How NATO's toppling of Gaddafi will be read in Harare

Aug 22, 2011

The African Union has been left looking particularly helpless on Libya. After initially supporting the UN resolution for NATO military action 'to protect civilians' from attacks by Gaddhafi's government, the AU was left embarrassed when it became clear that the real intent was the overthrow of his government. Zimbabwe's president Robert Mugabe was one of the few to publicly express regret at having supported the UN resolution. How might reports of the western engineered/supported end of Gaddhafi's regime affect the receipt by Mugabe's government of the diplomatic olive branch recently extended by the U.S. ambassador to Zimbabwe?

With reports that Gaddhafi's opponents have overrun Tripoli, the end may finally be nigh for for the long time dictator. For many Libyans and Africans across the continent, there will be few tears for another fallen tyrant, despite discomfort at the active role in his overthrow of western countries who have often have had no trouble siding with tyrants considered friendly and controllable.

African leaders are likely to be even more uncomfortable about the lessons of Libya for them. Many of them may have had sometimes testy relations with Gaddhafi, but many of their countries have also benefited from Libyan largesse over the years, and many would have admired his loudly independent foreign policy stance, made possible by Libya's vast oil wealth.  

There have been many recent indications of western countries, with the notable exception of Britain, rethinking their policy of isolating Mugabe's government with 'targeted sanctions' and diplomatic hectoring. They have not only not worked to make Mugabe's government soften up to the Westt, they have also driven it much closer to China than before. The MDC party Mugabe has often alleged is the 'puppet' of western countries is now in a coalition government with his, weakening the western argument that Zimbabwe is not 'democratic,' regardless of how messy that democracy is. 

Charles Ray, the combative U.S. ambassador to Zimbabwe has been locked in a war of words with the host government. But he recently made a surprisingly conciliatory speech expressing his country's desire for better relations, describing current U.S.-Zimbabwe relations as 'a dysfunctional friendship.' He spoke the obvious when he said the U.S. desire for better relations with the Mugabe government depended on its reciprocal willingness to engage better with Barack Obama's government.

There has so far been no official response by the Mugabe government to Ray's speech, so there is no clear cut answer to whether the apparent softening of the U.S. position towards it (and that of several European governments) will be seized upon to improve relations.

Mugabe ceaselessly talks about the lifting of the west's 'illegal sanctions.' The signs of western diplomatic warming up would appear to be a prelude to the eventual lifting of those sanctions, but Mugabe's grudge with the West may run so deep he might not be in any rush to embrace the overtures that are being made.    
Mugabe believes western countries wish to orchestrate 'regime change' in Zimbabwe in favor of his rival, prime minister Morgan Tsvangirai, in order to have in place a 'softer' leader and government more amenable to western influence.

How is Mugabe responding to the tentative western warming up to his government? In the absence of any formal statements, all there is to go on are his voluble general speeches.

He recently labelled NATO a 'a terrorist organization.' “They seek to kill Gaddafi. They have in fact deliberately killed some of his children. Now when they do that deliberately, it is exactly what the Taliban and al-Qaeda do – what is the difference in terms of what they (NATO) are doing?

He has also recently reiterated his frequently expressed cry for Britain and the U.S. to 'leave us alone.'

At the recent funeral of a prominent Zimbabwean retired army general and husband of one of Mugabe's two vice presidents, Charles Ray was reportedly prevented from personally extending his condolences to the family and left the funeral early. It was not the the kind of gesture that suggested a warming of relations.   

If it is the end of the road for Gaddhafi in Libya, the West's clear regime change role there will merely confirm and strengthen the suspicions of leaders like Mugabe about their perceived bad faith. The boastful media reports of the West's military role in directing and supporting Gaddhafi's opponents in his overthrow will likely have the 'collateral damage' of keeping leaders like Mugabe deeply wary of and on the lookout for similar western efforts in their countries.

The U.K.Daily Mail speculates that Gaddafi may seek refuge in 'the international pariah nation of Zimbabwe,' although that is extremely unlikely for many reasons. However, it is supremely ironic that the Gaddhafi who is now being referred to by names like 'mad dog of the Middle East' in parts of the triumphant western media had until a few months ago far closer economic and diplomatic relations with the western powers that have now turned on him than he did with countries like Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe's relations with Europe and the U.S. will ultimately depend on their shared interests rather than on each of these parties' relations with third countries. But for a Mugabe who makes decisions very much on the basis of how he connects various dots, the West's blatant regime change role in Libya will not make him inclined to believe that he can trust them to have the good, mutually respectful relations U.S. ambassador Charles Ray recently expressed a desire for.  


Post a Comment