Thursday, 5 April 2007

Zimbabwe: false dawns and ways forward

BBC Studios
London SW1

Dear Confidentialers,

Another day, another interview on Zimbabwe. The BBC's excellent Sheena McDonald is quizzing four of us - two journalists and two opposition activists - about what happens next. President Mugabe's regime isn't about to collapse nor are the military about to mount a putsch, we agreed. So is Zimbabwe at the tipping point?

Perhaps at the start of a tipping point, volunteered Christina Lamb, the Sunday Times journalist who has written a series of undercover reports from Zimbabwe.

The horrendous economic decline in Zimbabwe over the past decade presents a paradox: the general impoverishment has weakened the opposition and the people's will to resist with many of the most qualified people going into exile. Zimbabwe's economy has now shrunk more than those of countries where open civil war has raged - such as Afghanistan, Bosnia, Liberia and Mozambique.

At the same time, the party barons at the top of the ZANU-PF hierarchy are beginning to see their assets threatened. They know that without political change at home, the international economic isolation won't end. Some of their overseas assets have been frozen. For example, the British government has frozen £1 million in an account in a bank in south London in the name of former spymaster and presidential hopeful Emmerson Mnangagwa. It would be interesting to hear Mnangagwa's explanation of how he got the million pounds in the first place.

It's been a rough week for the opposition. First there was the disappointing meeting for the Southern African leaders in Dar-es-Salaam and then the news that ZANU-PF has 'unanimously' backed President Robert Mugabe's nomination as presidential candidate in national elections next March.

None of the possibilities look good back in Zimbabwe. The trades unions' strike call won little support this week. Few people wanted to lose two days of precious pay or, worse still, their jobs. President Mugabe was unfazed: he jetted off to Malaysia to meet his wife Grace in the midst of the strike. His security services were on alert for protest marches in the major towns but had a quieter week than they expected.

After the false dawns of political change, it's more important than ever to look at ways forward to stem the economic and social decline and reopen political dialogue. Everything tried so far has failed but there is a sliver of a chance that could be pulled out of last week's talks among the Southern African leaders in Dar.

They appointed South Africa's Thabo Mbeki to look at mediation between the Mugabe government and the opposition parties. Perhaps South Africa, which has more interests than any other outsider, can nudge Zimbabwe towards a serious meeting of all the parties - the opposition groupings, civic activists and trades unions, the churches, and ZANU-PF - which would resemble the end-of-apartheid negotiations in South Africa in the early 1990s.

The carrot would be a recovery programme to address the health and education crises in the country, backed by the African Development Bank, the World Bank and IMF, the European Union and China and other international agencies. The trigger would be agreement on broad constitutional reform and the holding of credible elections, as well as the Harare government's agreement to take to shackles off the country's brave journalists. Mmm pie in the sky? Perhaps, the worsening crisis needs much more imaginative thinking.

Two Zimbabwean analysts have sketched out just such a programme of reform and resuscitation for the country in the current Africa Confidential. They want the discussions and the planning for change in Zimbabwe to begin now, and believe that such a forum would drive political change much faster. That's in our analysis section. No surprise that Zimbabwe also takes up the cover story this week. We point out that despite the lack of public finger-pointing, Southern African politicians are getting more openly critical of the Zimbabwe regime and the damage its doing to the region.

We also look at the latest twists in the Brett Kebble saga in South Africa and the beneficiaries of his demise. Then to Nairobi for a guided tour of the divided opposition parties who are trying to pull together to trounce President Mwai Kibaki in December's elections. Next door in Uganda, we report on the ruling party's political heavy-handedness despite its efforts to use this year's Commonwealth summit in Kampala to build a better image for the country.

There are also a couple of reports on Angola which this week celebrates five years of peace after the death of rebel leader Jonas Savimbi. Yes, the economic growth has been stratospheric - thanks to the country's galloping oil production. Sadly political developments have not kept track; so the government's authoritarianism and lack of accountability prevent the economic benefits being spread more widely. Nonetheless, Angola is one of Africa's fastest growing powers and one which Africa Confidential will be covering in increasing detail in the run-up to elections due in 2009.

To get the full details on these and other key stories, subscribe to Africa Confidential today - visit

Yours confidentially

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