Africa Watch

Mugabe’s image takes a serious knock in Africa

Khama and Mugabe, not-so-friendly neighbours

Analysts say President Robert Mugabe’s decision to cling on to power despite his advanced age and his country’s waning fortunes has now stretched his South African Development Community (SADC) counterparts’ patience to the limit.

There are indications that exasperation with Mugabe is boiling over, as attested by  the public comment of Botswana’s President Ian Khama’s that the time for Mugabe to go is now.

One of Mugabe’s main praise singers, his Minister of Higher and Tertiary Education, Jonathan Moyo’s, response was: “As such, the Khamas of this world and their hopeless lot must be told in no uncertain terms to go hang.”

Mugabe must go

President Khama told Reuters in an interview that President Mugabe ”no longer has the capacity to provide effective leadership and must go. It is obvious that at his age and the state Zimbabwe is in, he is not really able to provide the leadership that could get it out of its predicament.”

He also said Mugabe’s misrule was a burden to the entire southern African region which is accommodating millions of economic refugees from Zimbabwe.

Mugabe refrained from responding in public, but snubbed the invitation to attend Botswana’s 50th independence celebration, instead attending a women’s league meeting of his ruling ZANU-PF party.

A week later he attended the 50th independence celebration of Lesotho and one of his praise singers used the opportunity to reprimand President Khama: “President Mugabe has been invited and from what I understand, he is likely to honour the invitation. Just by so doing, President Mugabe will finally vividly make his point; relish his day through a damning comparison. He will be able to quietly chastise Khama, while showing the Batswana people how much of a huge cost their leader’s blunderous (sic) diplomacy is to the two peoples”.

He went on to smirk, “… the whole contrast will once more bring to the fore how, under Khama, Botswana has pursued a foreign policy, which is non­-Africa, non­-SADC and non­-collegial.”

Zimbabwe’s Minister of Information, Christopher Mushowe, tried to downplay the tiff. “These are heads of States, with direct access to each other. If any of them has advice for the other they do not need to use the media. The media wants to create a situation that is non-existent.”

The explanation by Minister Mushowe convinced few. It is obvious that President Khama’s remarks touched a raw nerve and reignited the simmering tension between the two neighbours.

Khama’s motivation

President Khama is known for his strong convictions and forthrightness. It has in the past, on a number of occasions, put him at odds with other heads of state in Southern Africa. 

His Mugabe remarks could be construed – as Mugabe obviously did – as undiplomatic, unflattering and uncalled for interference in the internal affairs of another country.   

Khama’s criticism, however, must be understood against the growing frustration in Botswana – its economy also under increasing pressure – with the added burden of the large number of Zimbabwean refugees.

Zimbabwe’s counterstrike

In a clear effort to blunt the psychological impact of President Khama’s remarks, the Mugabe regime went on the offensive with repeating an old allegation first made in 2008. Zimbabwe then alleged that Botswana has since 2002 been providing military training to members of the opposition MDC-Tsvangirai (MDC-T) party to destabilise Zimbabwe.

Botswana dismissed the claim and called on[JK1]  the Mugabe regime to provide documented evidence. The evidence never came.

But, after the recent Khama remarks, Zimbabwe’s Minister of Home Affairs, Ignatius Chombo, repeated the allegation that Botswana was “training a terror outfit to destabilise the country”, knowing it would annoy President Khama and that he would respond.

Not only was the new allegation denied, but President Khama also dispatched to Harare an intelligence delegation, led by his spy chief, to convey his annoyance with the accusation.

Zimbabwean newspapers quoted intelligence sources that the liaison on senior intelligence level was meant to defuse the mounting tension and avoid the unpleasant public confrontations of 2008 which escalated to a level where Botswana feared a military invasion from Zimbabwe.

According to leaked WikiLeaks cables, Botswana in 2008, after the Zimbabwean allegation, approached the United States (US) to supply military equipment to ward off a military assault by the far superior Zimbabwean military.

WikiLeaks reported that the US embassy in Botswana was approached to forward a request for global positioning systems, anti-tank missiles, short-range air defence systems and helicopter gunships to help Botswana prepare for an expected attack.

Notwithstanding close US-Botswana relations the request was vetoed, based on the argument that provision of the equipment could harm America’s interests in southern Africa and trigger a regional arms race.

Namibia’s president adds his concern

Although far less outspoken, but significantly, Namibia’s President Hage Geingob recently also voiced concern with the Zimbabwean situation. In direct reference to Mugabe dictatorial policies Geingob warned: “We must know that killing our people is not the way to go. If you do that, you can’t expect the world to respect you. They will intervene and tell you that you are doing a wrong thing.” He then added, “We must get rid of the days where we believed in strong presidents, personality cults, and that some are (demi) ­gods.”

A Zimbabwean political analyst, Pedzisai Ruhanya, said of this warning: “It’s a real break with tradition because it (Namibia) has never been known to make any comments on Mugabe’s leadership or anything remotely connected to it.”

One of Africa’s most respected elder statesmen, Nigeria’s former president Obasanjo, also added his voice to those calling for Mugabe to step down when the question was put to him during a recent visit to Jamaica. 

DRC secrets

Another SADC leader that cannot be too pleased with Mugabe is Joseph Kabila from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

In a fascinating article Ken Yamamoto tells how Mugabe and his cronies have looted the DRC for years of its natural resources, particularly diamonds, under the pretext of helping to restore order and stability.

According to the article on looting of diamonds for the benefit of Mugabe and his cohorts, it did not start with the plundering of Zimbabwe’s own Marange diamond field and the missing US$15 billion associated with it. Much earlier Mugabe and his cohorts – including many of the current crop of politicians still close to him and senior security and military officials – had already started rampant racketeering, illegal mafia­-style smuggling, double­-crossing, double-dealing, as well as illegal arms peddling, with Congolese rebels.

Zimbabwe’s military involvement in the DRC, which, admittedly, had been a major help in curtailing a conflict that was getting out of control, cost the Zimbabwean taxpayers US$27 million a month and greatly contributed to Zimbabwe’s present economic woes.

Were it not for Kabila’s own nefarious activities and less-than-exemplary leadership, Mugabe and his cohorts’ transgressions in the DRC might have surfaced much sooner.    

Losing respect       

Caught up in an unwinnable domestic struggle to cling to power, the remarks of Khama, and to a lesser degree of Geingob, indicate that Mugabe is now also losing the battle externally by losing the respect of his younger peers in southern Africa.

by Garth Cilliers

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