There are no winners in Zimbabwe: Update


The original post and subsequent update were among the most visited on the LWD site. Since then, the Mugabe regime has clung to power although the ailing President is widely presumed to be managed by others jockeying for position after his demise.

Revised on the 90th birthday of Robert Mugabe, 21st February 2014

An earlier post [April 2008] argued that there are no winners in Zimbabwe. This week [September 11th 2008] after pretacted negotiations, some form of power-sharing seems to have been brokered. In December [2009] BBC reporters were invited in for the first time in nearly a decade. The BBC seems to have benefitted from recognition of how Zimbabwe could benefit from South Africa’s staging of Football’s world cup in 2011.

We must hope that the deal will bring some significant change. Yet it is hard to believe that Robert Mugabe will yield power to Morgan Tsvangirai through democratic means.

That is not say that the patient negotiations, and the role of South African President Thabo Mbeki, were less than admirable. Western commentators have tended to dismiss the virtues of ‘an African approach’ . But the more direct Western methods favoured would arguably have created more hardships in a much-troubled nation.

Original post follows

After its elections last month, the people of Zimbabwe continue to lose battles against inflation, AIDS, and for many of the basic minimum requirements for physical survival. Zanu PF party concedes they have lost the elections, but Mr Mugabe continues to cling to the Presidency. There are no winners in Zimbabwe yet

Some years ago on a visit to that beautiful country, I found that inflation in Zimbabwe was already taking off. I still have a twenty (Zim) dollar bill from that time. It is now worth roughly one millionth of a US dollar. The inflation is more than a match for that experienced in Weimar Germany in the 1920s- 1930s.

Lucie Powell in The Guardian drew on her direct experience to sketch the scale of the human disaster in Zimbabwe. She arrived at an estimate of two million people who have fled Mugabe’s regime.

David Miliband was to offer an estimate of twice that, in the commons debate (see below).

A Week in Politics

One week after the elections, external reports have widely reported that Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) had won by a small but decisive margin over President Robert Mugabe. But the six days limit to announcing the result came and went [on Friday, April 4th 2008].

In the UK a Parliamentary debate was the first for a while that seemed genuinely focussed on this issues, and was remarkably free of point-scoring. It was a good and dignified performance from David Miliband .

In essence, the debate accepted that this was no time for political gestures, but one in which behind-the-scenes efforts were going on from the key areas around the world, but particularly within Africa itself.

No one in the House would want me to hand ZANU-PF a propaganda coup by endorsing one candidate or another, or by taking it on myself to announce the result. In truth, in spite of what President Mugabe would want the world to believe, the crisis in Zimbabwe has never been about personalities. … It is, and has always been, about the policies that Robert Mugabe and his Government have chosen to follow and the terrible destruction that has been wreaked on the Zimbabwean people.
…The situation preceding these elections was shocking. The conditions for free and fair elections were certainly not in place. The playing field was tilted heavily in favour of ZANU-PF. Up to 4 million people who had fled Zimbabwe’s crisis could not vote. In some areas, [many] who tried to vote were frustrated by an inaccurate electoral roll. We will probably never know how many dead people on that roll cast ghost votes. … if a second round of voting is deemed necessary, it must be held in a way that gives far greater respect not just to our standards but to the Southern African Development Community electoral standards. We remain in contact with our SADC partners on the issue

The theme of the discredited leader made quite an impact on me. In my scribbled notes at the time:

‘Miliband argued that the weakened leader in Zimbabwe should now step down. Maybe as they listened some members of his party were reflecting on whether pressure could also be applied in the UK for replacing another weakened leader …’

The BBC offered a clear summary of why Mugabe’s claims of vote rigging appeared no more than delaying tactics:

In the parliamentary race, the MDC count is almost exactly the same as the official results, suggesting that there was little or no ballot-box stuffing after ballots were cast. Furthermore, in some seats the MDC won by a handful of votes – again suggesting that the count was fair.

A week after the election the delaying tactics that many commentators feared became even more obvious.

The Huffington Post explored two rumours emerging from the country:

[The first rumor is that] President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe has agreed to a run-off election. The date that I have heard bantered about is April 19th. There are text messages flying across the continent and various groups ramping up to ensure Zimbabweans get out and vote the tyrant out of the office..

The other rumor …is that [Mugabe] is busy filling bags of currency as he raids the treasury. The suggestion is that he will leave the country. This would be great for Zimbabweans in many ways. Yet if he does this, there are major concerns that he will not leave a single Zimbabwe dollar for the country’s recovery.

I was reaching a similar conclusion, although I’m not sure about the details. Why should the President leave with trainloads of worthless Zim dollars, when the general exit strategy for deposed political figures is to have squirreled away most of what is needed well in advance, in traditionally safer modes of exchange such as gems?

Let’s not assume it was Utopian before Mugabe
According to a 1995 Word Health Organization report on Zimbabwe

“smallholder agriculture expanded rapidly during the first half of the 1980s and social indicators improved quickly.” From 1980 to 1990 infant mortality decreased from 86 to 49 per 1000 live births, under five mortality was reduced [by approximately 50%] and immunisation increased from 25% to 80% of the population …child malnutrition fell from 22% to 12%, and life expectancy increased from 56 to 64. By 1990, Zimbabwe had a lower infant mortality rate, higher adult literacy and higher school enrollment rate than average for developing countries”.

The figures also stand as indicator of the plight of the majority of Zimbabweans under the Ian Smith’s regime, and the gains that were initially made after its overthrow.

This point is worth making. A common Western view seems to be that the earlier regime presided over a halcyon era for all, and that everything was immediately worse under Mugabe.

At the time he was seen as the most promising leader for an eventual transition to a more democratic country with a more equitable distribution of resources.


Nevertheless, the tragic state of the country today is far worse than when Mr Mugabe came to power. The possibility of a re-birth akin to what happened in neighbouring South Africa seems as remote as the possibility of Robert Mugabe taking a place in history alongside Nelson Mandela, as a wise and successful leader of his people.

Acknowledgement: Image from episcopal website.

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