Alexander Matthews
Alexander Matthews

Why African leaders can’t solve the Zimbabwe crisis

Robert Mugabe has no intention of relinquishing power. He’s even said as much. And this is merely confirmed by the ongoing abduction, incarceration and torture of opposition activists and a bloody-minded refusal to share key ministries in the proposed unity government.

The SADC (Southern African Development Community) is only too aware of the Zanu- PF agenda — and this makes its efforts to force the opposition MDC (Movement for Democratic Change) into a government in which it will be no more than a junior partner all the more chilling. The SADC is using the unity government as a legitimising mechanism to keep Zanu-PF in power. It knows that it needs the MDC to provide Zanu- PF with a veneer of democratic respectability. But this is not what Zimbabwe’s long-suffering people chose at the ballot almost a year ago.

Yet again the SADC has refused to acknowledge the manifestation of the Zimbabwean people’s democratic will – but this is hardly surprising when SADC observer missions sunnily declared successive Zimbabwean elections “free and fair” — despite overwhelming displays of Zanu-PF-sponsored intimidation and rigging.

Indeed, the SADC’s track record has shown that African leaders are incapable of resolving the Zimbabwe crisis. Not because they aren’t able to, but because they do not want to. Why? Simply because our region’s leaders are not democrats. Most share the belief that liberation movements have a divine right to rule, plunder and pillage their respective fiefdoms. Lip service is paid to democracy and transparency provided such concepts do not challenge post-colonial ruling elites.

When Zimbabwe’s groundswell of democratic opposition to Zanu-PF was met with brutal repression, Southern African leaders (with one or two pitiful exceptions) either spoke in support of Mugabe or remained shamefully silent. As Zimbabwe descended into a maelstrom of economic devastation and oppression, both quiet diplomacy and Mbeki’s mediation proved spectacularly successful in propping up Mugabe’s contemptible regime. South Africa has even adopted a proactive approach, working tirelessly to prevent the Zimbabwean tragedy from being discussed in the UN Security Council.

Tsvangarai and his party should treat the SADC — and its brazenly partisan mediation efforts — with the contempt it deserves.

As I have suggested before, an interim government must be installed by the United Nations. This government, staffed by non-political technocrats, can handle humanitarian operations to ensure the roll-out food supplies and healthcare countrywide as well as the operation of essential services, many of which are at a standstill.

The UN must demobilise the security and army, and provide a “peacekeeper” contingent of soldiers and police to ensure safety and security.

And then, some time next year, proper elections must be held — free and fair elections implemented and monitored by the international community.

Zimbabwe deserves nothing less.

  • Lyndall Beddy


    The UN can’t get involved in Africa until invited by the AU. These rules were put in place by two of the most incompetant politicians of recent history – Bush and Mbeki.

    As Moeletsi Mbeki has pointed out power in Zimbabwe vests in the President, not Parliament, so sharing parliament is not even sharing power.

    A properly monitored new presidential election must be run – under supervision of a military peace keeping force.

    And SA should resign from SADC and the AU.

  • KC

    Alex I must commend you on a well argued piece. I do not agree with some of the things to you state but I must say you are one of the few who came up with a suggested solution.

    Seeing that the MDC agreed to join the Unity Government, what from now? It would be prudent for all parties including those not represented in the Unity Government, to agree on a set of time table that would ensure a comprehensive review of the current, drafting and adoption of a new, constitution. A legislative framework that will ensure the establishment of an independent electoral commission possibly constituted and headed by persons of unimpeachable character from outside of Zimbabwe (including the preparation of a proper common voters roll); A review of pending cases relating to political activity with a view to either granting amnesty or prosecution; a proposed timetable for the holding of the Presidential and parliamentary elections.

    The MDC will have to be proactive and use the advantage of being in Government to lobby for these changes within Zimbabwe, the Region as well as the Continent

  • Jon

    The world didn’t rush to Ugandas’s aid when Idi Amin ran amok. Or the Central African Empire when old Bokassa went absolutely cannibal-style bonkers. Their benighted nations didn’t get flicked out of the Olympics or the UN General Assembly. The OAU staunchly defended them to the hilt, remember?

    But they gunned down the white “regimes” of SA and Rhodesia.

    It’s only Africa, remember? Where nonsense makes sense.

  • ruark

    yeah … this is well written… however i fear the SA guavament doesnt want to let this happen. else we wouldnt have stopped those 2 UN security council orders :-/

  • mundundu

    it’s really unfortunate that mwanawasa died. maybe things could have gone differently.

  • Alisdair Budd

    The Black Zimbabwean response to the MDC going into govt is overwhelmingly negative, and basically along the lines of “sellouts”.

    Let’s see what happens with Justina Mukoko and the other abductees first, before giving anymore money to Zimbabwe shall we?

    Otherwise the MDC will be in a govt responsible for holding her, colluding with it.

    Or proving they are incapable, and nothing more than window dressing for the real power in Zim, the CIO.

  • Perry Curling-Hope

    “Most [African leaders] share the belief that liberation movements have a divine right to rule […]”

    Not quite.

    Most have indoctrinated the belief (into their supporters) that only liberation movements have the ability to sustain Africans’ freedom and from ‘the reemergence of colonial oppression’

    Put more bluntly, the SADC states, (the old ‘Frontline’ states) all legitimize their rule founded upon liberation and struggle ideology, not governance.
    Staunch supporters turn a blind eye to shortcomings and abuses, believing that anything other than liberation politics cannot be trusted, and will end up in them being screwed by stooges of ‘The West’ yet again.

    The emergence of a successful and prosperous neighbour north of the Zambezi, which is not ruled by a liberation movement or led by policy based upon such ideology, would constitute an untenable political threat.

    It would undermine, if not totally deconstruct the liberation mindset and the belief system which underpins it.
    It would be the affirmation of a glaring and unmitigated disaster of rule by a liberation movement which failed to step aside once its work was done.
    It would demonstrate that in the quest for ‘a better life for all’, real prosperity trumps ideological promise, and does not have to be ‘Pan African” or anti ‘West’

    Liberators are good at liberating; they do not necessarily make good administrators or good public servants. When the electorates start to realize this, their (blind) faith in the current leadership might well evaporate.

    This is why “they”, the African leaders, “do not want to” resolve the crisis in any manner other than one which perpetuates liberation movement rule.
    It is not because the leaders do not want a successful resolution, or that they are ‘African’, but because their own support base is stands upon an ideology which has long served its time.

  • Lyndall Beddy


    Your analysis is spot on – and it is going to happen here in SA.

    And this is the Bush/Mbeki duo that put this in place – out of spite to undermine the Mandela/Clinton duo.

  • Old,female,paleface

    Fatal choice by – Tsvangari! It’s Harikiri !
    He will soon be seen as Mugabe’s “yes man” while ZANU-PF claim victory and use buckets (no longer sticky hands) to scoop up the hated white money, pouring in from gullible Democracies.
    This is Africa – he will fade into obscurity, holding Tsvangirai’s hand close to his withering thighs.
    If BITI has a modicum of savvy, he will sit on the sidelines and WAIT like the Leopard does.
    Zim will die like the helpless Buck in the night and he can move in for the kill. FORM A PARTY !
    He will be seen as the new “Liberator.”
    Oops! Ugly word, lethal connotation !
    Anyway, he will win the votes while Zanu-PF and MDC supporters, follow him to a new, brighter future. The new day has risen.
    I pray that night comes very quickly and death is fast and painless.
    Nothing could be worse than dying slowly – by sunlight.

  • todd kidd

    Mr. Matthews:

    Perhaps, you’re right that the United Nations should play a big part in making sure that a “unity government” of Zimbabwe is something that the people of Zimbabwe can be proud until fresh elections can organized. However, I can understand the African leaders being very suspicious of outsiders considering what they had to go through with colonialism. Fear of the unknown is why South African whites did not want to relinquish power and why many white South Africans still want let go of stolen lands.
    At the end of the day, peace and economic security will come to Zimbabwe, when all Zimbabweans both black and white will work together for the betterment of the country. Thanks so much. Black American. Todd Kidd

  • Hugh Robinson

    Really well written. Pity that you could not put that on the UN desks of the USA and EU.

    For anyone who has read the history of Africa from 1840’s to mid 90″s one nothing is clear.

    1]The willingness to share power.
    2]The ability to say one thing but mean another.
    3] Democracy is not part of the psyche.
    4]That none interference means “I do not care a shit” so do not force me to make a decision.
    5] The AU has never sided with the people of Africa in any war or political disturbance be it in Sierra Leone, Rwanda, or Congo and now Zim has always sided with the most brutal of the leaders.

  • Lyndall Beddy

    Old, femal, paleface

    Don’t you DARE die yet!

  • mundundu

    it’s more of a “won’t” solve rather than a “can’t” solve, as has been pointed out.

    i really wish there were a client on this thing where we could drown out people’s responses. the noise:signal ratio is getting way out of hand for some people.


  • Ray

    Mr Kidd:

    Nice sentiment. Bet you read all about Alice or perhaps Peter Pan before retiring at night.

    Sleep Tight.

  • donorfatigued

    No such thing will happen – Zimbabwe will be left to fend for itself until it explodes into monstrous anti-Mugabe and tribal violence – and that day surely is imminent.

    Since no such intervention as suggested by the UN can occur and a new “war of liberation” can be the only possibility – unless the supine Zimbabwe people, en masse, decide to allow Mugabe and his henchmen to starve them to death!

  • Sentletse Diakanyo

    It knows that it needs the MDC to provide Zanu- PF with a veneer of democratic respectability. But this is not what Zimbabwe’s long-suffering people chose at the ballot almost a year ago.

    ALEX, it appears that you do not respect the democratic process in Zimbabwe. Do not seek to impose your will on the wishes of the people of Zimbabwe. Let them make their choice of who they want as their leader and define the future for themselves. You dismiss the fact that 43% of Zimbabweans voted for Mugabe; that neither Mugabe or Tsvangirai won the much talked about March 29 elections. If we’re to proceed on the basis that the 47% that Tsvangirai achieved legitimises calls for him to lead the government; we should also recognise and respect the Zim electoral law and the fact that Mugabe through a democratic process also has a right to claim his space in government. Ideally, none of us would want to see him anywhere near Zim power; but unfortunately our wishes cannot dictate to the Zimbabweans.

    Also remember that Tsvangirai by negotiating on the basis of the results of the March 29 elections, he legitimising the results of the elections.

    Tsvangirai has agreed to form a unity government with Mugabe; let us all respect wishes of Zimbabweans to find a solution to the crisis facing their country.

  • Wilbert Mukori


    A very interesting blog and comments!

    I think the fact that Mugabe is a brutal dictator is well established and beyond dispute. He is evil through and through and he has vowed not to give up power and has shown he would do anything including committing mass murder to remain in power. After doing all that, he certainly will not share what he has had to kill to retain.

    SADC and AU leaders know that Mugabe is a ruthless dictator. Many of them have no democratic credential to write home about, yes; but Mugabe is much worse than them. And yet they have continued to support Mugabe even when they could have easily dropped him as a hot potato – after the sham election for example. These are all well established facts too and beyond dispute.

    What I find really disappointing is that knowing all the above Tsvangirai and MDC still went ahead and joined Mugabe in this government of national unity, which as Alex rightly pointed out is there to legitimise Mugabe’s refusal to give up power. MDC could have said no and should have. And I can not for the life of me understand why.

    The only explanation is that Tsvangirai, Tendai Biti and the rest of the MDC leadership found the luxurious lives awaiting them as PM, Minister, and a whole raft of high sounding government positions in the bloated GNU – all paid for by an economically ruined national economy – irresistible. Mugabe’s generosity to his cronies, thugs and those willing to do his bid and call knows no bounce. Zimbabwe’s hospitals and schools have closed for lack of funding, there is no money to buy the chemicals to purify water and end the spread of cholera, etc., etc. And yet in the midst of all this collapse, death and destruction Mugabe has still managed to buy Mercedes Benz and all other luxuries for himself, cronies, etc!

    Old, female, paleface

    “If BITI has a modicum of savvy, he will sit on the sidelines and WAIT like the Leopard does,” you said. No; if Biti had any modicum of common sense he should have refused to have anything to do with this “marriage made in Hell” as a BBC reporter called it.

    What Tsvangirai and MDC have done is “sell out” which is exactly what all the big wigs in Zanu PF have done for the last thirty years. What Zimbabwe needs, what Africa needs, desperately is a few men and women of substance and principles, who will never ever sell out their own mother for any price and be proud they had a mother to sell as the current lot have done!

  • Siphiwo Qangani with kangaroos


    perhaps you’re right African leaders are not capable of resolvin chaos&crises in our continent,and are, indeed,havin a cockamaniac belief abt liberation movements’ entitlements to rule regardless…,but my biggest concern is not only abt your shortsightdness, but it’s more abt your double-standard &skewedness analysis; why dont you ask yourself the same question abt Asian leaders? Surely, a large number of ordinary civillians are sufferin more in Iraq,Afghanistan,Sri Lanka,Burma,North Korea,even in China under selfserving regimes than they do in African…arent they? go figure…
    For me,this is not about abt Mad Bob, Tsvangiria, Mswati, Kim Jon il, Olmert rather more abt our testimony of us livin in a jungle. The world is jst that,a dog eat dog planet,a fish munches another fish regarthless where they swim, flea sucks another flea’s blood…its tough.

  • Siphiwo Qangani with kangaroos

    never mind the spelling& repeation of certain words, i sent this on a mobile fone, i dnt see what i’ve or havent written..

  • Dawn

    Maybe Ruark has got it right. The “SA guavament”…!

  • Al

    Gee Sentletse, hereyou go again…that the 43 – 47 myth should be believed.
    As I mentioned in “Traps” what about the fact that more potential Zim voters are right here in Jozi, thanks to “Satan” as Traps appropriately calls Mugabe. And would they have voted for the swine?
    Then there are the other factors already mentioned that made this election a farce.

  • S.P.van Niekerk

    Maybe its true that Africa is a cursed continent.

  • Clay

    i read all the comments with a smile on my face and wonder where most of you live. Since when has the UN ever solved issues in Africa – Sudan, Somalia, Congo, Rwanda,the list is very long. So what makes you think they will help solve the problems in Zimbabwe? Alex you talk abou SADC track record and yoiu forget that the UN’s track record here in Africa is not goo too.

  • david hurst

    Mega-cool. After all this bogus ‘Zim’ time it is nice to not wonder if something funny was going on with freedom of the press in SA. The proscriptive elements, though, have been on the table since day one of Mr. Bob’s intransigence (inTsvangiraience).

  • Mthwakazi

    Your arguments are very correct but your solutions to the Zimbabwean crisis is very effective and reasonable but lacks practicality. Here is why;
    1. In a kind of military junta set up where an aged and demented civilian head is use as a puppet president, if you remove this puppet, a number of junta members will divide the country into fiefdoms. Remember DRC, Somalia, Liberia to name a few.
    2. UN is a very corrupt and probably most undemocratic system. Where has this body conducted a free and fair election?
    3. MDC and its leader have probably won all the past elections and only rigging kept the ZANU lunatics in power. On March 29, these lunatics lost the election despite the rigging involved. What was they next recourse, holding the results and doctoring them, then violence.

    Sentletse Diakanyo.
    Your tired arguments are well known and have been used by a lot of discredited individuals like Mbeki and Montlanthe in the past. In real terms only less than 10% of Zimbos voted for Mugabe, Remember more than half of the adult population is living in exile and none of them can vote for such a failure, another 25% where denied the right to vote by either denial of documents or citizenship. Another 20% of the vote was rigged in favour of this despot by the army junta masquarading as an independent election commission. No Zimbabwean has actually agreed to retain this unelected lunatic as president. This has been done by Mbeki and SADC.


    Thanks Alex for your excellent article on the situation in Zimbabwe.I have a strong feeling that South Africa has sold out the MDC like the Nationalist Party of John Vorster and the Conservative Government under Margaret Thatcher did when they sold out Ian Smith Prime Minister of then Rhodesia.Talk about a great betrayal!
    Talk obout the great betrayal.

  • Isaak Hunt

    Alex, a well writen piece, except you forgot to see the African side of things. Thabo and all are merely looking after their family interests, how can anyone be asked to give up their personal money machine just because a few members of another group are having a tad of a rough time getting their daily miellies and manzi.

    Shame on you, think of all the fashion and accessory shops in Paris, Rome and London who will have to lay off staff if “democracy” were to rear its ugly head in Africa, Oxfam, the Red Cross and many other western autocracies would have to look for work elsewhere, Wigan perhaps.

    If it were not for visionaries of Mugabe and Mbeki’s caliber, how would international conglomerates be able to pillage native economies and ensure us of steady globaly linked retirement policies.

    So, please Alex, try to see the bigger picture, you know it makes “cents”

  • Bovril 24

    To Perry Curling-Hope
    You have put your finger RIGHT ON IT! And eloquently so.
    And your model explains most of the fantasy of denial of failure by post colonial African politicians

  • Oldfox

    Perry, Lyndall, Bovril

    You have oversimplified the issue.

    A Liberation movement is generally understood to be a movement that contributed to the end of colonial rule, or, in SA’s case, white rule, by an armed struggle.

    Angola, Mozambique, Rhodesia/Zim and SWA/Namibia are examples of countries that went through liberation struggles/wars. The liberation struggles in these countries were bitter and lengthy. For example over 20 000 conscripts from Portugal were crippled in Portugal’s 3 African wars from the beginning of the 1960s to the mid 1970s.
    Many (probably the vast majority of) African countries did NOT achieve independence as a result of liberation wars, including SADC countries Botswana, Swaziland, Lesotho, Zambia, Tanzania and DRC.

    While non SADC member Kenya did have a very bitter struggle towards the end of the colonial era, the fighting was localised to a relatively small part of Kenya, and independence came 3 years afters after the lifting of the state of emergency, i.e. the Mau Mau rebellion did not culminate in independence.