What Mugabe was thinking


President Robert Mugabe was looking for a graceful exit, on his own terms, that preserved his legacy, Norway’s deputy director general for Southern and Western Africa in the Foreign Office, Kare Stormark, said just over a month after the formation of the inclusive government.

Mugabe was therefore not likely to stand as party president at the congress scheduled for December that year.

Stormark’s comments came soon after a visit to Zimbabwe by Norway’s Minister of Environment and International Development Erik Solheim on 24-25 March 2009.

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai told the Norwegian delegation that he also thought that Mugabe was looking for a way out.

Stormark said Mugabe showed “incredible vitality given his age,” but in his opinion, “the regional pressure is bearing down on him” and “South Africa is at the end of its patience”.

Mugabe was torn between re-educated ZANU-PF actors like Nicholas Goche and Patrick Chinamasa, who outwardly stated that the inclusive government was the only way forward, and the hard-line elements–like service chiefs–who sought to undermine the unity government to preserve their power.

Stormark described Mugabe as an “ascetic” who had facilitated the kleptocracy for his party and his family, not for himself.


Full cable:


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Reference ID






2009-04-02 13:37

2011-08-30 01:44


Embassy Oslo




DE RUEHNY #0225/01 0921337


P 021337Z APR 09









C O N F I D E N T I A L OSLO 000225










E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/02/2019




Classified By: Political Counselor Kristen Bauer for reasons 1.4(b) and



1. (C) SUMMARY: Following Minister Solheim’s visit to Harare,

the Norwegians believe that President Mugabe is looking for a

graceful exit, and that ZANU-PF forces are plotting to derail

the unity government. The Norwegians believe, however, that

the March 30 SADC meeting’s strong stand on Madagascar may

give hardliners pause. Norway agrees that aid to Zimbabwe

now poses a “dilemma,” but wants to implement a “humanitarian

‘plus'” aid strategy. The consensus among the Norwegians is

that UNICEF is doing a better and faster job than the WHO in

providing aid, and the UN Humanitarian Coordinator, who is

“too close to the government,” is a disaster and should be

replaced ASAP. After consulting with Embassy Harare, post

feels that the Norwegians are assessing the situation

realistically and are not substantially deviating from the

international consensus on aid issues. End Summary.


2. (C) Poloff requested a readout from Kare Stormark, MFA

Deputy Director General of the Section for Southern and

Western Africa (approximately equivalent to a PDAS), on

Environment and Development Minister Solheim’s 24-25 March

trip to Zimbabwe. Stormark has worked with Zimbabwe issues

for 15 years and accompanied the delegation. Information in

this cable was also culled from an internal GON cable that

poloff obtained from another contact, key excerpts of which

follow at the end of this cable.


Positive impressions dominate



3. (C) When asked what struck him as significant on the trip,

Stormark had two initial observations. First the

delegation’s sense was that the MDC feels “in charge” and “on

the offensive” in the unity cabinet. The MDC saw the recent

budget battle as a major victory, trimming an unrealistic $

1.9 billion budget down to $1 billion. Second, Stormark said

he was struck that two ZANU-PF members of the Joint

Operations Monitoring Implementation Committee (JOMIC),

Minister of Transport and Infrastructural Development

Nicholas Goche and Minister of Justice Patrick Chinamasa, who

Stormark characterized as “confidants” of President Robert

Mugabe and “former hard liners” with “no history of being

conciliatory” made convincing statements at a JOMIC meeting

that indicated they were committed to the success of the

unity government, perhaps to facilitate Mugabe’s graceful

exit. Stormark was careful to say that words and reality are

of course different, but the fact that these two could be

conciliatory indicated that the tone in Zimbabwe had

appreciably shifted. (Comment: Prior reporting from Embassy

Harare such as 09 Harare 239 and 09 Harare 257 indicate that

Goche and Chinamasa have not fully stepped back from their

antipathy toward the MDC. End comment.)



What Mugabe is thinking



4. (C) It was Stormark’s strong impression that Mugabe is

looking for a graceful exit, on his own terms, that preserves

his legacy. Furthermore, he wants to leave Zimbabwe “in the

hands of a functioning unity government.” He will do this,

Stormark opined, by not standing as a candidate in the

internal ZANU-PF election in December. Prime Minister Morgan

Tsvangarai told the Norwegian delegation that he also thinks

that Mugabe is looking for a way out. Stormark commented on

Mugabe’s “incredible vitality given his age,” but in his

opinion, “the regional pressure is bearing down on him” and

“South Africa is at the end of its patience.” Stormark’s

overall assessment, with respect to Mugabe versus the unity

government, is that “Bob is in between” re-educated ZANU-PF

actors like Goche and Chinamasa, who outwardly state that the

GNU is the only way forward, and the hard-line elements–like

service chiefs–who seek to undermine the unity government to

preserve their power. More generally, Stormark commented

that Mugabe is an “ascetic” who has facilitated the

kleptocracy for his party and his family, not for himself.


5. (C) Stormark said the entire Norwegian delegation was

struck by the extent to which Mugabe and other ZANU-PF

interlocutors spoke to them exclusively about the past,

whereas the MDC interlocutors spoke exclusively of the

present and future. Mugabe, first and foremost, is concerned

with his “legacy” as an anti-colonialist, as odd as that may

appear to westerners who believe he subsequently destroyed

his country.


Dangers to the unity government; SADC sending signals?

——————————————— ———


6. (C) Stormark said that there was “no question” that

elements in the ministry of defense, the army, the police,

the central bank, and the attorney general are “plotting how

to get rid of the unity government.” Stormark specifically

mentioned Gideon Gono, the reserve bank president, by name,

speculating, “he is in on whatever is being plotted.”

Stormark did not reference any hard information on a specific

plot, but spoke generally. In a follow up phone call,

Stormark called our attention to the outcome of the March 30

SADC meeting, which resulted in strong condemnation of the

recent events in Madagascar. He opined that anyone plotting

an outright coup would be sobered by the SADC’s response, as

it might behave more toothily in the context of a radical

change in status-quo in Zimbabwe than it did to Zimbabwe’s

slow bleed over the last two years.


A dilemma on aid: Humanitarian, “plus”?



7. (C) Although Stormark said that “the UK was not amused” at

the GON delegation’s visit, he emphasized that there is

little difference of opinion between Norway and other

potential donors on the issue of aiding Zimbabwe. Norway, he

said, simply wanted to start a dialogue with Mugabe and FM

Mumbengegwi, though he characterized the latter as

“absolutely not a diplomat” and “a hack.” (Comment: Norway’s

desire to start a dialogue is entirely in keeping with

Norwegian diplomatic character and should not be viewed as

special to Zimbabwe. End comment.) Norway fears, as other

potential donors do, that a way to channel aid outside the

grasp of corrupt ZANU-PF officials is yet to be fully

devised, and the question remains, “how do we re-engage?”

One option the GON is examining is whether, in addition to

ongoing humanitarian aid, salaries for teachers and health

personnel could be directly subsidized. This he called the

“humanitarian, plus” concept. It remains “hard to ensure

that money goes to the right place.”


8. (C) Despite criticism both within and outside of Norway

for the GON’s decision to send a delegation, Stormark said

that “everyone” they met in Zimbabwe was happy that they had

come. It was “encouraging to local aid partners” and, also,

the MDC, who are desperate for budget support. (Comment: The

MDC presumably does not expect such budget support from the

US but might hope for it from the Norwegians. End comment).


9. (C) When poloff commented on the difficult position MDC is

in, given that they control the service-providing ministries

most subject to popular anger, Stormark said, “well of

course, that’s just the way ZANU-PF wanted it,” but the MDC’s

recent payment of US$100 to public servants demonstrated that

“there is more money in the treasury than some outsiders

believed.” Stormark said that MDC would try to exploit the

fact that they are in control of the ministry of finance, and

“work around Gono,” using “project accounts.”


10. (C) On the humanitarian side, Stormark said that in

discussions with ZANU-PF officials the GON delegation

repeatedly brought up the need to repeal extraordinary

security laws and reestablish full press freedom. They also

raised concerns that NGOs expressed to them about NGO freedom

of movement within the country.


Observations on international organizations



11. (C) Stormark said it was crucial that the Bretton Woods

institutions be able to re-engage in Zimbabwe to facilitate

both an assessment for financing and a new flow of aid. On

aid institutions currently operating in Zimbabwe, Stormark

had the following to say: “UNICEF is doing a good job

providing aid, working much faster and better than the WHO.”

In contrast, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator, Zacarias, is

“too close to the government.” Stormark said that the UN has

been trying to fill that position with someone else for a

long time, and it is frustrating that he’s still there.





12. (C) COMMENT: Minister Solheim’s visit to Zimbabwe should

be interpreted in the context of the Norwegian preoccupation

with engagement. As the Norwegian readout document excerpted

below indicates, the Norwegians viewed their trip as a

success simply because a dialogue was started. This was

hardly a significant or surprising achievement as Mugabe

would have talked to almost anyone who could confer

legitimacy, but it plays into Norwegian aspirations to make a

difference where more powerful actors (often including the

US) are perceived to have adopted inflexible policies that

have stalemated a situation. Our assessment in this case is

that while the Norwegians are willing to talk to Mugabe, and

might consider some direct injections of cash to politically

sensitive sectors such as public servant wages, both domestic

and international pressure will prevent the government from

straying from the consensus on limits of aid to this regime.

End Comment.


13. (U) Embassy Harare cleared on this cable.


An Internal Norwegian Report



14. (C) The following is a translated except from the

internal MFA report on the Zimbabwe trip, written by the

Southern Africa Section, to Minister Solheim, copying all

relevant MFA sections. It thus represents the “official”

readout to the GON and should be treated as confidential.


Begin Norwegian Text:


Executive Summary:

–MDC on the offensive in the new unity government, but

introduction of democratic playing rules still far off.

–President Mugabe expresses support for the unity government

and wishes for dialogue with the international community

–The economic situation is precarious and the unity

government is dependent on international aid for its success.

–Delegation was welcomed by all parties in Zimbabwe.



–Political Developments


-Developments inside the new government are moving in the

right direction, though slowly. The MDC believes they are on

the offensive in all government meetings. There was a

significant battle over the recent budget, but president

Mugabe ultimately supported finance minister Biti. MDC

believes that there is a generational difference between the

two parties that is apparent in both engagement and activity

in governing.

-The important JOMIC conflict resolution body has so far

been in a position to solve those issues which have come

before it. When they are unable to resolve a conflict, the

conflict is supposed to be forwarded to facilitators South

Africa or the SADC, but this has not been necessary so far.

The work of the JOMIC has, however, proceeded extremely

slowly. Norway will support JOMIC along with Sweden and


-In the meetings with the president and foreign minister,

both of ZANU-PF, both emphasized that they wanted the unity

government to succeed. However, there is undoubtedly a

question of how deep the desire for change really is, as they

deny that the country has problems in its democracy. On the

other hand, we should underline that this is the first time

in ten years that leading ZANU-PF politicians have been

willing to go into dialogue with the international community

on difficult issues–that constitutes a new and positive step.


–Problem Areas


-Although things are on the right track, this is a

process that can easily derail. Strong opposing forces are

in play. Even if the MDC feels itself on the offensive in

the government, parliament and JOMIC, there exists a parallel

power structure which gives cause for concern: the military,

police, and defense minister Mnangangwa. There is reason to

believe that both the attorney general and the central bank

president also belong to this group. There are reports of

extensive meetings among these actors who are probably

planning to sabotage the unity government. This group is

particularly worried about losing control of the economy.

-Issues relating to the naming of a new central bank

president, attorney general, and section heads, currently all

in ZANU-PF control, are not yet resolved. In order for the

finance minister to get control over cash flows, the central

bank president either has to be fired or his powers have to

be reduced. This is a key point for donors.

-There are still political prisoners in the country, and

the laws which limit human rights and press freedom still

stand even if there are hopeful signs. There also continues

to be violence and intimidation, and illegal farm invasions

have not stopped.


–Aid’s Significance


-Finance minister Biti underlined that the unity

government is dependent on extensive foreign aid in order to

succeed. At the same time, donors are waiting for signals of

further change as a prerequisite for contemplating aid beyond

that which is strictly humanitarian. It is a “chicken and

egg” situation. It may be necessary to find acceptable

mechanisms for aid that give the MDC within the unity

government the ability to succeed without losing control over

where the money goes. It is particularly important to

provide funds for salaries of teachers and health personnel,

something like what Sweden has decided to do. Questions

about what type of aid can be given are a challenge for all

donors, and will probably be a dominant theme in many

upcoming meetings among key donors and multilateral

institutions. It’s important to note that the SADC and AU,

in addition to the MDC, called for donor countries to support

the unity government.


–The Visit’s Significance


-Minister Solheim’s visit successfully fulfilled its

purpose of starting a dialogue. All parties in Zimbabwe

welcomed the visit as a sign that the international community

wished to engage itself in supporting the risky proposition

that the new unity government represents. No one disputes

that in today’s Zimbabwe there is no alternative to the unity

government, except going back to repression and military


-Some donor countries were skeptical about Norway’s visit

to the extent that they were afraid that Norway would go it

alone and promise aid before important changes had been

implemented. Our impression is that this skepticism has been

reduced in the course of the last two or three weeks in line

with the progress MDC has made in governing and a clear

communication of the purpose of the visit. There is

relatively little discrepancy among donors about what has to

happen in Zimbabwe before reengagement.

-The Southern Africa section (of the MFA) will now

cooperate with others in the (Harare) embassy to formulate a

short-term response to the immediate financing needs in

Zimbabwe. In addition, we will consider an overall framework

proposal for aid in advance of the planned donor meeting

organized by the ADB at the end of April.


End Norwegian Text.



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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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