Comment

Adrift and abandoned, foreign policy fails

WHILE diplomats are required to calm the fears of their host governments, they must be careful not to mislead them about just how far their leaders are prepared to go in providing support.



class=MsoNormal>It was reported yesterday that acting Nigerian High Commissioner Emmanuel Engwuatu had assured Acting President Joseph Msika that the Nigerian position on Zimbabwe’s suspension from the Commonwealth had not changed. However, it was bound by the organisation’s rules when inviting nations to the heads of government meeting in Abuja in December, he quickly added.


In the same week that Zimbabwe’s spin doctors were taking what little comfort there was in those remarks, President Olusegun Obasanjo said President Mugabe would not be invited to Abuja unless there was a “sea change” in Zimbabwe. Asked how he viewed the closure of the Daily News, Obasanjo said that was a sea change in the wrong direction. If anything, it was of the “negative” sort, he said.


This doesn’t sound like an apologist for Zimbabwe’s rulers. It sounds more like a leader coming to terms with the reality that the regime in Harare can no longer be defended. It is beyond the pale.


As we pointed out last week, this represents a watershed of sorts. Much has been made of the fact that on the troika set up in Coolum to address the Zimbabwe crisis, two out of the three leaders sought an end to Zimbabwe’s suspension. But the fact is a large majority of Commonwealth states agreed that Harare had not met the conditions laid down for lifting the suspension. It was that majority that mattered.


No country apart from South Africa has complained about the decision.

Zimbabwean diplomacy is now adrift. Everything has been tried. Appeals to regional and racial solidarity, claims of a conspiracy led by Britain and the United States, and a torrent of explanations of how the rule of law had been restored, 300 000 people resettled on the land and human rights violations investigated — all to no avail.


The African, Caribbean, and Pacific states are not coming to Zimbabwe’s rescue. The response to Mugabe’s opportunistic speech at the UN General Assembly was muted. It was greeted with polite applause.


President Chirac had made all the salient points that needed to be made in his reference to unilateralism a few days earlier. Mugabe tried to do the same thing, situating himself as the voice of developing countries but they don’t seem to have been inclined to fall in behind him. His speech went largely unnoticed except in Zimbabwe’s state media. All that could be extracted from this hugely expensive visit was some remarks on diminishing rates of HIV/Aids infection by Kofi Annan and an exchange with the shadowy December 12 Movement, a group regarded with derision by most African Americans.


That a once-respected academic like Stan Mudenge has been reduced to hurling childish abuse at John Howard tells us all we need to know about the status of Zimbabwean foreign policy. And attempts to prevent the truth about Mugabe’s misrule getting out have been equally unsuccessful.


Deportation of foreign correspondents, in the latest case in contempt of a court order, and denial of work permits have simply compounded the impression of a regime unable to cope with the truth.


The same is true of militia gangs burning independent newspapers or preventing their distribution, the arrest and harassment of journalists, and now the closure of the Daily News and its stablemate.


None of this is the behaviour of a government comfortably ensconced in the affections of its people.
And it must be asked, what does the government think it has achieved? Is President Mugabe regarded with any more respect at home or abroad than he was three years ago? Is it the view of the international community that Zimbabwe deserves to be rehabilitated under its current leadership? Is there a groundswell of support in the African diaspora?


Have all those travel writers brought into the country at considerable cost managed to persuade potential visitors that Zimbabwe is really a law-abiding country where the police do their duty professionally and impartially and where there is no racial incitement by the government?
Have investors been persuaded that Zimbabwe offers a climate conducive to growth?


However you look at it, Zanu PF’s propagandists have failed — and failed miserably. The country has never been so isolated. Obasanjo said it all: It will take a sea change in official thinking to get Zimbabwe accepted back into organisations like the Commonwealth.


That is an epitaph we should write for Zanu PF. There can be no more pretence. They have lost this particular struggle. When their own media writes that Zimbabwe should not bother attending Chogm because “it’s not worth attending anymore” — after months of strenuous diplomacy to have the ban lifted — you know this is a regime in headlong retreat.


Instead of posturing at the UN, Mugabe should be considering ways he can help his prostrate country — like getting out of the way of recovery. In the meantime, please, no more lies from his courtiers as to how successful they have been.

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