Nigerian diplomat said Mugabe was brutally repressive


A Nigerian diplomat told United States embassy officials in Abuja that President Robert Mugabe was brutally repressive and had at one time dispatched troops to violently quell such minor unrest as student strikes.

T.H.Hart was commenting on what the Nigerian government would do if Mugabe stole the 2002 presidential elections.

Hart did not think that Mugabe’s popularity in some Nigerian quarters would preclude a firm Nigerian government stance if the evidence warranted it.

He said it was well known that Mugabe was repressive and never brooked dissent. He had even politically vanquished Joshua Nkomo, the father of the Zimbabwe liberation struggle.

But Nigeria was going to take a position in defence of democratic principles consistent with its role as Africa’s most important state and would clearly tell Mugabe so if he stole the election and would deny him support.



Full cable:


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Reference ID






2002-03-13 15:03

2011-08-30 01:44


Embassy Abuja

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 02 ABUJA 000828








E.O. 12958: DECL: 032/12/2012












1. (C) Summary: MFA PermSec says Nigeria will avoid a

rush to judgment on the Zimbabwe election. Abuja will

consult with Pretoria and Canberra, as well as various

observer groups, before developing a position. The GON

might even await the results of electoral challenges. DCM

urged the GON, consonant with its leading regional role, to

stake out a position in support of democratic principles.

Nigeria’s position would be “principled,” Hart responded;

should the elections turn out to have been fundamentally

flawed, however, Nigeria would speak out, and Mugabe would

not escape criticism. Comment at para 8 and action request

in para 9. End Summary.



2. (U) President Obasanjo was out of the country in the

days before the Ambassador’s departure for London. FM Sule

Lamido was also unavailable.



3. (C) DCM 12 March engaged MFA Permanent Secretary T.D.

Hart on Zimbabwe. The 40-minute discussion afforded an

opportunity to deploy all of ref talking points. DCM gave

the Secretary’s letter to Hart for onward transmission to

Lamido and provided Hart with a copy of the letter.

Earlier, PolCouns had delivered a copy of the letter to the

National Security Adviser’s Military Assistant, LTC Idris,

to pass to the President.



4. (C) Hart provided a thorough explanation of Nigeria’s

approach to Zimbabwe, stating at several intervals that the

GON intended to “tarry” before making any pronouncement on

the election’s legitimacy. Abuja would “eschew any rush to

judgment.” It was necessary to hear from “our observers on

the ground” before even beginning to draw conclusions. The

GON’s principal source of information on Zimbabwe was CNN,

Hart noted, commenting the CNN was “an American source” and

its reporting had to be viewed in that light.



5. (C) DCM reiterated that the purpose of meeting with

Hart was to give the GON a heads-up on the direction in

which U.S. thinking was trending. No decisions had been

taken and none would be until sufficient evidence was in

place to draw a conclusion. Hart said that the USG had

faster access to far more information than did the GON.

President Obasanjo would consult with President Mbeki and

PM Howard and the GON would review all information coming

to its attention before drawing a conclusion about the

legitimacy of the election. Hart thought Nigeria would

also consult with SADC. The GON position would be built on

this base and would be consistent with Harare Principles.

Hart went on to discuss at some length the history of the

Harare Principles, recalling Abacha-era FM Tom Ikimi’s

frequent remonstrations with Zimbabwe’s Stan Mudenge when

Nigeria’s status in the Commonwealth was in question: “Tom

told him to be careful about trying to use the Harare

Principles for sanctions against one country because you

don’t know; it might be your own [country] tomorrow.”



6. (C) DCM re-emphasized the importance of Nigeria taking

a position in defense of democratic principles consistent

with its role as Africa’s most important state. Hart stood

firm against “acting precipitously” but averred that the

GON would not silently condone an illegitimate electoral

outcome. Disturbingly, Hart suggested that Abuja might

await the outcome of legal challenges before taking a

stance. However, he insisted that, if the case was clearly

made that Mugabe had stolen the election, Nigeria would say

so and deny Mugabe support. While Hart did not say that

Nigeria would then urge Mugabe to step aside, he did offer

that President Obasanjo was increasingly frustrated with

Mugabe and his tactics and that Obasanjo had made this

point to Mugabe on at least one occasion.



7. (C) Hart did not think that Mugabe’s popularity in some

Nigerian quarters would preclude a firm GON stance if the

evidence warranted it. It was “well-known,” said Hart,

that Mugabe was brutally repressive. Many years ago, when

he was a Nigerian diplomat in Harare, Hart had seen Mugabe

dispatch troops to violently quell such minor unrest as

student strikes, with deaths a usual consequence. Mugabe

“never brooked dissent,” Hart commented, noting how

Zimbabwe’s ruler had politically vanquished Joshua Nkomo,

the “father of the liberation struggle.”



8.   (C) Comment: Sufficiency of evidence is in the eye of

the beholder, and the beholder may wish to wear blinders or

rose-colored glasses. Nigeria’s long and strong support

for liberation in southern Africa and Obasanjo’s personal

role in establishing that support has formed a strong bond

between Obasanjo and Mugabe and given Mugabe great stature

among the many Nigerians who resent what they perceive as

Western meddling in African affairs. Moreover, widespread

fraud marred the 1999 election that brought Obasanjo to

power, but most observers thought the electoral malfeasance

affected Obasanjo and his opponent (Olu Falae) more or less

equally; the fraud on one side cancelled out the fraud on

the other, resulting in popular will being respected in the

overall result if not in every part of the country. Today,

an Obasanjo whose popularity seems to diminish a bit more

with each passing day is clearly trying to preserve his

options. His advisers, most of whom desperately want him

to remain in power (in order to retain its perquisites for

themselves), will likely discourage him from being forward-

leaning on Zimbabwe.

9. (C) Recommendation: We should help those in the GON

who want Nigeria to stand firmly in support of Zimbabwean

democracy. Insufficiency of evidence is likely to be the

basis for an eventual decision either to let others take

the lead or to oppose criticizing Mugabe firmly. We ask

that we be provided as much specific evidence of ZANU-PF/

GOZ rigging and malfeasance as can be released to the GON.

The GON will then have a difficult time pleading ignorance

of the facts or insufficiency of evidence. Such support by

us will encourage the GON to do what many know must be done

but find so hard to do.




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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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