now, they line up behind an ageing despot whose mental state deteriorates with his body. The condemnation of Tutu and Madiba mean more than the quiet support of the irrelevant Mbeki. They have to know the status quo can't last. They might be committing foulest, most evil acts, or at least condoning them - but they are not stupid. They're as smart as any national elite anywhere.

The one thing that works in Zimbabwe is the army/police force/Zanu-PF. It's well organised and can run everything from synchronised thuggery to a post-inaugural garden party. It has the esteem of old anti-colonial warriors like Thabo Mbeki. The people of Zimbabwe cower before it and everyone in that country who wants to get ahead in life has to come to terms with it. Let us recognise the sheer force of this entity (it's probably too shambolic to call it an organisation), and turn it to good instead of evil.

Somewhere in Harare tonight, there has to be someone who has known Mugabe for decades and who has done well out of him - someone who can approach Mugabe without being frisked. There is someone who can command loyalty in Mugabe's name, yet who might be capable of doing so in his own right. That person might submit to being the power behind Tsvangarai, he might assume power in his own right, or he might opt for some third party to be nominal leader. Whatever might happen, it's undeniable that this person must step forward now. That person must decouple the machine from the broken-down figure at its head and bring it with him across to the new Zimbabwe. Today is the first of July 2008 - by the end of this month we must be able to speak of Mugabe as we speak of Ian Smith, a figure from history.

A post-Mugabe Zimbabwe would face the temptation of anarchy, for the thugs with billy-clubs to get what's coming to them. With proper leadership it will face this down. A post-Mugabe Zimbabwe would face manipulation by foreign forces, like Iraq. With proper leadership it will assert its national interests and allow its civil society to rebuild sufficiently to provide for itself once more. A post-Mugabe Zimbabwe would face shrill righteous cries for persecution, if not dismantling, of the army/police/Zanu thing. With proper leadership it will sort the wheat from the chaff.

That "proper leadership" is nowhere evident except in the very longevity and pervasiveness of the army/police/Zanu thing. It is under enormous pressure, and it's possible that the country's entire elite will crack up individually and fragment into numerous warring factions, All Against All as Hobbes put it. It's easy to be a pessimist. It's hard to imagine that people seriously believe that liberation means fighting with Mugabe rather than against him, but Zimbabwe's ruling elite not only believe it but have lived it. To ask them to believe the reverse is to ask proud and powerful people to break the habits of a lifetime. What's hard is to get a weapon and conceal it, to stand up and approach to an old comrade who embodies your country, whom you've long known and admired and who's treated you well - and to dispatch him like every other expendable running-dog in Zimbabwe's long struggle. Every other option simply will not do - not chanting another pro-Mugabe slogan to the empty-bellied fearful, not waiting for British paratroopers to fall from the sky, not hiding out at an embassy. Now is the time to act and there's only one thing to do.

The mechanism that made Mugabe possible must transfer its loyalties without falling apart. In this scenario war criminals will go unpunished and may even prosper, but it may be that Zimbabweans will pay that price. This is a Faustian bargain, and it's a poor situation where it and extinction are the only choices - but neither Mugabe nor Tsvangarai can provide the leadership necessary to give that country any hope. That leadership has to come from within the existing elite, it should surely be available, and the time for that leadership is now.

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