Mugabe has a shouting match with UN envoy


President Robert Mugabe had a 20-minute shouting match with the United Nations under-secretary-general for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief coordinator Jan Egeland over Operation Murambatsvina but in his public remarks Egeland was relatively upbeat about his meeting with Mugabe and claimed good relations between Zimbabwe and the UN.

The shouting match was disclosed by UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs assistant director Agnes Asekenye-Oonyu.

She said Mugabe attacked UN special envoy Anna Tibaijuka and her report. In return, Egeland pushed back, noting that he, the entire UN system, and UN secretary general Kofi Annan personally stood behind the report.

Egeland said he had visited victims of Murambatsvina and called their living conditions unacceptable.

Mugabe nonetheless defended his government’s rejection of tents to temporarily shelter those displaced, and said “tents are for Arabs”.

Mugabe is reported to have made several concessions to Egeland in return for assistance from the West.


Full cable:



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Reference ID






2005-12-09 05:43

2011-08-30 01:44


Embassy Harare

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 HARARE 001663








E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/08/2015




Classified By: Charge d’Affaires, a.i. Eric T Schultz under Section 1.4







1. (C) UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs

and Emergency Relief Coordinator Jan Egeland visited Zimbabwe

December 4-7 to survey the ongoing humanitarian crisis and to

press the GOZ for better cooperation. In his public remarks

Egeland was relatively upbeat, claiming good UN/GOZ

cooperation on HIV/AIDs and food assistance. However, he

strongly backed the Tibaijuka report and reiterated UN

criticism of Operation Murambatsvina. In his private

briefing for the diplomatic corps, Egeland said his basic

message to the GOZ would be the need for major policy changes

that would facilitate donor assistance.


2. (C) UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian

Affairs (OCHA) Assistant Director Agnes Asekenye-Oonyu, who

has been in Zimbabwe for the past three months, gave post an

inside look at Egeland,s meeting with President Mugabe.

According to Asekenye-Oonyu, Mugabe had conceded to Egeland

that Zimbabwe had humanitarian problems and needed

assistance. Egeland had subsequently pressed, and Mugabe had

agreed, to make political and humanitarian concessions,

including opening a dialogue with Western donors, to pave the

way for a visit by UN Secretary General Annan. Egeland will

draft his report for Annan and, as Post understands, brief

the Security Council on December 19. End Summary.


——————————————— ————

Egeland Publicly Applauds GOZ Cooperation, Quietly Pushes for


——————————————— ————


3. (SBU) In his December 6 press conference, UN humanitarian

chief Egeland said he was pleased with his four-day visit to

Zimbabwe in which he had briefed local diplomats, toured

several UN and NGO operations in Harare and Bulawayo, and met

with President Mugabe. Egeland commended the GOZ for its

cooperation on HIV/AIDS and food assistance. The envoy

publicly declared his meetings with Mugabe and members of his

Cabinet a success. Egeland, however, said the GOZ and the UN

had disagreed on the merits of Operation Murambatsvina, which

he called &the worst possible thing to come at the worst

possible time.8 Egeland reiterated UN support for the

Tibaijuka report and said that the government,s refusal to

accept tents for those who had been displaced by the

operation had only exacerbated the situation.


4. (C) In a private meeting with diplomats from the donor

countries on December 5, Egeland said his basic message to

the GOZ would be the need for major policy changes that would

facilitate donor assistance. Egeland acknowledged the

difficult environment for assistance efforts, especially for

NGOs, which he hoped his visit would help improve. He also

decried the &social meltdown8 that had occurred in

Zimbabwe, which he attributed primarily to HIV/ADIS and

drought, though he acknowledged that GOZ policies had also

played a role. With one exception (France) the donors

responded by noting that the primary cause of Zimbabwe,s

current crisis were the GOZ,s failed policies. Egeland took

the point, but pressed donors to give priority to providing

assistance, such as shelter for those made homeless by

Murambatsvina, rather than quibbling over the type of shelter

or how the people had come to be homeless.



A &Frank and Productive8 Meeting with Mugabe



5. (C) Egeland said little publicly about his two-and-a-half

hour meeting with Mugabe on December 6, noting only that it

was &frank and productive8 and that the two had made

progress on many fronts, including easing humanitarian

access. OCHA Assistant Director Agnes Asekenye-Oonyu on

December 7 gave Charge an inside look at the high level

meeting, which she described as constructive but at times

quite contentious. According to Asekenye-Oonyu, instead of

the usual lecture on the &causes8 of Zimbabwe,s

humanitarian crisis (e.g. &illegal8 western sanctions and

drought), she said Mugabe listened to the UN envoy,s

assessment of the situation and its causes. Mugabe then

conceded that his government had made mistakes that had led

to the crisis and that the country needed assistance.


6. (C) Asekenye-Oonyu said Egeland had told Mugabe that

Annan,s proposed trip, which she said was now planned for

March, was dependent on Zimbabwe &making an attitude

change8 and reengaging with Western donors, especially the

US and UK. Mugabe said he was open to such a dialogue and

would tone down the rhetoric and follow up with the Norwegian

Ambassador in Harare regarding the parameters for possible

talks. (N.B. The reference to the Norwegian Ambassador, who

arrived in Zimbabwe only in September, is a surprise. Thomas

Dahl, the Norwegian Embassy first secretary, on December 6

told poloff that the jet-lagged Egeland and his Ambassador

had had a private dinner the night before, which chiefly

centered on reminiscing about Egeland,s time as deputy

minister of foreign affairs in Oslo and had addressed little

of substance.)


7. (C) According to Asekenye-Oonyu, Egeland had also pressed

Mugabe to improve the operating environment for humanitarian

NGOs. Mugabe highlighted the MOU his government had signed

with WFP in late November as evidence that he was willing to

engage donors on food assistance. Egeland, however, noted

that the GOZ,s classification of food production figures as

a state secret hindered the humanitarian response. Mugabe

replied that this was nonsense and said he would speak to

Minister of Agriculture Made about releasing the statistics.


8. (C) Asekenye-Oonyu said Egeland had also argued that aid

groups faced a labyrinth of government approval that often

delayed assistance for months and suggested that the

government, along with UN and NGO representatives, form a

one-stop-shop. Although he accused NGOs of politicizing aid

delivery, Mugabe accepted this proposal, saying he was

unaware of the complicated approval process. Mugabe told

Egeland to call him personally if this initiative became

stalled. Asekenye-Oonyu said Egeland had subsequently asked

UN Resident Representative Agostinho Zacarias for weekly

updates on the GOZ,s progress. She noted that in prior

meetings with Egeland, Minister of Public Service Nicolas

Goche and Minister of Health David Parirenyatwa had also

accepted this proposal but that Egeland,s suggestion had

prompted a violent reaction from Minister of Local Government

Ignatius Chombo, who had threatened to block the meeting with



9. (C) Asekenye-Oonyu said the provision of shelter for the

estimated 700,000 people left homeless by Operation

Murambatsvina had been the most contentious issue. It had

prompted a 20-minute shouting match between Mugabe and

Egeland. Mugabe attacked UN Special Envoy Anna Tibaijuka and

her report. In return, Egeland pushed back, noting that he,

the entire UN system, and Annan personally stood behind the

report. Urban renewal projects were okay, said Egeland, but

only after new housing was already provided. The UN envoy

said he had visited victims of Murambatsvina and called their

living conditions unacceptable. Mugabe nonetheless defended

his government,s rejection of tents to temporarily shelter

those displaced, and said &tents are for Arabs.8


10. (C) Asekenye-Oonyu said that despite his outburst,

Mugabe made two key concessions on shelter for

Murambatsvina,s victims. Mugabe promised to provide proper

title to resettled victims, after Egeland noted that

documents issued to date would not stand up in court, and

Mugabe said the shelters would be allocated based on need.

(N.B. Up to now, the GOZ has allocated new homes based on

political, not humanitarian, considerations.) The Charge

asked how the UN would be able to ensure that this was the

case. Asekenye-Oonyu responded that the proposed UN shelter

program would be separate from the government,s &Operation

Garikai8 housing program and that a committee, which would

include donors, would allocate the shelters. She added that

if the GOZ rejected this method of allocation the shelters

would not be built.



The UN,s Next Steps



11. (C) Asekenye-Oonyu told Charge that Egeland would write

a report on his visit for the Secretary General and that he

would likely address the UNSC at some point. (N.B. We

understand it will be December 19.) She said Annan was

planning to send Under-Secretary-General for Political

Affairs Ibrahim Gambari to Zimbabwe in January to assess

first hand the GOZ,s progress in fulfilling the commitments

made to Egeland. If there were not sufficient progress,

Annan,s visit could be delayed or cancelled. She added that

Gambari was seen by the GOZ as too close to the U.S.


12. (C) Meanwhile, the UN presence in Zimbabwe will get a

boost on New Year,s day when the OCHA field office here

becomes permanent. Asekenye-Oonyu said six international

members and 21 locals would staff the office but that a

director had yet to be named. She herself was due to depart

Harare December 8 to return to her job in New York. She

said, however, that she might be amenable to staying on in

Zimbabwe. A widely respected figure despite her brief tenure

here, she said that even the Ministry of Foreign Affairs had

lobbied Egeland to offer her an extension.






13. (C) The GOZ,s actions over the next few months will

determine the course of UN and donor engagement with

Zimbabwe. If Mugabe and the GOZ fail to honor their

commitments to Egeland it will put not only Annan,s visit at

risk but will also further complicate the efforts of the U.S.

and other donors to provide assistance to Zimbabwe,s

suffering people. It may also, however, be the final straw

that will rally international and perhaps even African

criticism of the regime.



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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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