American academic trashes Dell’s report- says it was only meant to flatter his way up the diplomatic ladder


An American academic has described the cables by former United States ambassador to Zimbabwe Christopher Dell which were recently released by Wikileaks as “cliché-ridden prose, dripping with patriotic commitment” but with very little insight into actual operations of American diplomacy in Zimbabwe, except promoting Dell’s own diplomatic career.

Michael Busch, who teaches international relations at the City College of New York, says Dell took a simplistic view about Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s demise and even painted the Zimbabwean leader as if he was “pitching the super villain in a Hollywood script”.

Dell was posted to Afghanistan after his Harare tour and is now ambassador to Kosovo. His cables written in July 2007 just before his departure from Zimbabwe were released by Wikileaks on Sunday. He described Mugabe as being “more clever and more ruthless than any other politician in Zimbabwe”. He also described him as a “brilliant tactician” who had thrived on his ability to change the rules of the game but was now facing a backlash because of his ego and belief in his own infallibility.

He described the opposition as very weak- “far from ideal”- saying if the United States had had a better partner, it would have achieved better results. “But you have to play the hand you’re dealt”. He said if the opposition came to power it would require “massive hand holding and assistance”.

Dell described Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai as a brave, committed man but also a flawed figure with questionable judgment in selecting those around him. He described Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara as young and ambitious but a political lightweight. He was harsher on Mutambara’s number two, Welshman Ncube whom he described as a deeply divisive player, adding “the sooner he is pushed off the stage, the better”.

In his critique of Dell’s cable in an article for Focal Points, Busch says “it seems Dell’s description (of Mugabe) could have equally applied as much to then-president Bush as to Robert Mugabe. Nevertheless, Dell argues that like all action movie scoundrels, Mugabe suffers from several Achilles’ heels which will ultimately prove to be his undoing.”

“Dell also ignores the fact that the president is hardly alone in believing himself untouchable. Apparently the ambassador is not familiar with power of a healthy cult of personality. More interesting still is Dell’s seeming blindness to the powerful residue of Mugabe’s past glories. He seems to take Mugabe’s self-regard as important to the president alone, when in fact history still impacts the decision-making of foreign leaders—especially in the Global South—well-aware of his position as a liberation hero of the decolonization period.”

To make matters worse Dell’s assertions of Mugabe’s imminent demise have proven to be flat-out wrong. But he did a good job of protecting his predictions against the possibility of failure by blaming the US allies on the ground in Zimbabwe- the opposition.

Busch says Dell clearly has other things on his mind, promoting his own career. He says this is contained in a telling closing paragraph, where he indignantly remarks that “the official media has had a field day recently whooping that “Dell leaves Zimbabwe a failed man”. That’s not quite how it looks from here. I believe that the firm U.S. stance, the willingness to speak out and stand up, have contributed to the accelerating pace of change. Mugabe and his henchman are like bullies everywhere: if they can intimidate you they will. But they’re not used to someone standing up to them and fighting back. It catches them off guard and that’s when they make mistakes.”

Busch said what Dell mean was that “Mugabe and his thugs weren’t prepared for the likes of Christopher Dell. Nor will they withstand the mighty powers of the United States, even as it stands alone while everyone wimps out”.

And his gamble paid off. Dell was immediately posted to Afghanistan following his assignment in Harare, and was later appointed to his current position as Ambassador to Kosovo.

Wikileaks has so far released a single document on Zimbabwe but it says it has a total of 3 726.  It is not clear whether any will be more damaging but critiques have said the documents released by Wikileaks are not revealing any startling secrets. They are merely confirming reports or stories that have already been written.


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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.


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