US ambassador says Mugabe is not driven by money but by vanity


Former United States ambassador to Zimbabwe Joseph Sullivan said President Robert Mugabe was not likely to be dislodged by pressure or persuasion from the West, African governments, the opposition or population, or his own colleagues and support structures.

In his farewell analysis of the Zimbabwean leader in August 2004 Sullivan said Mugabe was not dotty. He paid attention to those things he chose to focus on and pretended not to see those things he did not want to.

“He is driven less by money than by vanity and fear of the consequences of ‘dismounting from the tiger he is riding’. He remains a skilled politician and uses all means, fair and foul, to stay in power at all costs. His unrivalled and unquestioned power within ZANU-PF sucks the oxygen out of the party, which remains largely a self-absorbed, paralysed institution incapable of addressing, or even debating the nation’s myriad real problems,” the ambassador said.


Full cable:



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Reference ID






2004-08-24 14:23

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.


241423Z Aug 04

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 HARARE 001423




E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/24/2014







1. (C) Rather than reiterate previous analyses, I shall

offer a few closing reflections in shorthand form.


— The situation in Zimbabwe today is best defined as a

“FROZEN TRANSITION,” a political crisis whose lack of

resolution affects and deepens all of Zimbabwe’s other

crises, economic, social, and humanitarian. Notwithstanding

this fact, 80-year old Robert Mugabe is probably more

entrenched than he has been in several years and is unlikely

to be dislodged by pressure or persuasion from the West,

African governments, the Zimbabwean opposition or population,

or his own colleagues and support structure. While there is

certainly competition within ZANU-PF, Mugabe has taken none

of the steps he could to facilitate an orderly transition,

thereby ensuring substantial uncertainty and perhaps

instability in the event of his sudden death or serious



— Mugabe is not dotty; he pays attention to those things he

chooses to focus on and pretends not to see those things he

does not want to. He is driven less by money than by vanity

and fear of the consequences of “dismounting from the tiger

he is riding.” He remains a skilled politician and uses all

means, fair and foul, to stay in power at all costs. His

unrivaled and unquestioned power within ZANU-PF sucks the

oxygen out of the party, which remains largely a

self-absorbed, paralyzed institution incapable of addressing,

or even debating the nation’s myriad real problems.


— Mugabe, the state security apparatus and ZANU-PF’s

instruments of repression and intimidation have succeeded for

now in convincing the public once again that there is no

alternative to Mugabe’s rule and that they will be given no

opportunity to choose a different future. In the face of

these multiple pressures, most Zimbabweans have opted for

submission, emigration or waiting until Mugabe dies. Unless

political space reopens substantially, most Zimbabweans seem

unwilling to take the risks of opposition politics or mass



— The political opposition is down, but not out. The MDC

still reflects the will of many, and probably most

Zimbabweans if they thought their choice was free and could

matter. Next year’s parliamentary elections provide the MDC a

better opportunity to preserve some strength than recent

by-elections where ZANU-PF has been able to address all its

attention to individual constituency by-elections. The MDC

has done well to hold together under the pressure of state

repression, infiltration and intimidation, but it faces new

and difficult challenges to maintain itself and stay united

for the long haul since its prospects are dim of coming to

power or even being allowed to exercise the shares of power

it has won in the parliament, mayoralties and municipal



— Because Mugabe is only focused on remaining in power and

has learned that he can withstand sanctions, isolation and

even sharp economic decline, the Mugabe Regime will continue

to defy criticism from the West and seek to capitalize

domestically and in Africa by playing the nationalist and

anti-imperialist cards. The GOZ is also facing increased

criticism from within Africa, although most is expressed in

private or in polite terms. The Regime appears willing to do

battle with its critics, even in Africa, as witness state

media critiques of Nigeria and other West Africans deemed to

have been unsupportive and regular tirades against Botswana.

Mugabe’s reliance on backing from fellow Africans is an

increasingly most vulnerable area, however, and would be even

more important if the South African Government were willing

to take a stronger stand in favor of crisis resolution.


— Mugabe shows little interest in re-engagement with the

West on other than his own terms and Mugabe and ZANU-PF

radicals seem inclined to run the 2005 parliamentary

elections as a referendum against Prime Minister Tony Blair,

a clear indication of the absence of any substantive campaign

theme. Others in ZANU-PF, Reserve Bank Governor Gono and even

the Armed Forces have expressed interest in reengagement

because of their frustration over their exclusion from

traditional Western cooperation. Accordingly, avoiding direct

confrontation and focusing our attention on what the GOZ must

do on election reform for positive reengagement are useful

messages for regional leaders and also for the more moderate

voices in ZANU-PF.


— HIV and AIDS remain an enormous crisis for Zimbabwe’s

present and future, aggravated by Zimbabwe’s economic crisis,

food deficit, emigration of health professionals and decline

of the health system and by Zimbabwe’s political leadership’s

diminished ability to lead the nation. Nonetheless, Zimbabwe

has some advantages in a still adequate and reasonably

dispersed health system and those talented health

professionals who do remain in country, as well as a populace

which is used to reasonably good health care and might

respond well if outside financing was available to provide

substantial treatment to HIV and AIDS victims.


— Food shortages are somewhat less than in the past several

years, but still loom as a major threat in the months ahead

to the most vulnerable Zimbabweans. Yet GOZ insistence that

Zimbabwe has produced a bumper harvest as a result of the

land redistribution program and GOZ refusal to request

assistance threatens the lives of many Zimbabweans within

several months. It is not sufficient for us to say we will

not allow hunger when we do not have the means to assist and

would likely take several months to deliver food, should the

GOZ belatedly make a request. Instead, I urge that we be

pro-active in forcing a report by UN agencies (WFP and FAO)

to the UNSC Security Council in an effort to stimulate a GOZ

request, or alternatively, identify where responsibility lies

for upcoming food shortages.


— Emigration is the under-estimated phenomenon in Zimbabwe’s

crisis in a country that had very little emigration of its

black population from 1980 until very recently. Now, however,

as many as a quarter of Zimbabwe’s population is living

outside the country, relieving somewhat the burden on

Zimbabwe’s shrinking economy and sending home remittances to

sustain their families in Zimbabwe, but also representing an

enormous millstone around Zimbabwe’s future. Sixty per cent

of accountants, 80 per cent of medical school graduates, most

experienced agronomists, many of the country’s best judges

and human rights lawyers are emigrating. How many or how few

return depends on how long the crisis persists and on a

return to positive economic and political prospects. And if

these emigrants do not return, Zimbabwe’s recovery will be

that much more difficult.


2. Conclusions: The above depressing picture coincides with

the national mood of depression, which in turn contrasts

sharply with the excessive optimism that most black and white

Zimbabweans exhibited several years ago. Unfortunately,

everything still seems to depend on Mugabe, and how short or

long Zimbabwe’s national crisis lasts likely depends on how

long Mugabe insists on staying in unfettered control. And how

rapid and complete a recovery can be depends on how much

longer Zimbabwe’s national crisis persists. Zimbabwe’s own

population has mostly opted to flee rather than fight;

Zimbabwe’s near neighbors appear to hold the best prospect

for avoiding indefinite prolongation of Zimbabwe’s national

agony. I urge that we engage deeply and creatively with

Southern African Governments to help find a way forward.





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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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