PRESIDENT Mwanawasa is President Mugabe’s latest target of insult and, understandably, his government is not amused by this latest act of provocation by the Zimbabwean authorities.
This week Patrick Chinamasa opened up on Mwanawasa who is also Sadc chair for failing to parrot the Zimbabwean refrain that the West must lift sanctions on Zimbabwe.
“We have not heard him calling for the lifting of sanctions,” said Chinamasa. “We have been adversely affected by the sanctions as they are creating an uneven field of play.”
The bluster against Mwanawasa was then followed by a cartoon in the state paper, the Herald, on Wednesday mocking the Sadc chair as having been mum on sanctions, withholding relief maize, deporting Zimbabwean traders, and toeing the British line on Zimbabwe. Mwanawasa has not exactly been the flavour of the month from a Zanu PF point of view since his attempt to mediate in the Zimbabwean crisis last month. By calling a special summit on Zimbabwe, Mwanawasa crossed swords with the Zanu PF government which expects regional leaders to cheer it on at every turn.
When Mwanawasa described Zimbabwe as a sinking Titanic a year ago, pressure was exerted on him to recant the statement.
But regional leaders’ perceptions of the government of President Mugabe are changing and this resonated in the Zambian government’s reaction to the attacks on their leader as reflected in the Times of Zambia this week.
Chief government spokesperson, Mike Mulongoti, in an interview with the newspaper, said Zimbabwe should quickly resolve its problems by holding free and fair elections before talking about the lifting of sanctions.
He said it was surprising that the Zimbabwean government had allowed the Herald to heap abuse on President Mwanawasa and at the same time ask him to assist the country.
“The Zimbabweans need to exercise humility and show decency because they cannot insult President Mwanawasa and at the same time ask him to help them because as Sadc chair he has done what he can.”
Mulongoti said Zimbabweans should hold elections and whoever emerges the winner would then address the sanctions issue because to talk about sanctions now may be premature. He said President Mwanawasa from the outset had done everything possible to help resolve the problems in Zimbabwe and the entire world was watching the situation.
“It is surprising that Mr Chinamasa, the man who lost an election is very vocal and bitter,” he said.
The latest episode is of immense significance as it points to a new course in regional diplomacy with regards the Zimbabwean issue.
It is no longer business as usual for President Mugabe.
The defeat of Zanu PF in House of Assembly elections and President Mugabe in the presidential poll – albeit with Morgan Tsvangirai failing to garner an absolute majority – means our dear leader is no longer regarded as the formidable political force his handlers still want us to believe he is. He will now find it difficult to recruit regional leaders to fight in his corner in the contrived duels with the United States and Britain.
The Sadc heads who only last year at a summit in Tanzania resolved that sanctions should be lifted have remained quiet on the subject.
They are aware that the targeted sanctions cannot be lifted by shouting at the West. The process of undoing the sanctions starts and ends with Zimbabweans’ ability to achieve consensus on key national issues to do with governance and respect for the rule of law. Corrective measures cannot be effected from regional capitals but only from Harare.
In Tanzania Sadc heads appointed Sadc executive secretary Tomaz Salomao to look at the economic situation in Zimbabwe and come up with proposals on what needs to be done. The process of doing something about the situation has not moved an inch.
The reason they have not moved in to help is because there has not been any movement in Harare.
From Zanu PF’s latest statements on sanctions, we get a sense that the party wants to use the sanctions pretext to hang on to power for as long as possible.
We now have state-sponsored NGOs which have been roped in to push this line to give impetus to future state action on sanctions. The latest example is a group of lawyers who claim to be promoting justice at a time when other lawyers are being incarcerated for doing just that.
Zanu PF has now set new conditions of engagement with regional leaders in their quest to mediate in the current crisis. As pointed out, top of the agenda for any mediation process will be the lifting of sanctions – a sure way to slow down processes necessary for a change of guard in our politics. If the region remains consistent on the need for a settlement in Zimbabwe before sanctions can be lifted, then Mugabe has painted himself into another political corner.