Wikileaks, elections and Zimbabweans in SA battle for top spot


An uneventful year in which Zimbabwe was battling to get on its feet after starting on a new slate in 2009 ended on a high note with three major issues- the Wikileaks cables, elections and the regularisation of Zimbabweans in South Africa- battling for top spot.

Petty squabbles about outstanding issues in the Global Political Agreement and the Marange diamonds and whether Zimbabwe should be allowed to openly sell them dominated news in the first nine months of the year but by then it was abundantly clear that Zimbabwe was on its own. It was not going to be rewarded for the progress it had made since the establishment of the inclusive government in February 2009.

But things began to unravel when President Robert Mugabe announced that the country was going to have elections next year because he was fed up with the petty squabbles he was having with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai. Suddenly no one wanted the elections though there had been calls to have them as early as September 2009 when the country marked 12 months of the signing of the GPA.

Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change said it was prepared only for presidential elections because it was only the results of these elections that were disputed in 2008, but the Zimbabwe African National Union- Patriotic Front said these would have to be harmonised elections.

The Western governments that had insisted that they would not grant multilateral aid to Zimbabwe until there were free and fair elections which reflected the will of the people now backtracked saying the climate was not right for free and fair elections.

But all the arguments were torn to shreds when Wikileaks released diplomatic cables that had been filed by United States ambassadors in Harare to Washington. The cables confirmed that the West had been working to get Mugabe out of power since 2000. They also revealed that Tsvangirai privately told Western governments not to lift sanctions on Zimbabwe but publicly campaigned for their lifting.

Although the cables also revealed that ZANU-PF officials were looting diamonds from Marange and that Mugabe was a crazy old man who did not want to talk to most African leaders because they were too young, they did more damage to Tsvangirai whom one diplomat described as flawed and was only getting support from the West because there was no other better candidate.

The MDC-T has brushed off the impact of the cables but the Western media seems to be deeply concerned. In a story that has been lifted by numerous blogs Christopher Albon wrote in the Atlantic that Wikileaks had just set back democracy in Zimbabwe.

He argued that by releasing diplomatic cables in which Tsvangirai privately supported sanctions but publicly denounced them, Wikileaks had derailed the road to democracy because Zimbabwe’s attorney general Johannes Tomana had already indicated that Tsvangirai could be tried for treason.

“While it’s unlikely Tsvangirai could be convicted on the contents of the cable alone, the political damage has already been done. The cable provides Mugabe the opportunity to portray Tsvangirai as an agent of foreign governments working against the people of Zimbabwe. Furthermore, it could provide Mugabe with the pretence to abandon the coalition government that allowed Tsvangirai to become prime minister in 2009. It’s difficult to see this as anything but a major setback for democracy in Zimbabwe,” he wrote.

“Even if Tsvangirai is not charged with treason, the opponents to democratic reforms have won a significant victory. First, popular support for Tsvangirai and the MDC will suffer due to Mugabe’s inevitable smear campaign, including the attorney general’s “investigation.”  Second, the Prime Minister might be forced to take positions in opposition to the international community to avoid accusation of being a foreign corroborator.  Third, Zimbabwe’s fragile coalition government could collapse completely. Whatever happens, democratic reforms in Zimbabwe are far less likely now than before the leak.”

Similar sentiments were expressed by James Kirchick writing in the Wall Street Journal.  In the article entitled: Wikileaks’ collateral damage- Julian Assange’s reckless behaviour could cost Zimbabwe’s leading democrat his life, Kirchick  argued that as a result of the WikiLeaks revelations, Mugabe’s handpicked Attorney General, Johannes Tomana, this week formed a commission to determine whether Tsvangirai committed treason by working with foreign governments to impose and sustain sanctions. “If found guilty, he could face the death penalty,” he wrote.

While accusing Assange of lacking any appreciation for the subtleties of international statecraft, Kirchick could have done more collateral damage to Tsvangirai than Assange because in the article, he states:  “In June 2009, I heard Mr. Tsvangirai speak at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, D.C. At the time, he was visiting Western capitals to seek increased aid and a lessening of sanctions—the very ones that he later privately told European and American officials to maintain. Although he waved off concerns from the audience about Mr. Mugabe as “misgivings” that “arise out of history,” it was clear that his heart wasn’t in the appeal. Mr. Tsvangirai was trapped precariously between Western governments and the people who had repeatedly tried to murder him back home.”

But the biggest event for Zimbabweans in the diaspora was South Africa’s move to regularise Zimbabweans staying in that country. The exercise which kicked off in September was laden with obstacles. Zimbabwe could not cope with the demand for documents, particularly passports. The process itself was cumbersome as it took at least three to four days for a Zimbabwean before South African Home Affairs officials could start processing his or her papers. The process was eased in December but this might have been too late.

South Africa is reported to be hosting the greatest number of Zimbabweans. The move, some claim, was meant to quell xenophobia as most South Africans had vowed to kick out foreigners after the World Cup. But it also provided a unique opportunity for Zimbabwe to establish which Zimbabweans were outside the country but it looks like the government did not take advantage of this. Instead it was overwhelmed by the demand for passports.

It will only be clear next week whether the exercise was successful or not. But whatever happens the three issues: Wikileaks, elections and South Africans in Zimbabwe are likely to dominate the news in 2011.


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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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