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.
Viewing cable 02ABUJA828, NIGERIA TO “TARRY” BEFORE PRONOUNCING ON ZIMBABWE
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
FOR AF/FO, AF/RA, AF/S AND AF/W
E.O. 12958: DECL: 032/12/2012
SUBJECT: NIGERIA TO “TARRY” BEFORE PRONOUNCING ON ZIMBABWE
REF: BELLAMY/JETER EMAIL 12 March
CLASSIFIED BY CDA ANDREWS. REASON: 1.5(D)
¶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.