Can Gideon Gono avoid trouble for himself over latest Wikileaks cables?

Sep 5, 2011

That Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor Gideon Gono has “considerable ego and ambition” is no secret to anyone. Nor are his love for the limelight and his predilection for depicting himself as the central player in any of the dramas in which he has been involved. Those have been many, in his role a central banker whose closeness to the Mugabes and resulting influence is without precedence in Zimbabwe. Are the new Wikileaks U.S. diplomatic cables revelation going to change everything for Gono?

The cables suggest that even the U.S. officials he is claimed to have spoken to were a little doubtful about how much of what he told them could be taken as credible factual information and how much was “self-serving spin.”

Some of his revelations to the U.S. officials on ZANU-PF internal politics simply sound breathlessly, excitably gossipy; while some of his predictions of likely personnel moves within the party have with the passage of time been proven inaccurate.

But most damaging to Gono, perhaps even dangerous to him, are the suggestions that he revealed Mugabe family confidences to the Americans. He is said to have told them of Mugabe's alleged prostrate cancer, the doctors alleged prognosis, and Grace Mugabe's alleged comments to Gono about her concerns over her husband's health.

Although the cancer speculations have floated for years, Gono's divulging of Mugabe family confidences to U.S. diplomats, if true, would be considered personal betrayal of the highest order. This is especially so considering how much the Mugabes trusted Gono as well as because of Mugabe's bitterness at the U.S., along with Britain, for their sanctions on his government and what he has long maintained are their 'illegal regime change' intentions.

New Zimbabwe reports Gono as responding to the leaked cables of then U.S. Ambassador Christopher Dell that quote him as “fiction, opinion and character assassination'' which were deliberately stripped of their context. If you draw conclusions outside the full context in which things are said and discussed, you run the risk of missing the real issues completely."

That may be so, but outside full context or not, that the man who has boasted of being the Mugabes' personal banker would discuss his client's closely guarded health details with people he knows that prominent client considers his enemies was arguably disloyal, and unquestionably unwise.While Gono has been able to brush off previous embarrassing charges of various sorts, these ones are difficult and awkward to do so. Quite apart from Wikileaks, there are increasing rumors and signs of Mugabe being in failing health, so the comments attributed to Gono about Mugabe's health have a ring of truth to them.

Arguing that the U.S. claims about Gono's revelations on Mugabe's health woes were just to 'tarnish' the central banker is weak-sounding. Fairly or unfairly, and unfortunately for Gono, the comments attributed to him in Wikileaks will be found by many people to be quite believable, both in terms of their reflection o Mugabe's health as well as respect of whether the chatty, attention-seeking Gono would messily 'spill the beans' like he is sad to have done. It is not so much whether the health rumors are true or not, in/out of context that will potentially Gono in trouble, but that he, a trusted Mugabe confidant, was the one who had discussions with U.S. about these issues. It will be extremely difficult for Gono to completely blow away the air of suspicion that is likely to dog him.

Among the inevitable questions about him will be: What else did he tell the Americans? In what capacity and circumstances would Mugabe's wife Grace have ''confided'' in Gono about her husband being '‘out of it’ about 75 percent of the time?''

Just the public asking of these questions by Zimbabweans in all sorts of fora will be embarrassing and humiliating for both the Mugabes and Gono. It is hard to imagine that their relations can be quite as close and trusting now as they once were. Gono might keep his position as RBZ governor, but his main influence has been accorded by the informal power of his personal closeness to Mugabe, which it is difficult to imagine can remain unaffected by the new Wikileaks cable claims.

Obviously a lot also depends on whether Gono has come fully clean about his contacts with the U.S. embassy since the first cables came out. If he did pre-empt  the effects of these present cables then by convincingly explaining his contacts with the Americans then to boss Mugabe, perhaps the new revelations will change little for him. It can also not be known how much Zimbabwean intelligence already knew about who Gono was meeting with. It would certainly not be out of line for a central banker to have meetings and discussions with representatives of an influential country like the U.S., despite its cold war with the Mugabe government. The cause of possible trouble for Gono would be not so much the meetings per se, but the claimed divulging of  Mugabe family and ZANU-PF confidences.

It must also be pointed out that as far back as Gono's relationship with the Mugabes goes, there would have been many other threats to it over time that they have overcome. Not so long there was the story in a British paper alleging an affair between Gono and Grace Mugabe. There are many stories over the years, particularly in the largely Mugabe-hostile UK and South Africa media, that have turned out to be outright propaganda against him. Whether the Gono-Grace story fits in that category or not, he was obviously able to convincingly deny that story to his principal, or else he would have long been history, in more ways than one. Perhaps the relationship and trust are so deep that they can survive this grave new knock as well?

The cables have Dell pointing out that Gono's power has mainly been in the economic sphere. Yet in his once larger than life role as free-ranging economic trouble-shooter, a role since greatly diminished, he has also made a lot of political enemies. If he is stripped of the perceived protection of being close to the Mugabes, there will surely be many political heavyweights who would love to settle some scores with him.

Even if it takes some time for the implications of the latest Wikileaks cables for Gono specific position and general power to become clear, it is hard to imagine that they will remain completely unaffected.  

The Zimbabwe Review


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