United States ambassador to Zimbabwe Christopher Dell told former Finance Minister Simba Makoni that though President Robert Mugabe’s successor was not likely to be wedded to the past or to Mugabe’s ideology and rhetoric, it was not a given that the successor would be acceptable to the West.
Dell said State Security Minister Didymus Mutasa, for example, would not be seen as credible reformer and there would even be doubts about Joice Mujuru.
It was important that the senior leaders in the government understood that the West would hold them accountable for their actions. It was equally important to find a way for quiet dialogue about the post-Mugabe system if a chaotic, possibly bloody, transition were to be avoided.
Makoni lamented that most of ZANU’s leaders were too fearful to engage in any such process.
Viewing cable 05HARARE1716, AMBASSADOR AND ZANU-PF INSIDER SIMBA MAKONI
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
201550Z Dec 05
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 HARARE 001716
AF/S FOR BRUCE NEULING
NSC FOR SENIOR AFRICA DIRECTOR C.COURVILLE,
AFR/SA FOR E. LOKEN
E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/20/2015
SUBJECT: AMBASSADOR AND ZANU-PF INSIDER SIMBA MAKONI
DISCUSS COMING TRANSITION, ACCOUNTABILITY AND ZIMBABWE’S
Classified By: AMBASSADOR CHRISTOPHER DELL, REASONS 1.4 (b) (d)
¶1. (C) In a December 20 meeting with the Ambassador, ZANU-PF
Politburo member and former Finance Minister Simba Makoni
said ZANU-PF had finally acknowledged economic &problems8
but would not be able to change its disastrous economic
policies without a change in leadership. The earliest that
could come would be 2008, but 2010 was a better bet when both
presidential and parliamentary elections could be held. In
the interval, the economy would continue its freefall.
Makoni acknowledged that many in the ZANU-PF leadership were
looking past Mugabe and planning and preparing for the
post-Mugabe future. The Ambassador noted that international
reengagement was the only hope of reviving Zimbabwe,s
economy and that potential successors would be held
accountable for their actions and others would be well
advised to begin reaching out to the West now. End Summary.
Economic Problems Take Center Stage ) Even Within ZANU-PF
¶2. (C) Makoni said he had been out of the country and had not
attended last week,s ZANU-PF party conference but agreed
with the Ambassador that economics had played a greater role
than in the past. (N.B. ZANU-PF has conferences each year
and congresses, where leadership questions are settled, every
five years.) Still, Makoni,s impression of the conference
was that little had happened beyond the conferences most
public moments, most of which, such as the ballyhooed
declaration that Zimbabwe should accept no further UN envoys
without proper vetting, were empty rhetoric. However, there
had been one change of significance, President Mugabe,s
admission that the country had economic &problems,8 a term
he had avoided in the past.
¶3. (C) In fact, Makoni said Mugabe had identified eight
problems, all connected with the agricultural sector, and had
blamed the &government8 for these problems, conveniently
ignoring the fact that he was the head of the government.
However, the President had identified no solutions. In fact,
Makoni said the ruling party was bereft of solutions. It was
not that the GOZ did not know what to do. There were still
many bright and capable people in the country and in the
government. The problem was that nothing could be done as
long as President Mugabe remained in power.
¶4. (C) In the meantime, the economy would continue to
deteriorate with inflation likely to hit 700 percent
according to official figures by year,s end and a 1200
percent by more reliable private assessments. Moreover, the
harvest was likely to be a disaster again next year, and
Makoni speculated that Mugabe was preparing the public for
the bad news by acknowledging problems now. The Ambassador
asked how much longer this could go on before the resources
the state used to sustain itself dried up. Makoni
acknowledged that the ruling party,s patronage system was
becoming ever more &concentrated8 but contended that as
long as any meaningful economic activity was on-going, the
regime would find a way to milk it.
Prospects For Change ) 2008 At The Earliest
¶5. (C) Makoni said he could think of only three ways that the
regime would change. The first was a mass uprising. He
discounted this possibility, not because the people weren,t
angry, but because they were focused on trying to survive.
The second was a military coup. This also seemed unlikely
given the loyalty of then senior commanders. However,
disaffected middle-ranking officers had launched many
successful coups, and there were certainly plenty of those as
pay increases had failed to keep up with inflation and perks
had been cut. The third possibility was a change of
leadership. This would happen inevitably. However, the
longer it took the more the country,s infrastructure would
deteriorate and the more of the country,s elite would leave
for South Africa and elsewhere in search of a better life.
¶6. (C) Makoni initially said that in his view a change in
leadership would not occur before 2008 at the earliest and
more likely 2010. The next presidential election was
scheduled for 2008 and the next parliamentary election for
¶2010. The debate within the party, to this point informal,
was whether to harmonize the two by bringing forward the
parliamentary election or by delaying the presidential
elections. Makoni conceded that Mugabe would ultimately make
the decision and predicted it was more likely to be 2010,
allowing Mugabe more time in office to &cement8 his legacy
as not only the country,s founder but also it,s savior from
&recolonization8 after 2000. The Ambassador noted in that
regard an internal contradiction in Mugabe,s thinking ) the
longer he stayed in office the longer he delayed real reform
and ensured that his legacy would be the destruction of the
country,s once thriving economy.
Accountability and Would-Be Successors
¶7. (C) Makoni agreed with the Ambassador that Mugabe was
increasingly irrelevant and that many in party were already
looking beyond him. Makoni said most of the party elite fell
into that category. However, the party rank and file and
those around the President preferred to defer thinking about
the future until Mugabe was gone. That said, succession
planning was going on in both the Mujuru and Mnangagwa camps
as well as elsewhere, to which Mugabe was not a party.
¶8. (C) The Ambassador noted, and Makoni agreed, that whoever
succeeded Mugabe would have only one place to turn for the
balance of payments support needed to revive the Zimbabwean
economy ) the International Financial Institutions (IFIs)
and the traditional donors. Given that reality, the
Ambassador suggested that it would be in their own interest
as well as in the interest of Zimbabwe for would-be
successors to begin reaching out to the West. Makoni
acknowledged this would be wise but said most, if not all,
senior GOZ officials, among whom he did not include himself,
would be reticent about meeting Western ambassadors and other
interlocutors for such a discussion, fearing how it would be
interpreted within the party.
¶9. (C) That said, Makoni argued that there was a generic
assumption in the party that Mugabe,s successor would not be
as wedded to the past or to Mugabe,s ideology and rhetoric.
The world would therefore be more welcoming and Zimbabwe less
hostile and on that basis there could be reengagement. The
Ambassador responded that this might be right but it was not
a given that Mugabe,s successor would be someone acceptable
to the West. Didymus Mutasa, for instance, would not be seen
as credible reformer and there would even be doubts about
Joyce Mujuru. It was important that the senior leaders in
the government understood that the West would hold them
accountable for their actions. It was equally important to
find a way for quiet dialogue about the post-Mugabe system if
a chaotic, possibly bloody, transition were to be avoided.
Makoni agreed but lamented that most of ZANU’s leaders were
too fearful to engage in any such process.
¶10. (C) Makoni acknowledged that ZANU-PF would need to seek a
leader who could both appeal to the Zimbabwean people and to
the outside world. However, the right question was not who
that person might be but how they would be chosen. Makoni
said the party,s current process was murky and could lead to
chaos. The Ambassador said this was almost certainly by
design. Many authoritarian leaders preferred not to
designate a clear successor in order to reinforce their
control. Makoni conceded the point and lamented once more
the likelihood of chaos should Mugabe die before designating
¶11. (C) Despite his disavowals, Makoni is an influential
ZANU-PF insider whose star is likely to shine brighter as
Mugabe,s dims. He is widely considered to part of the
Mujuru faction,s senior leadership and in that guise could
emerge in a senior position in a post-Mugabe government. He
has even been mentioned as a potential successor to Mugabe
himself. What Makoni brings to the table is credibility with
the West, which no other current ZANU-PF leader can claim.
He would likely be a pivotal figure in the party,s
inevitable efforts to reengage the international community
and the IFIs. He was therefore an ideal interlocutor through
whom to pass to other ZANU-PF leaders the message that we
know they will eventually have to seek the West’s support to
begin digging out of the hole they have dug for themselves
and that we will necessarily condition our reengagement on
real political and economic reform.