US embassy says don’t underestimate Mugabe


The United States embassy in Harare said one of the lessons that had to be learnt from the 2005 elections, which the Movement for Democratic Change had said it would win, was that no one should underestimate President Robert Mugabe, his wiliness and his willingness to go to any length to hold on to power.

It said Mugabe would not willingly abandon his long-term game plan, including constitutional reform to consolidate his grip and the ideal of a one-party state.

“As long as he is on the scene, any ZANU-PF inspired reform will be on Mugabe’s terms and will be anti-democratic,” the embassy said.

There were also lessons for the MDC, civil society, the region and the US government.

For the MDC, the key finding was that while it almost certainly “won” the election campaign, it lost the vote due to its poor organisation especially on election day.

For civil society and other democratic forces, there was a need to better coordinate among themselves and with the MDC, especially in exploiting wedge issues sooner and more aggressively.

Regionally, the key lesson was that the South African government and President Thabo Mbeki could not be relied on to play a neutral role and put real pressure on Mugabe.

For the US, the key finding was that it needed to provide sufficient and sustained resources to the democratic forces in Zimbabwe to achieve meaningful change.


Full cable:



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Reference ID






2005-04-14 11:47

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.


141147Z Apr 05

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 HARARE 000580









E.O. 12958: DECL: 12/31/2010






Classified By: Ambassador Christopher W. Dell under Section 1.4 b/d






1. (C) The lessons to be learned from Zimbabwe,s tainted

March 31 parliamentary elections fall into four categories,

lessons for: (a) the opposition; (b) civil society; (c)

regional outreach; and, (d) the US government. Some of these

lessons are not new but build on or refine lessons from

previous elections. For the MDC, or whatever democratic

alternative might replace it, our key finding is that while

it almost certainly &won8 the election campaign, it lost

the vote due to its poor organization, especially on election

day. It must do more in the future to counteract ZANU-PF,s

control of government resources and traditional chiefs and

the ruling party’s ability to steal elections. In

particular, it needs to be prepared to issue a timely

parallel vote count.


2. (C) For civil society and other democratic forces, there

is a need to better coordinate among themselves and with the

MDC, especially in exploiting wedge issues sooner and more

aggressively. Regionally, the key lesson is that the SAG and

President Mbeki cannot be relied on to play a neutral role

and put real pressure on President Mugabe ) we must look

elsewhere in Africa for regional leadership and should do

more to involve regional NGOs as a counterweight to official

views on Zimbabwe. For the USG, the key finding is that we

need to provide sufficient and sustained resources to the

democratic forces in Zimbabwe to achieve meaningful change.

End Summary.



Lessons for the Opposition



3. (C) With technical assistance from NDI, IRI, and others

the MDC ran a strong campaign that raised genuine issues of

concern for Zimbabweans suffering from the country,s severe

economic decline and repressive political environment. From

the Mission,s observations around the country, the MDC,s

campaign resonated with the population at large. The MDC

also pushed hard, and with some modest success, on the issue

of election reform, eliminating some of the earlier, cruder

forms of vote rigging. In the words of one American

consultant, the GOZ has reached the end point in its ability

to steal elections, and there are no further new tricks out



3. (C) Nonetheless, although the party made important

progress in key areas since the 2000 and 2002 election, it is

clear that the MDC was still too disorganized and failed with

regard to several critical elements. The party did not

sufficiently press the issue of voter registration, letting

their conditional suspension from participation in the

elections prevent them from ensuring that their supporters

were registered, while the ruling ZANU-PF was furiously

registering its supporters in surgical voter drives (and

ensuring that potential MDC supporters such as the young and

urban voters would have difficulties). More importantly,

despite brave talk, the party also failed abysmally to put

out a parallel vote count. Even now, two weeks after the

election, they have been unable to pull together and release

the data from their polling agents. The timely dissemination

of a parallel count could have done much to undermine the

credibility of the election with African observers and could

have stoked public outrage at another fraudulent election.


4. (C) The lessons for the MDC to learn are that it needs to:

(a) substantially improve the party,s communications

directorate which, while much improved during the campaign,

fell into disarray during the immediate post-election period;

(b) improve its understanding of the entire electoral

process, and put systems in place well in advance to conduct

parallel vote tabulation; (c) be more targeted and strategic

in reaching out to other key democratic forces in Zimbabwe

and the region; (d) review and strengthen party structures to

improve its grassroots outreach; (e) find ways to counteract

the GOZ,s influence with traditional leaders; and (f) convey

leadership, both domestically and internationally, in the

face of ZANU-PF,s constant assaults and in spite of

significant set backs. Several of these needs had been

identified after past elections and while there has been

improvement, more is needed.


5. (C) The MDC may very well splinter, change leaders, or

morph into another party in the aftermath of this election.

However, there will surely be a democratic alternative to

ZANU-PF, and that party will need to find a way forward that

will rally disaffected Zimbabweans, put pressure on the GOZ,

and prepare the ground for local elections in 2006 and the

presidential election in 2008.



Lessons for Other Democratic Forces



6. (C) In important respects, the other democratic forces in

Zimbabwe have emerged from the 2005 election at least as

battered as the MDC. Organized labor, which was effectively

absent during the campaign, is under assault from the

government and its allies on one side, and on the other side

from the more progressive elements of the labor movement who

want a more confrontational approach towards government.

Likewise, the church effectively remains divided and

fragmented, without any clear consensus about the country,s

predicament, despite the pivotal role religion plays in

Zimbabwean society, nor effective mechanisms for coordinating

among themselves. Finally, and most importantly, while civil

society remains generally united internally and also allied

with the MDC in their analysis and goals, NGOs are deeply

frustrated with the party for its lack of outreach to them

during the campaign and for its decision not to pursue any

form of civil disobedience following the announcement of the

election results.


7. (C) Civil society,s alienation and frustration with the

MDC is most acute with the more activist and visible members

of civil society ) such as the National Constitutional

Assembly (NCA) and Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WoZA). It is

primarily an argument over tactics, but is also driven by

individual agendas. Much of civil society, but especially

the more activist elements, feel that the MDC has tried to

&control8 their activities too much. There is some truth

in this charge and the MDC needs to learn to manage this

relationship with more tact, allowing civil society NGOs more

room for independent action.


8. (C) While not fatal, this visible split among the

democratic forces is debilitating. The democratic opposition

spends a distressing amount of time criticizing one another

over tactics rather than working together on a common agenda.

The lesson for civil society, ZCTU, and progressive elements

in the churches to draw from the election is that they must

support whichever democratic political party is leading the

fight and give it their unstinting backing, even while

accepting that there will be diversity among their objectives

and methods. The civil society NGOs also need to do what the

MDC did late in the past election campaign and focus their

message on the bread and butter concerns of average

Zimbabweans rather than more esoteric issues.


9. (C) One particular NGO bears special mention, the Zimbabwe

Election Support Network (ZESN). ZESN has played an

important role in the election aftermath. As a non-partisan

domestic observer group, its commentary on the election has

carried added weight. In particular, its calls for the

Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) to answer questions and

release data have resonated publicly. Nonetheless, the

election also revealed that ZESN still lacks the capacity to

challenge electoral authorities effectively and ensure a free

and fair election. Like the MDC, ZESN was too disorganized

to pull together and publicize parallel counts in the

immediate aftermath of the election. The lesson for ZESN to

learn is that monitoring elections is a full-time business.

It cannot be effectively ginned up a month or two before an

election and expected to get the job done.


Lessons Regarding Regional Support



10. (C) The regional focus for the democratic opposition and

us has been on South Africa, and largely on the South African

Government (SAG). This focus has had some limited successes.

A broad range of forces, spanning the political spectrum

from the Democratic Alliance to COSATU and the South African

Communist Party, now recognize and say publicly that

democracy is being thwarted in Zimbabwe. South African media

is also supportive of Zimbabwe,s democratic forces and we

had great success convincing the South African Council of

Churches (SACC) to play a constructive role and speak out

with regard to the election. However, SAG and the ANC have

not generally played constructive roles. Although they did

pressure ZANU-PF to reduce election violence, their focus was

always on ensuring that the election was &blessable8 rather

than truly free and fair. As one wag quipped, the SAG

statement on the election was written so long ago it could

have been drafted in Afrikaans.


11. (C) The lesson to be learned from this election, which

the MDC has already internalised, is that the SAG and the ANC

cannot be relied on to be non-partisan and to pressure Mugabe

and his government and party to play by the rules ) even

SADC,s own rules. Thabo Mbeki will remain a potentially

pivotal player, however, and a targeted effort at the office

of the President and senior ANC leadership is still needed ,

including especially through key players from South African

civil society. At the same time, we will also need to look

elsewhere for regional leadership and build on the more

progressive positions taken by Botswana, Ghana, Nigeria and

Mauritius and Southern African civil society groups with

respect to the election.


12. (C) None of these countries and organizations alone

carries the same weight that South Africa has, nor do they

have the same degree of economic influence. Nonetheless,

collectively, they can begin to chip away at Mugabe,s status

within Africa and can put pressure on South Africa to be more

neutral in the run-up to 2008. Similarly, we hope that our

Embassies in the SADC region will be urged to spend less time

on fruitless demarches to host governments and more time

discussing Zimbabwe,s crisis with civil society groups. A

mechanism needs to be established, either with the RCSA in

Botswana or thru bilateral missions, to channel resources to

NGOs willing to get involved on the Zimbabwe question.



Lessons for the US Government



13. (C) The overwhelming lesson we should learn from these

elections is that democracy programs require more resources,

allocated consistently over a sustained period. Our ability

to mobilize resources in a timely manner, and at a scale to

have a measurable impact, was severely hampered by budget

cuts in FY04. Zimbabwe is now looking at nationwide local

government elections in 2006 and a Presidential Election in

2008. This is the appropriate time to review the policy

environment to determine funding needs for democratic support

during the FY05 through FY08 period. Continued cuts, or even

a levelling off of resources, followed by a large increase in

FY08 just prior to the Presidential elections, would be

counterproductive as it would reduce the effectiveness of the

democratic forces in the short to medium term. The Mugabe

regime remains extremely brittle and we believe that funding

in the range of approximately $13 million per annum for three

years will have a dramatic effect on the political landscape.


14. (C) Another lesson we should take away from this election

is that we need to take a more active role in fostering

coordination among the democratic forces, using our leverage

as the key donor. The &middle ground8 in Zimbabwe remains

extremely thin and if elements of the church or organized

labor again choose to sit on the fence, additional USG

support to them should be curtailed. Instead, support should

flow to enlightened, committed, non-violent, but activist,

civil society groups, key regional partners, the more

progressive elements in organized religion and labor. Above

all, the MDC still requires large amounts of technical advice

and support in devising effective strategies to counter the

regime,s authoritarian tendencies. In effect, support needs

to be focused and concentrated on institutions and

organizations that are committed to democratic change of

which the MDC remains the strongest for the moment.


15. (C) In relation to our partners, the USG needs to trust

but verify. We discussed preparations about election

observation with both the MDC and ZESN and were painted a

much rosier picture of their capabilities than their actual

preparatory work justified. In the future, we should prompt

local partners more rigorously to investigate key issues

thoroughly and have sufficient technical expertise available.

For this election we essentially provided one part-time

advisor. He did an excellent job, but one person could not

do it all. We also need to press them harder to seriously

consider contingency plans and be prepared for any

eventuality. For instance, when we discussed with the MDC

what their response would be to an election defeat, they

vaguely deflected our inquiries and were unable to indicate

that they had devoted any sort of meaningful planning to this



16. (C) Finally, there are two seemingly paradoxical lessons

to be remembered, if not (re) learned about Robert Mugabe and

ZANU-PF. The first is don,t underestimate him, his wiliness

and his willingness to go to any length to hold on to power.

Moreover, he will not willingly abandon his long-term game

plan, including constitutional reform to consolidate his grip

and, we believe, the ideal of a one-party state. As long as

he is on the scene, any ZANU-PF inspired &reform8 will be

on Mugabe,s terms and will be anti-democratic. But at the

same time, these elections showed just how narrow his base of

support is. ZANU-PF, supposedly a mass-based movement,

relies on a shrinking base of voters, repression by the

security forces and others — including a whole series of

measures, documented elsewhere, to ensure low-voter turnout

by non-ZANU-PF voters ) and control of the state machinery

to engineer the outcome it wants. Just as with authoritarian

regimes elsewhere, this is a formula that makes Mugabe and

Mugabe-ism vulnerable to a broad-based democratic movement.

It will not be an easy or brief struggle, but it is certain

that with sufficient effort and support it can be done.



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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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