Wikileaks cables show Mugabe outfoxed all his foes

Sep 6, 2011

The latest batch of leaked U.S.diplomatic cables provide additional proof of the continuing dominance of president Robert Mugabe on Zimbabwe's politics in general, and over ZANU-PF in particular.

For all the plotting by various of his associates suggested by the leaked cables of their communications with U.S. embassy officials, it is also clear that all the officials are in deep fear of Mugabe. Bold talk of leadership renewal that goes back more than 10 years has not yielded results at the top, with the structures of ZANU-PF continuing to reflect Mugabe's preferences.

It is more apparent in the cables than it has been in public that many in ZANU-PF, including some of Mugabe's closest aides, recognize how much an old and tired leadership and image have hurt the party. Despite that apparently widespread sentiment, it is astonishing how Mugabe has completely thwarted any such change. It is in fact many of the claimed would-be reformists who have now gone by the political wayside as Mugabe continues ruling the party and the country.

Currently super-radical minister responsible for indigenization and youth, Savior Kasukuwere, is one of those who allegedly confided with US officials the need for change in ZANU-PF in his activist, pre-cabinet minister days. Perhaps he has had a change of heart now that he is part of Mugabe's power structure? It would hardly be the first time that Mugabe has brilliantly neutralized potential critics and opponents by drawing them closer for a time.

Once prominent information minister and ZANU-PF political strategist Sikhanyiso Ndhlovu would sometimes defend Mugabe's government in ways that sometimes seemed extreme in how over the top they were. The cables suggest that even at his political peak he shared the view of many that change at the top was long overdue. In his official capacity he would robustly attack U.S. positions in regards to Zimbabwe, but apparently privately sell himself to U.S. embassy officials as an influential voice for change and moderation within ZANU-PF.

Current vice president Joice Mujuru is said to have had a furtive, secret meeting with a U.S. ambassador. The cables show she said nothing particularly incriminating and largely faithfully toed the party line on the issues that were discussed. But just the image of her needing to scurry around in fear to have an unofficial meeting with the ambassador of a country her boss was angrily accusing of working on implementing 'illegal regime change' is bad enough in internal ZANU-PF political terms. It cements the view that is emerging- that even at top levels, including directly by his side, were people who said one thing to him and another when his back was turned.

Then there are the stunning revelations of his confidant and 'personal banker,' current Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor Gideon Gono, spilling all kinds of beans to his U.S. embassy interlocutors. Most damaging are the suggestions that he discussed Mugabe family affairs, including the alleged poor state of the president's health.

Some of the wording of Gono's mealy-mouthed denial is curious. He is all over the place in distancing himself from what he is alleged to have divulged to U.S. officials, but also does not directly deny anything. The attempt at damage limitation comes off sounding very awkward. One gets the sense he realizes his situation is not good!

There are many more officials who apparently were surprisingly eager to pour their hearts out to officials of a country the government they belong to was in a diplomatic cold war with. At a recent state funeral a few months ago, Mugabe, speaking in Shona, posed the question of whether all who express support for party positions were genuine, or whether many spoke with a forked tongue. The question sounded rhetorical and somewhat paranoid then, but clearly the old man's intelligence sources had long alerted him to the depths of the doubts amongst the party faithful.

The allegations that the recently deceased army and party big man Solomon Mujuru was supping with and encouraging Mugabe challenger Simba Makoni are not new, but they seem to have been cemented by Wikileaks. Mujuru has repeatedly been characterized as one of the few who was brave enough to openly challenege Mugabe. Yet at the crucial moment he was expected to come out in public support of Makoni's presidential bid in 2008 he didn't, delivering a fatal blow to the campaign. Obviously the reformist ZANU-PF sheep who would have been emboldened to follow Mujuru in supporting Makoni stayed in the Mugabe camp, despite widespread fears within the party that Mugabe would be routed in that election by Morgan Tsvangirai, which is what almost happened.

For whatever reason, Mujuru's claimed political bravery and independence failed him at that pivotal point, calling into questioning the 'kingmaker' tag so much of the media has thrust on him. Whatever private misgivings he had, until his death Mujuru effectively remained a Mugabe functionary. Mugabe thwarted any proxy challenge Mujuru may have dreamed of mounting.

The fevered calls for party leadership renewal were during the darkest days of the country's economic crisis, when things were so bad it was difficult for anyone to imagine a better day, and sentiment for Mugabe to go was at its peak. That economic crisis has largely passed. The MDC that was so feared as an electoral threat by ZANU-PF then remains a formidable challenge, but has lost a lot of its shine. The main concern in ZANU-PF now is over Mugabe's advanced age, reported failing health and their political implications, but he seems as dominant and in control of his party and political events as he was ten years ago.

One of the things to become clearer than ever is that while many of his underlings scurried around in panic and disarray as the government's control over the economy spiraled out of control, Mugabe ultimately outplayed them all. None of the Wikileaks-fingered individuals saying or suggesting unhappiness with his continued control over the party and country are in particularly strong positions in regards to pushing for that agenda. The MDC does not come off sounding particularly good in the leaked cables, with even the sympathetic U.S. embassy showing their disdain.

The U.S. has not achieved any of its objectives in controlling, compromising or pushing Mugabe into the sunset. In fact it is the U.S. that has recently begun to make diplomatic overtures to the Mugabe government. Those efforts have largely been neutralized by the latest cable releases. While no direct 'regime change' efforts are so far in evidence from the leaked cables, the astonishing U.S. interest and efforts to influence Zimbabwe politics are fully on display in a way that will not help relations with Mugabe's government.

Among the many things the Wikileaks cables reveal is that Mugabe, whether ailing or not, for now remains firmly at the top of his political game, with almost all his enemies and any traitors within his ranks looking like rank amateurs in comparison.


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