I want to make it clear that this is not an argument, but a recount of events of the past week. The events have been so fluid that I decided I would just recount some of the highlights.
I am writing this piece at a very strange and ungodly hour. It’s well past midnight. It’s crazy, and this is precisely the central issue in this contribution: craziness. Definitely, someone is crazy. But who is it: Mugabe, Tsvangirai, you or me? I hope it is not me, but any of the other three. If it is you, be worried. You never know. This sounds like Chris Rock, in 2004’s Never Scared, but hell no, it’s not.
I was in Sharm el-Sheik last week. Thanks heavens I did not stay long enough to witness the craziness that characterised that place. I am glad I attended the pre-summit meetings and left. But of course I was introduced to the mood. I had several discussions on Zimbabwe with civil society groups and representatives of the government of Zimbabwe. Yes, they were all there: it’s amazing. So the build-up to the summit of heads of state and government was sure to result in the ugly scenes that we have witnessed in Sharm el-Sheik.
Although the summit theme was water and sanitation, we knew that the meeting would be dominated by Zimbabwe. Of course, we had no idea that Morgan Tsvangirai would surprise Zanu-PF and pull out of the race. Frankly, this was a clever and tactical move by the Movement for Democratic Change. Zanu-PF was caught off-guard; hence, instead of pronouncing a walk-over, it begged Tsvangirai to enter the ring and fight. This was strange, to say the least. The whole point in a fight or election is to win. So if one contender decides to pull out, a walk-over is declared and the remaining candidate takes the trophy. Why the fuss? Not so in this case: Zanu-PF wanted legitimacy and so anything without Tsvangirai was not good enough.
Thus I congratulate Tsvangirai for that decision, because it exposed the hypocrisy and callousness of Zanu-PF. However, while on this, I must say that Tsvangirai also confuses me often. I might as well declare my allegiances here: I don’t support any of the two candidates. The reasons are deep. However, I have been following this fellow for some years now and he never ceases to surprise me. Just when you think he has a plan, he drops a bombshell. Why did he run to hide in the Dutch embassy? Could he not hide in any of his people’s homes? His supporters would have gladly protected him and that would have earned him more respect. Not that I like Bin Laden, but the guy has not eluded the Americans because some big embassy is hiding him. No, his people are hiding him; it is possible, Mr MT.
If this was not safe enough, why did you not run and hide in any of the African embassies? Was there any real serious danger to your life? Would Zanu-PF have been that stupid to do anything silly in the period leading up to the election, especially if one takes into account the fact that it wanted the poll to be legitimate?
My point is that Tsvangirai misjudges many things and this has hurt his credibility. My advice: Africa matters. So many people have sacrificed their lives and a certain respect needs to be accorded to them; running to hide in a white man’s comfort is not good enough.
Be that as it may, Tsvangirai has suffered a lot and I perhaps need to be less harsh. However, when you go into politics, you should be prepared to bite the bullet. And this means finding solace and refuge from the people who support you, and not from foreigners. The Mugabes and Musevenis of this world won the liberation war not because they ran to the outside world but because they had the support of their people.
Back to Mugabe. I watched with surprise the vigour with which Mugabe conducted his election campaign when he was the only candidate. Why? There was no need. Why campaign so vehemently when you are the only candidate? It looked so foreign and really scary to see one candidate so serious to win when in fact there was no competition. I wondered if I was still seeing properly or whether I was crazy. It just did not make sense. But things do not seem to make sense when it comes to the Zimbabwe crisis. People were to vote with their blood in a contest of one candidate. It’s messed up.
Next was the election itself. The turnout was very low and yet the next morning we were bombarded with the news from the state media that voters turned out in the largest numbers Zimbabwe has ever seen. And the craziest was still to come: Mugabe had won by at least 85% in all provinces. Against whom, since MT had withdrawn his candidature?
I am not finished with the craziness. In less than 72 hours, results were to be announced. You will remember that in the March elections it took almost a month to get the presidential results announced. How crazy can it be: Mugabe is sworn in on the same day that the results are to be announced. In fact, the preparations for the inauguration ceremony were made before the results were announced. As we all know, Mugabe and his people did not have to wait for the results to prepare for the grand ceremony; the results were but a formality. Tsvangirai was even invited. Interestingly enough, the MDC’s Mutambara faction was represented and the guy has since been alleviated of his responsibilities. It’s so complicated.
Anyway, Mugabe is sworn in and he quickly takes off to Sharm el-Sheik to see who among the African leaders will raise a “clean finger” at him. And, of course, the African leaders are not clean and the African Union chairperson and President of Tanzania, Jakaya Kikwete, trembles when he sees Mugabe and lavishes praise on Zimbabwe’s elections. What nonsense is this? Mr President, I withdraw my statement, just in case I have crossed the line. I frequent Tanzania, so I hope this is not an application for a visa denial. In Africa today, speaking one’s mind or freedom of speech is an application for trouble. The devil must be smiling. Come on, Satan, laugh louder; you have us by the …
Now, you are in Sharm el-Sheik. Mugabe has just jetted in and very few of his colleagues want to be close to him. He hugs them whether they like it or not. Luckily, Levy Mwanawasa falls sick and is quickly taken to hospital. He does not get to say what he had prepared as chairperson of SADC. What a shame. He has been one of the most outspoken critics of and, definitely, the most hated by the Zimbabwean regime. Serves him right! It’s crazy. Omar Bongo gives media interviews and says: “Of course, he conducted an election, he was elected and he is here with us; Mugabe is the President of Zimbabwe.” George Charamba tells the West to go hang a thousand times. God, where are you? It is getting hot in here … save your people, more so, if you anointed their president.
The one that takes the cup, of course: Mugabe tussles with Julian Manyon, a journalist from ITN. Mugabe has lost it. I must say that I did not like the way the journalist also handled himself. I think he was disrespectful and patronising. He could have still asked the same questions in a more dignified manner. But such is the role of a journalist, I suppose.
Be that as it may, if Mugabe is my president, I expect him to exercise some level of composure and level-headedness. The president cannot lose it like that and start slinging insults such as “bloody idiots” at international media, no matter the kind of pressure he is under. This is crazy and I don’t expect it from a president. Mr President, sir, with all due respect, it is uncalled for. There are better ways of conveying your message than what transpired.
So folks, I am afraid the whole week has been crazy. What next? There are other reports that you have been following which have been equally crazy. But, hey, Tsvangirai keeps shifting the goal posts. At one time, he is for a dialogue and at another he is not. Where do you stand, Mr MT? Come out clean; some of us are not convinced by your leadership and we are justified. Convince us. However, we salute Tendai Biti. He has been steadfast.
A transitional government — some have called it a government of national unity: this is what the African Union is hoping for. Believe me, African political elites are redefining the meaning and role of elections. Definitely for worse: Wither Africa? It is going down the drain. It’s all fucked up. Ethiopia has lost its mind and is closing the public space for civil society; Zimbabwe is spiralling further into limbo; and Egypt has gone nuts — it is deporting Eritrean migrants. What the hell is going on?
On a different note, I am organising a civil society meeting at the University of Barcelona under the auspices of TrustAfrica and the International Society for Third Sector Research to discuss the state of philanthropy and its role in development in Africa. The meeting takes place from July 9 to 12 2008 in Spain.
Most of what I have characterised as madness or craziness will find its way into the discussions in this gathering of internationally renowned scholars.