Al-Ahram Weekly Online   26 June - 2 July 2008
Issue No. 903
International
 
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

'Riding roughshod'

Tsvangirai pulls out of presidential ballot, Mugabe defies the world and Zimbabwe's political crisis fans out, writes Gamal Nkrumah

Click to view caption
Remnants of a poster showing Zimbabwe's opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai who withdrew from the run-off election

The world will never know for sure if the decision by Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) to pull out of tomorrow's presidential vote was a wise political move.

That bump aside, Tsvangirai is bound to bounce back into the fray of Zimbabwean politics in spite of the smear campaign that he is a "traitor", "sellout" and a stooge of Western powers. As Al-Ahram Weekly went to press, Tsvangirai sought refuge in the Dutch Embassy in Harare, the Zimbabwean capital. Was going into hiding in a Western embassy an action worthy of a bold and fearless statesman? "He is a cry baby. He has been free to move wherever he wanted to move," declared Zimbabwe's Ambassador to the United Nations Boniface Chidyausiku. Many Zimbabweans are not even aware that Tsvangirai has pulled out of Friday's poll. The state-controlled Zimbabwean media rarely mentions his name, let alone his whereabouts. However, there are many Zimbabweans who will interpret his seeking refuge in a Western embassy as a cowardly act. His detractors will not only view this as cowardice, but worse, it will only add to their suspicions that he is a Western stooge and a traitor.

Traditionally African leaders are supposed to be fearless warriors. Tsvangirai's shrinking away from his foes, no matter how malevolent they are, gives Mugabe mastery of the national political scene.

The whole notion of treason is as archaic and absolutist as l èse majesté. Not so in Zimbabwe, it seems. The country fought a long and bitter war of liberation, the celebrated Chimurenga, and Zimbabweans instinctively despise pusillanimity, especially in a presidential contender. No opposition politician in Africa would like to be in Tsvangirai's shoes. He is in an unenviable position. For fear of his life he sought refuge with a Western diplomatic mission. It is an act that might cost him dearly in political terms. It might well end his political career.

Tsvangirai faces a formidable foe. Everyone concedes that fair elections were impossible under the circumstances. Mugabe's henchmen terrorised MDC leaders and rank and file. But Zimbabwe cannot be singled out as the only country where desperate potentates resort to brutish force. Political violence is a fact of life in many an African country -- and in many Asian and Western hemisphere countries.

The terror tactics of the ruling Zimbabwean African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) have paid off. Mugabe, in defiance of international and regional pressure, is now almost certainly assured the presidency. After initially tolerating anti-ZANU-PF protests, the Zimbabwean government has used its state security apparatus to quell any sign of MDC defiance. Mugabe vowed that the vote would go ahead come what may.

That is simply not good enough. Zimbabweans deserve better. There is no place for thuggery in a self-assured, contemporary and democratic republic. There is little evidence that the latest outburst of nationalist fervour by Mugabe and his hangers-on has ignited popular anger towards the West and its media. More importantly for Zimbabweans, there could be no détente cordiale between the West and the man regarded as a Western lackey, Tsvangirai, and the fierce nationalist Mugabe.

"They can shout as loud as they like from Washington or from London or from any other quarter. Our people, our people, only our people will decide and nobody else, thundered a defiant Mugabe. With a clenched fist he punched the skies much to the delight of his jubilant supporters who danced wildly and chanted songs of praise. But, they were beating the war drums, too.

There are tougher challenges ahead. Millions of Zimbabweans have fled their country for economic reasons. The country's economy is in shambles, thanks in large measure to Western sanctions. Rampant inflation, high fuel costs and unemployment are crippling the economy and generating social unrest. There are an estimated three million Zimbabweans in neighbouring South Africa alone. And, that is why the opinion of South Africa matters.

South Africa's ruling African National Congress (ANC) was highly critical of Mugabe. In an unprecedented development, the ANC issued a statement warning of the grave consequences of Mugabe's "indifference to the flagrant violation of every principle of democratic governance."

The ANC warned that Mugabe was "riding roughshod" over "hard-won democratic rights" of Zimbabweans. ANC leader Jacob Zuma described the political situation in Zimbabwe as "out of control". The Southern African Development Community (SADC) of which Zimbabwe is a full-fledged member, is scheduled to convene an emergency summit on Zimbabwe's political crisis in Mbabane, the capital of Swaziland.

It is yet to be seen how SADC leaders will tackle the prickly Zimbabwean political conundrum. Even if SADC leaders permit Mugabe to have his way, their compromises cannot hide the jagged edges of Mugabe's absolute power.

Be that as it may, Mugabe's triumph brings into sharp focus the opportunity that has come his way. If, as most Zimbabwe watchers forecast, Mugabe wins a landslide victory, then he must demonstrate a measure of magnanimity. With a mandate of this magnitude there can be no excuse for frittering it away.

Nothing is pre-ordained. Mugabe is after all a mere mortal, no matter how much of a monster his enemies portray him to be. That should hold good in dark times even more than when the sun is shining.

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