Quote of the week

[Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro] possesses, however, few of his predecessor’s resources, lacking not just oil revenue but Chávez’s surplus of charisma, humour and political skill. Maduro, unable to end the crisis, has increasingly sided with the privileged classes against the masses; his security forces are regularly dispatched into barrios to repress militants under the guise of fighting crime. Having lost its majority in Congress, the government, fearing it can’t win at the polls the way Chávez did, cancelled gubernatorial elections that had been set for December last year (though they now appear to be on again). Maduro has convened an assembly to write a new constitution, supposedly with the objective of institutionalising the power of social movements, though it is unlikely to lessen the country’s polarisation.

Greg Grandin
London Review of Books
2 April 2007

More about Zimbabwe: does it ever end?

A reader responds to this somewhat provocative post on Zimbabwe by arguing that just because Robert Mugabe said that Mbeki had agreed with him regarding the Western conspiracy against liberation movements, doesn’t hold much water.

Bob is clearly off his rocker and I’m sure he manages to perceive support where there is none, just as much as he is able to perceive threats where there are none. The Weekender had a different take on all this.

Some analysts have now also come out saying that it might not have been plain sailing for Mugabe at the SADC summit. The Weekender article seems particularly optimistic though. They write:

By the time the summit was over, Mugabe had been told by his peers that his time was over, and all that was left to do was negotiate a smooth exit. He was given two choices: quit at the end of his current term in March next year as he promised last year, or introduce far-reaching reforms to end the political and economic crisis.

But regional leaders are not waiting on him to act. Following the summit, the SADC is now putting together an exit package for Mugabe underwritten by western countries. Sources say the US and UK have drafted a five-point plan, including an economic rescue package, as part of the way forward to complement the SADC initiative.

I sure hope this is true, but we have been here before. On several previous occasions we have been told (also by Mbeki) that Mugabe had agreed to this or that course of action (and maybe he had), but the action never materialised. The SADC leaders argue that public criticism of Mugabe would only weaken their influence on them, but there is no evidence that they have any influence on him at all.

If the leaders of all 12 countries stood up and publicly announced that Mugabe’s regime had overstepped the line, that it was not respecting the Rule of Law or even the most basic tenets of human rights, it would have been a powerful statement not easily dismissed by Mugabe as the ranting of Western stooges.

Criticising Mugabe in private and showing solidarity with him in public is deeply dishonest and disrespectful to the people of Zimbabwe. It is also counter productive because – as we have seen – Mugabe immediately used the statement to secure a commitment from Zanu-PF for him to stand for another term. From my perspective, the SADC leaders are either deeply naïve and maybe stupid by thinking Mugabe will play their game, or they are really supporting him out of a sense of paranoid-inspired loyalty.

Maybe I am wrong (and I hope I am). If anything comes of Mbeki’s mediation, I will be the first one to apologise to SADC leaders. But looking back over the past ten years, I am unfortunately fairly confident that I will not have to apologise anytime soon – or, for that matter, until the cows come home.

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