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Sat. March 02, 2024
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Last Ditch in Zimbabwe
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By Jens F. Laurson & George A. Pieler Talk(s) may be cheap, but it’s all Zimbabwe has going for it right now. Representatives of Zimbabwe’s Dear Leader, Robert Mugabe, and opposition politician Morgan Tsvangirai, are trying to hash out either a transitional- or power-sharing arrangement to move the country ahead. Presiding over the dealmaking is South Africa’s erstwhile regional power-broker, Thabo Mbeki. What other options are there? Anglo-American efforts to stiffen UN sanctions were blocked by China's morality-free pragmatism, Russia's habitual antagonism, and South Africa's shameful cowardice. The sanctions, also blocked by our friends in Libya and Vietnam, would have barred Zimbabwe from receiving weapon shipments, frozen Robert Mugabe's foreign assets, and restricted his travel. The vetoes and no-votes raise troubling questions, most of all regarding Russia and South Africa. The former reveals the two-faced post-Putin regime of Dimitry Medvedev, who told US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad at the G-8 summit that Russia could support sanctions. That, it turns out, was just another pleasant, ambiguously pro-Western gesture, easily tossed aside in favor of petty power politics when decision time came along. South Africa’s Mbeki meanwhile is hardly an honest broker. He is an unreformed supporter of Mugabe, despite his own country’s overflow of troubles from the acute humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe. For him to manage negotiations between Zanu-PF and Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) seems – exaggeration, perhaps – like asking George W. Bush to negotiate between John McCain and Barack Obama. These transition-talks already descended into disputes over hotel-room-perks and how insulting an offer to make to Mr. Tsvangirai. Bottom line, unless the military is separated somehow from the Mugabean status quo, there is really no power to be shared It’s a 60’s flashback in all too many ways. A Marxist/leftist regime feigning solidarity with the ‘legitimate aspirations’ of the African peoples, set against the fading Western ‘colonial oppressors’. It is as if the UK had not opposed the (white) unilateralists in the former Rhodesia, or the US had not (along with many multinationals doing business in South Africa) seen the light and helped nudge apartheid off the world stage. Neither East nor West, nor Africa most of all, needs a revival of the cold war by proxy that marked Africa’s postcolonial rebirth, and held it back by a generation, or more. Now the popular maxim is to let Africans come up with indigenous solutions for Africans. Indeed that would be nice, but Zimbabwe has shown no signs in the past decade of being amenable to local resolution of its deep rooted problems. Southern Africa in any case is a showcase of everything bad and good about the West’s role in Africa (ineptitude dealing with apartheid, naïveté dealing with the collapse or Rhodesia on the former count, getting democratic habits and institutions rooted in African soil on the latter). Now, the Western model of freedom and representative government has failed in Zimbabwe (and will fail to return, lest regime change occurs), and hangs by a thread at times in South Africa. The Zimbabwe crisis is not the only African crisis, but it is the world’s crisis. This is well known to Russia and China, who shamelessly exploit it for short term (and very minor) geopolitical advantage. It is known too in South Africa, which wants the exclusive right to choose which foreign interests it will obey, all the while pretending to be ‘in charge’ of the situation. Morgan Tsvangirai may be the supreme optimist, suggesting the MDC-ZANU talks should bring a ‘soft’ exit for Mugabe. To give that hope any chance, the world must call Mugabe’s bluff: demand his exit, whether with a soft or hard landing. Meanwhile the world’s indecisiveness about Zimbabwe again exposes the UN as a very soft power indeed, talking big and carrying the smallest of all sticks. Jens F. Laurson is Editor-in-Chief of the International Affairs Forum. George A. Pieler is Senior Fellow with the Institute for Policy Innovation.

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