Home Essays & Reviews Political Conflict Zimbabwe Crisis 2008: Tragic Failure of Leadership

Political Conflict

Zimbabwe Crisis 2008: Tragic Failure of Leadership

By Crisford Chogugudza

When Mandela said at his 90th birthday in London that the Zimbabwe crisis was a result of tragic failure of leadership, many hastily concluded that he meant the failure of Mugabe’s leadership, which was true to a point. Mandela’s words had wider implications on both the Zimbabwean leadership and International leadership. Cognisant of the fact that Mandela was literally ‘coerced’ by the BBC to comment on Zimbabwe, as indeed has happened to most African leaders visiting the UK today, he did not give further details about what he exactly meant by ‘tragic failure of leadership’. Those who know Mandela well will confess that he is a leader of rare intellectual qualities, who uses metaphors as a way of expressing his opinions. His messages resonate well with sensible people, the oppressed and disenfranchised.

This writer looks at Mandela’s famous statement from a multi-dimensional thus; Local level, SADC/AU level and wider International level. At local level, Mugabe and his Zanu PF are largely blamed for the current political and economic malaise. Analysts say Mugabe has tragically failed to judge the winds of political change in Africa. His 30 years of one man rule has been disastrous and retrogressive, especially in the later years for a country that boosts of Africa’s highest adult literacy rate at 90,7 %. He has adamantly remained stuck in the old rapidly fading Anti-Colonialist rhetoric and Pan-Africanistic dogma. He failed to manage his succession politics; and is now surrounded by a bunch of people he does not really trust. Those who could have succeeded him have either died or are in a politically vegetative state. Some say he is afraid of the ‘Mwanawasa Syndrome’ if he chooses an untrusted cadre as successor and possible indictment by the ICJ in Hague for crimes against humanity.

Most of the dead wood and expired intellectuals (Drs) surrounding Mugabe are as irrelevant as the man himself, and will only help to perpetuate his unpopular rule since they are also benefactors. Some say Mugabe has failed to distinguish between ‘personal and country’ hence his failure to come to terms with the fact that there are other people capable of leading Zimbabwe. His self styled ‘Zimbabwe is mine slogan’ is a typical example of a moribund regime clinging to the remnants of its once glorious past. Mugabe appears not convinced that Morgan Tsvangirai has what it takes to lead Zimbabwe and extricate it from the current economic mess. He accuses Morgan of being a puppet of the Anglo-American interests, who has no liberation credentials and therefore, not qualified to lead Zimbabwe. However, the same can be said of Mr Mugabe himself in 1980, he was a guerrilla leader and ex-detainee, a novice in leadership but did his best in the early years of independence before things went pear-shaped. Sceptics still believe that he was the wrong man for the country’s top job as heroes do not always make good leaders.

Tsvangirai can also make a ‘good’ leader if people give him the mandate to rule like they did on March 29, 2008 but there is no guarantee. He can learn on the job and if he falters the same people can recall him as happened to Mr Thabo Mbeki recently. There is overwhelming public consensus that the old man’s time is past his time and should retire as did most of his contemporaries. He has lost touch with the new wave of democratisation and good governance in Africa. The truth is Mugabe may be courageous and outspoken but his rhetorical war against the west is un-winnable.

The AU and SADC can also be equally accused of tragic leadership failure on Zimbabwe. They have not done enough either to persuade or pressurise Mugabe to relinquish power voluntarily. The March 29 election would have been the most opportune time to ask Mugabe to retire. The drift and lack of cohesiveness of the continental leadership allowed Mugabe to regain strength and reverse an almost untenable position. The lack of judgement, assertiveness and poor diplomatic skills by the MDC also helped Mugabe to recuperate in a situation where even the army were beginning to show signs of weakness.

Former South African president, Thabo Mbeki, the man with the most political and economic leverage on Zimbabwe could have done more to persuade Mugabe to relinquish power or to negotiate genuine power sharing. It remains to be seen whether Jacob Zuma, will be able to finally force Mugabe to seek a peaceful exit from power. Mugabe’s ouster may not go down well with half of the African leaders whose leadership is also premised on controversial or heavily contested mandates. Issues of legitimacy or lack of it, appear to affect any coherence or sanity in decision making amongst African leaders when it comes to addressing Zimbabwe. However, the AU/SADC can still do more to help bring change to Zimbabwe, by trading Mugabe’s political legitimacy with flexibility to share power with Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC. Tsvangirai on one hand should learn to work with African leaders at their level of political functionability if he wants power. He should also learn to engage with African leaders effectively without condensation since ‘as future president of Zimbabwe’, he will need them more to address the country’s many problems. Tsvangirai’s experience in shuttle diplomacy in Africa should give him more insight as to who has more leverage on Zimbabwe. There is nothing as insulting to African leaders than implying to them that they are inferior and less important than those in Washington, London or Brussels.

The international community has failed Zimbabwe politically and economically. Few years ago during the notorious Operation Restore Hope ‘Murambatsvina’, Kofi Annan let Zimbabweans down. People lost their homes and expected the UN to help them but all they got was a fact finding mission report by Mrs Tibajuka and a series of condemnations, nothing more. Ironically, the same Kofi Annan comes to Zimbabwe a few years later as one of the so called ‘elders’ trying to put pressure on Mugabe, but eventually failing to gain access into Zimbabwe, another tragic failure. If these elders discovered that the Zimbabwean situation was worse than they expected, what have they done to solve the Cholera epidemic. Strangely, what we hear from these ‘weird elders’ is another foreign military invasion of Zimbabwe. It is a pity that Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Bishop Sentamu, who should be leading reconciliation efforts in Zimbabwe, are using extremely belligerent language of war. Military invasion will create a power vacuum and a new wave of problems in Zimbabwe. This ludicrous idea will bring more suffering to Zimbabweans. It appears Iraq does not exist in their minds at all, their fascination with aging Mugabe’s ouster by military means is more important than the effects of the war to the ordinary people.  Zimbabweans expect words of wisdom and hope from the clergy not war, what a shame on these ‘two men of God’.

The western intervention strategies on Zimbabwe are divided by issues like colonial egos, over personalisation of the whole issue, covet economic interests and confused diplomacy. The UK and US for instance, have made their case against Zimbabwe weaker by their lack of universality in applying foreign policy to Africa. Situations like this have played into Mugabe’s defence. The issue of characterising African dictators into ‘good and bad’ will always tarnish western image in Africa thereby reducing their influence.

There are other ways on putting pressure on Mugabe than the use of economic sanctions and threat of military intervention. Sanctions have catastrophically affected ordinary people in Zimbabwe. The west has failed to distinguish between the people of Zimbabwe from the Mugabe regime and this has resulted in collective punishment for all. People are dying of Cholera whilst the world is watching; the west is more interested in removing Mugabe than addressing the imminent humanitarian situation. Mugabe’s No Cholera rhetoric in Zimbabwe comments should be ignored and emphasis should be put on how to stop more people dying.

The MDC alone cannot bring about change without the support of the international community. However, any change that is brought about through military force is not worth pursuing as it creates fertile ground for future political and civil unrest. This may also cause untold suffering of gigantic proportions as has happened in Iraq, Somalia and other troubled spots where military solutions have failed to bring about the desired political change that people want. 2008 will be remembered as a disastrous year politicians in Zimbabwe who failed to provide leadership thank works. They signed an agreement for a unity government which is stillborn and thus, created a false sense of optimism that has evaporated leaving the people more desperate than ever for a leadership that works. The leadership in Zimbabwe has become functionally irrelevant, inherently corrupt, grossly insensitive and ideologically bankrupt, irrespective of whose interests they represent.

Crisford Chogugudza is AfricaResource Political Columnist.

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Home Essays & Reviews Political Conflict Zimbabwe Crisis 2008: Tragic Failure of Leadership