“I didn’t see that coming” The glorious unpredictability of sport, leadership and life

December 1, 2015

Not a ReviewNot a week goes by without me stumbling over the unpredictability of leadership in business, sport, politics, and more seriously over environment challenges and global conflicts

Being alive brings with it the survival skill of reacting to the unexpected. Fear of the unknown is part of the evolutionary arrangements. Learning from the immediate is another.

My blogging tries to help me, and I hope readers,  to connect up the microcosmic with broader sets of ideas, sometimes known as theories. This weekend there were several moments in which my reaction was “I didn’t see that coming”.

Tyson Fury

Tyson Fury’s win over Vladimir Klitschko was one such story. It involved two excessively large boxers in a sometimes hilarious spectacle of drumming up business for their world championship match. The challenger, Tyson Fury, had a range of attention-grabbing stunts. He heaped on the obligatory abuse belittling his opponent. At one press conference he appeared dressed as Batman and gave a pantomime performance of apprehending The Joker. He burst into tuneless song, dedicating it to his pregnant wife, and once, to his impassive opponent.

His underdog back story of the Gipsy King was already in place, ticking many boxes some with similarities to those of bad boy Mike Tyson after whom he was named.

Boxing, that noble art, risks going down a path of gratuitous violence with increasing suspicions of its integrity of decisions, and welfare of its participants. I watch from to time to time with a mix of admiration and suspicion at the apotheosis of athleticism at the service of big business.

The long-established but aging champion was still widely expected to win, although Fury had his cautiously optimistic supporters among pundits. In the fight, Fury delivered the strategy he had boasted of in the pre-fight nonsense and was the shock winner. I for one was fooled, and perhaps so was Klitschko.

As one report put it

Britain’s Tyson Fury pulled off one of the great boxing upsets as he outpointed Wladimir Klitschko to become heavyweight champion of the world. It was a dour and often messy fight but Fury, courtesy of his superior boxing skills, fully deserved to be awarded a unanimous decision.

Ukrainian Klitschko, whose nine-year reign as champion was brought to an end, simply could not work the challenger out and did not do enough to win.

George Osborne

The chancellor stood up to present his autumn financial statement before a House expecting some humiliating climb down over his plans to scrap financial benefits. Osborne sat down to conservative cheers having found a way of turning a defeat into apparent victory.

He was no longing scrapping financial benefits as announced, he was scrapping his plans. A bemused Robert Peston for the BBC described the ‘conjuring trick’.

So how has George Osborne pulled off the magical trick of maintaining spending on the police, imposing smaller than anticipated departmental spending cuts in general, and performing an expensive u-turn on tax-credit reductions, while remaining seemingly on course to turn this year’s £74bn deficit into a £10bn surplus in 2020.

Well, it is because the government’s forecaster, the Office for Budget Responsibility, has increased its prognosis of how much the Treasury will raise from existing taxes (not new ones) and reduced what it thinks the chancellor will shell out in interest on its massive debts.

Or to put it another way, George Osborne is today £23bn better off than he thought in July, and without doing anything at all.

Time to go back to the alleged remark by Napoleon about lucky generals.

Robert and Grace Mugabe

Nothing will surprise me about Mr Mugabe anymore. Or so I thought. Then I read of the expectations of his wife that thanks to a little help from orthopaedic aids, she expects him to rule Zimambwe until he reaches his hundredth birthday. After that  Grace Mgabe is willing to assume the presidency. Grace has already astounded her observers at the speed her PhD was granted from the University of Zimbabwe, following her less successful efforts as a correspondence course student at the University of London.

Lucky Robert. Poor Zimbabwe.

 

 


International tourism presents opportunities and threats to Zimbabwe and Zambia

May 1, 2012


Zimbabwe and Zambia are preparing for a tourist boost in 2013 when hosting the United Nations World Tourism Organization general assembly to be held against the magnificent backdrop of the Victoria Falls. The event poses considerable leadership dilemmas

Background

Zambia and Zimbabwe share historical ties, having been part of the pre-independence Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland when Zimbabwe was known as Southern Rhodesia, Zambia as Northern Rhodesia.

A Coastweek report written from Harare outlines the challenges:

The country’s debt ridden airline, Air Zimbabwe Holdings, was disbanded by government last month and replaced by a new company Air Zimbabwe Pvt Limited that is yet to start operating [April 2012]. It would be ironic that the two countries that [having won] the bid to co-host the big event don’t have national airlines. It does not augur well for the hosts’ image nor for the growth of their tourism industries.

At least for Zimbabwe, chances of it having a running national airline are much better compared to Zambia whose national carrier collapsed three years ago. Air Zimbabwe has six planes, most of them old, but recently acquired an Airbus A320 plane for leasing as it moves to revamp its flagging fortunes.

More than 2000 delegates are expected to attend the event. Safari Operators of Zimbabwe president Emmanuel Fundira said recently that without a national airline, the country would lose the opportunity to capitalize on potential revenue.

Emirates Airlines started flying into Zimbabwe this year while the South African Airways has reportedly increased flights to fill in the void left by Air Zimbabwe. Air Namibia, is set to resume flights to Zimbabwe next month, flying into the country four times a week.

Siamese States?

There appears to be a level of political harmony between the two governments. In a visit to Zimbabwe [April 2012] President Sata of Zambia and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe likened their countries to Siamese twins because of their shared history.

Mr Mugabe also congratulated Zambia’s recent football success after the Chipolopolo boys won the 2012 African Nations Cup, using the same three words he used on his 88th birthday celebrations earlier this year to end his remarks.

“The Chipolopolo boys have brought us pride and glory of victory at the last contest of Africa Cup of Nations. Makorokoto, Amhlophe, Congratulations!”

A source close to events in the story told Leaders we deserve:

Mugabe has turned a bread basket into a failed state, through a leadership that believes in imposition of will. Zambia and others have seen power acquired through the barrel of the gun. Ghana Airways was established by Nkrumah soon after independence in 1958, was run by political appointees, and collapsed with debts of over $160m, not an inconsiderable sum for a small country. This is why routes in Africa which are still lucrative are milked by foreign airlines.

Dilemmas of leadership

The opportunities for tourism offered by the planned event are clear. The challenges are also evident from the state of travel infrastructure, and the fragile economies of Zambia and Zimbabwe.


Mr Tsvangirai’s U-Turn and David Cameron’s “Gay Cash”

December 2, 2011

Zimambwe’s Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s political prospects appear damaged with revelations about his private life. He claims he has been victim of a political plot with accusations echoing some of those familiar to those following the media scandals in the UK over the last few months.

There are two stories, perhaps interrelated here. The first is the furore over Mr Tsvangirai’s private life and the implications for his battle for power against Robert Mugabe. The second story is the wider set of issues in Africa around foreign intervention into traditional beliefs including the moral status of homosexuality.

In the UK, the first story was portrayed in these terms by the Telegraph, drawing extensively from its South African correspondents:

Morgan Tsvangirai, Zimbabwe’s Prime Minister, has walked away from a second marriage, 12 days after traditional negotiations, claiming he has been the victim of a plot to discredit him politically. Mr Tsvangirai lost his first wife of 31 years, Susan, in a car crash two years ago in which he himself was badly injured. [Since then]
He is understood to have met Miss Karimatsenga in South Africa last year and the couple went on holiday together at Christmas.

When the news of the marriage broke last week, Mr Tsvangirai’s office initially denied it, suggesting only that he had paid “damages” for impregnating her.

“My original intention was to make this thing work, to rebuild my family once again and to serve my country with honour and distinction not only as a national leader, but as a respected family man who owned up to his responsibility by following cultural and traditional procedures.”

But he said that from the moment he sent a delegation to negotiate for Miss Karimatsenga’s hand, he became “an innocent bystander in what is supposed to be my relationship”.

“The ‘marriage’ has been hijacked and there is an apparent active political hand that is now driving the processes.

“Everything is so well-choreographed. The intention is clear: to inflict maximum damage on my person and character for political gain.”

He also hinted that Miss Karimatsenga herself might have been in on the plot.

The Second story

The second story has emerged from the recent Commonwealth Leader’s meeting at Perth. Here’s how one report from Africa put it:

Not long ago, the media in UK reported how the UK government had indicated it would cut aid to Ghana, Malawi and other countries which were not gay-friendly… The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, would later confirm those reports. He told journalists at the Commonwealth Meeting in Perth that the UK government would cut aid to anti-gay nations. And one of these nations happened to be Osagyefo’s Ghana.

President John Evans Atta-Mills has called the bluff of David Cameron. He told journalists that no country could force Ghana to accept aid with conditions that contradict the values of the country. Under his presidency Ghana will never legalize homosexuality, he stated.

The same article went on to suggest that Morgan Tsvangirai had made a U-turn over gay rights (which was described as potentially a political blunder) under pressure from Western backers such as the UK Government.

Regional Issues in a Global Spotlight

Leaders we deserve has subscribers from around the world. It will be interesting to learn of regional perspectives of these important stories. “The leader as hero” in many parts of the world is being replaced by maps which claim the benefits of a post-charismatic perspective. In the West, we will at least have become more familiar with the traditional factors within the continued political “battle for Zimbabwe”.


Zimbabwe’s plight needs more than regime change

December 9, 2008

robert-mugabe

When democracy fails, regime change is desirable but difficult. President Robert Mugabe’s regime is a case in point. Which scenarios are the most promising for addressing Zimbabwe’s mounting problems?

When Robert Mugabe refused to accept the results of the Presidential election he lost any claim to democratic support. It became even clearer that the democratic processes in that country were being be dismissed by Mugabe who continued to retain power through military and economic levers.

Economic meltdown in Zimbabwe continues, compounded with personal tragedy. The Aids epidemic is hardly mentioned in external reports, although the outbreak of cholera [December 2008] is reported as yet one more burden visited on a hapless community.

International pressures are not appearing to speed-up change. Sanctions are hurting the most vulnerable.

Regime change is ‘necessary but not sufficient’

However painful the thought to many people, removing President Mugabe will not solve the country’s desperate problems. There are lessons to be learned from recent history. The collective might and will-power of the United States (with not a little help from Great Britain and others) failed to work out a way of achieving regime change in Iraq which resulted in a plan for future stability. The problems in Iraq and in Zimbabwe are not resolved by limited and linear thinking. It is not enough to focus on the first step (First let’s get rid of Saddam, or Mugabe, and then we can really get things moving in the right direction).

Historical lessons

Our historical analyst Jeff Schubert has studied the rise and fall of tyrants. He is in no doubt over the political lessons for Zimbabwe. He points to how the apparatus of power might unravel:

Toward the end of his life, Stalin’s people personnel policies were catching up with him. His long history of picking-off colleagues and lieutenants one, or two, at a time made some of his lieutenants so fearful that they would be next that they began to resist his divide and rule tactics. Sergo Beria wrote: “In 1951 the members of the Politburo, Bulganin, Malenkov, Khrushchev and my father, began to appreciate that they were all in the same boat and it mattered little whether one of them was thrown overboard a few days before the others. They felt a sense of solidarity once they faced the fact that none of them would be Stalin’s successor – he intended to choose an heir from among the younger generation. They therefore agreed among themselves not to allow Stalin to set one against the other, and they would immediately inform each other of anything Stalin said about them, so as to frustrate his manipulations. … This solidarity among the members of the Politburo increased as time went by

Mussolini’s leading lieutenants also jointly sought some mechanism for achieving peace. On 16 July 1943, with Italy at war on the side of Germany, they went to his office. Giuseppe Bottai said: “We are not here to ask to diminish your powers, or rather your power; not to divide, that is dissect, fragment your responsibility. We are here … to ask to share your responsibility. To make of it, that is, co-responsibility, that binds us to you, but also you to us, in ready, absolute and declared solidarity.”

… but Mussolini would not make clear he would share power in the way that was now demanded, and he would not give up the war. [one of his aides] thought Mussolini was wearing a ‘mask’ – that he had lost his will-power, and was actually ‘resigned’ to his fate. In essence, Mussolini seems to have been trapped within his own image as ‘the Man’ and unable to surrender it even thought he clearly recognized that in some way his end was near.

For me, these lessons from history indicate how power drains away, with courageous actions from those directly in contact with the regime. External powers, however well-meaning, have a wider picture to consider: what can we do, even now, to help the people of Zimbabwe?

One day Robert Mugabe will be gone. Whether he was a hero who became confused and began to believe in his right to rule, or a malevolent force is less central to the change process than the material conditions in the country, and what might be done to bring some relief to its people


There are no winners in Zimbabwe: Update

September 12, 2008

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.

Prospects

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.


Robert Mugabe and the Anatomy of Tyranny

June 27, 2008


Tyranny has a pattern of leadership that has been chronicled since ancient times. Tyrants exercise control by increasingly repressive methods, assisted by their close associates who become reluctantly or willingly complicit in their often criminal acts. Does theorising have any relevance to Zimbabwe’s situation today?

Jeff Schubert has made a study of tyrants. His powerful critique of the tyrant has been discussed in earlier posts in Leaders We Deserve. He believes that the tyrants may differ in context, but in other respects are aspects of a common pattern of repressive behaviours, be they on battle fields or board rooms.

He considers Mugabe a prime example of a tyrant. Commenting for Leaders We Deserve he noted:

Tyranny is not only associated with “criminal acts”.. even those tyrants and lieutenants who do engage in criminal acts, do not necessarily see it that way – they often think that they are doing good, and that some brutality is thus justified …perceptions change over time – Mugabe was once broadly seen is a much more positive light. Time in power almost totally obliterates the ability to see any difference between one’s own interests and the interests of the country

BBC’s political editor John Simpson has continued his high profile career as foreign journalist in a series of clandestine reports from within Zimbabwe. Simpson has largely let the facts speak for themselves.

Simpson’s report on the elections [June 2008] is stark.

It has been done with great brutality, but Robert Mugabe has achieved an extraordinary turnaround here.. Back in March, when the first round of voting took place, he was humiliated by being beaten into second place in the presidential race, and by losing the parliamentary election outright. Now he’s the sole effective candidate in Friday’s presidential run-off, and he cannot fail to win with an overwhelming majority.

His opponent, Morgan Tsvangirai, has been completely outmanoeuvred. The outside world, which mostly sympathises with him, can do nothing whatever to help him

Outmanoeuvred?

Simpson does not explain the moves which outflanked the MDC, only suggesting that Mr Tsvangirai had blundered in choosing to seek refuge in a European Embassy (the Dutch Embassy) rather than an African one. His report is one capturing his frustration.

Schubert:

The tyrant who has a long life is very skilful. The Overview of my book has some nice quotes on this – on Stalin etc — but I particularly like this one from Albert Speer which also highlights the role of caution in the success of the long-lived tyrant : “To the imagination of the outsider Hitler was a keen, quick, brutally governing dictator. It is difficult to believe that in reality he edged along hesitantly, almost fearfully. But that was the case.”

The dark side

The dark side of leadership has been an important if uncomfortable neck of the woods for theorists some while. Transformational theorists wrestled with the realization that a Hitler seemed to be manifesting many of the characteristics of the idealized transformational leader.

I am of the view that the idealization of leaders is a process which is well-explained by a socio-psychological treatment. By that I mean exploring the behaviours of the leader drawing on clinical models, particularly those exploring dysfunctional (psychotic) patterns. The behaviours are likely to impact on an organization. If we are talking about political and military leaders the impact may be on army, an orchestra a state or an entire continent. If we are talking cultural groups the impact of the dysfunctional leader may eventually weaken or destroy a media network, an orchestra, or a football team.

It should of course be added that there have been notorious examples of leaders who would be widely considered tyrannical, who had extremely negative effects on a wide range of people, but whose armies, orchestras, or organizations survived and even flourished beyond their tenures.

Mad, bad, dangerous?

According to Schubert

..the tendency is always the same … power becomes a narcotic … The people who .. allow themselves to be dominated [do so] because of the [personal] advantages… The basic result is always the same ..in individual businesses, business associations, sporting clubs, institutions and government bodies of all kinds’.

Schubert is not concerned with older questions of whether the tyrants are mad, bad, or simply dangerous. He argues simply that tyrants dominate, and there is always a cadre who become sucked into compliance, becoming part of an apparatus of repression, and a social system of the oppressed.

While the tyrant may become the primary symbol of the oppression, we may expect to find henchmen whose loyalty is in part because the fall of the tyrant will also signify their own downfalls.

The bigger picture

Simple isn’t it? On one side the tyrant and cronies. The country in economic ruin, and with an AIDs epidemic that has been driven out of the main story. The oppressed people, displaced, and brutalized.

Many suggestions: military intervention. More sanctions. More direct denunciation of Mugabe from South Africa, from China, from anywhere. Nelson Mandela on the eve of his ninetieth birthday to reclaim moral leadership.

Update: Within hours of this post being prepared, Nelson Mandela administered a magnificent and brief comment on ‘the tragic lack of leadership’ currently, in South Africa’s neighbour Zimbabwe. The elections under Zimbabwe go ahead in bizarre and repressive circumstances.

To be continued …


There are no winners in Zimbabwe

May 5, 2008

After its elections of April 2008, the people of Zimbabwe continued to lose battles against inflation, AIDS, and for many of the basic minimum requirements for physical survival. Zanu PF party conceded they lost the elections, but Mr Mugabe continued to cling to the Presidency. There are no winners in Zimbabwe

[These notes were compiled over the month of April 2008, and updated May 2008, Feb 2009, Dec 2009, March 2012 and on 21st February 2014, the 90th birthday of President Mugabe]

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:

‘ In the UK, [David] 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.

Prospects

Nevertheless, the tragic state of the country today [2008] 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.

Update [Feb 1st 2009]

After many painful and tortuous twists in negotiations, a new unified administration was announced [Jan 31st 2009]. Commentators hope for the best, but remain cautious about its viability.

Update [Dec 2nd 2009]

Foreign journalists are allowed in to the country. They marvel at Harare’s beautiful centre, with its wide roads and buildings, heritage of its imperial past. The US dollar has become the de facto currency. It may be more accurate now to say that there are some winners emerging in Zimbabwe

Update [March 9th 2012] The toothpaste assassins

This curious tale of two visitors from Australia accused of being would-be assassins of Mr Mugabe

Acknowledgement: Image from episcopal website.