Simon Barber
Simon Barber

Understanding the kabuki of Mbeki’s diplomacy

How, exactly, is the UN Security Council going to contribute to the resolution of the crisis in Zimbabwe? What would a special envoy say to Mugabe and his securocrats that would have any more impact than the messages already being sent — in no small part thanks to Thabo Mbeki’s reviled diplomacy — by SADC and the broader continent?

SADC, as far as I can see, is already imposing its own arms embargo and the Chinese are respecting it. So Gordon Brown’s suggestion is redundant. Africans are taking care of it, themselves, thank you, and I would wager, when the dust settles and the truth starts to be told, we will find that Mbeki had a hand in assembling the de facto regional embargo.

As for imposing broader sanctions, what on earth could the Security Council do to the Zimbabwean economy than Mugabe has not already done? And does anyone seriously believe UN blue helmets could help the situation, given the time it would take to assemble and deploy a force, let alone decide on its mandate?

Besides, the time has surely come for Africans to deal with a crisis of this magnitude on their own without UN troops. Zimbabwe’s future must be determined by Zimbabweans, the region and the continent in that order. The US and other ex-colonial powers have little to contribute at this point, beyond the pointless bluster Mugabe laps up as grist for his propaganda mill.

Examine the world from the perspective of Mugabe and his securocrats. It is a very, very bleak place. SADC has refused to recognise Mugabe as head of state. Zanu-PF has lost control of parliament. SADC insisted on observing the recount of the parliamentary vote, preventing cheating and allowing the outcome of the March 29 election to be confirmed — an election won by the MDC because Mbeki and SADC prevailed on Zanu-PF to make the process transparent. Now SADC, Angola included, is stopping weapons shipments to Mugabe’s security forces. The regime is in a box and the box is getting smaller day by day. Mugabe and the securocrats must know that there is no way he can legitimately win a presidential run–off. Hence the intimidation. But the intimidation is self-defeating because it means that if he does win a run-off, nobody will accept the result as legitimate. He will be in the same box he is now.

The way forward is to help Mugabe and the securocrats out of the box the way the ANC helped the Nats out of their box to bring apartheid to a soft, consensual landing. That’s Mbeki’s way. If you think he meant it it when he said there was no crisis and held Mugabe’s hand and was all smiles, you don’t understand the kabuki of Mbeki–style constructive engagement. He wouldn’t have been in Harare that day, let alone holding Mugabe’s hand, had there been no crisis.