Stuart Loory, Lee Hills Chair in Free-Press Studies, Missouri School of Journalism: Zimbabwe looked like it might be coming out of long years of dysfunctional totalitarian rule. After a disputed election last year in which President Robert Mugabe refused to give up power despite indications that he had lost to challenger Morgan Tsvangirai, the two formed a unity government with Mugabe remaining president and Tsvangirai becoming prime minister. For a time, it looked as if some stability had been brought to the country under supervision from a so-called Global Political Alliance of the nations belonging to the Southern Africa Development Community. Last week, Tsvangirai said he was suspending his membership in the coalition government and leaving the country for 10 days to visit with other countries of the GPA and try to get them to put pressure on Mugabe. Tsvangirai was in South Africa on Wednesday to speak with President (Jacob) Zuma about how to bring some stability in Zimbabwe. How is he making out?
Jean-Jacques Cornish, correspondent, Eyewitness News, Pretoria, South Africa: The response from Zuma was taciturn but less so than from his predecessor Thabo Mbeki, who bought the line from Mugabe virtually wholesale. The straw that broke the camel’s back for Tsvangirai was the re-arrest of his party’s treasurer Roy Bennett on trumped-up weapons and terrorism charges. Zuma said he will assist and so will the SADC regional grouping of 14 nations. But pointedly, Zuma told Parliament in written response to questions that they would not send a fact-finding mission to Zimbabwe and they would not call for a full-out arms embargo in Zimbabwe.
Loory: How serious is the situation in Zimbabwe right now?
Gerry Jackson, station manager, SW Radio Africa, London: Extremely serious; this was an imperfect so-called power share from the beginning. It was foisted onto Zimbabwe by its regional neighbors. This was done with Kenya; the loser gets to hold onto power and share it with the winner. Mugabe doesn’t share power, and there is no pressure you can put on him. Certainly the SADC region has put no pressure whatsoever on Mugabe. Many Zimbabweans feel that Tsvangirai should have pulled out from this unity agreement ages ago and should not have gone along with it in the first place.
Loory: But if he didn’t go along with it, wouldn’t that have meant Mugabe would have remained in power by himself unopposed?
Jackson: Yes, but he remains in power by himself anyway. Every MDC (Movement for Democratic Change) minister says the ruling party does not invite them to meetings. Two governments are set up now. The international community is giving money to one part of the government, the MDC. It is a complete mess.
Andrew Meldrum, senior editor, GlobalPost, Boston: The power-sharing agreement is not being respected by Mugabe. Throwing Bennett back in jail is just a symptom that rule of law has not been restored. Bennett is one of Tsvangirai’s closest aides. He is popular not with the white farmers, which is his background, but with black followers of Tsvangirai and the MDC. He speaks Shona fluently and is a burly, plain-talking, straightforward guy who gets lots of support from black Zimbabweans. This infuriates Mugabe, that a white farmer has been able to cross all the boundaries of race and class. So, Mugabe has targeted him for years now for extraordinary punishment. His farm was seized, the black manager of his farm was killed, his wife was held captive and beaten up and suffered a miscarriage. He was put in jail for eight months. Now, he was thrown back in jail on more trumped-up charges in a case that is thoroughly discredited. His co-accused was actually taken to trial two years ago, and the judge dismissed the charges saying that they are without merit. And yet, Bennett is now being held on the exact same charges.
Loory: Is this another case where the U.S. is not paying enough attention?
Elizabeth Dickinson, assistant editor, Foreign Policy magazine, Washington, D.C.: The U.S. is in a difficult position, as it always has been in regard to the power-sharing agreement. They have put sanctions on individuals within the Mugabe side of the government, but at the same time, they want southern Africa to make the power-sharing agreement work. When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in South Africa earlier this summer, she stressed to Zuma that SADC really needs to take responsibility. Unfortunately, Washington is a place of hard political realities. With Afghanistan on the table, health care in the works, Zimbabwe is not going to get the attention it deserves.
Loory: What can be done to create more interest in the Obama administration?
Meldrum: In part, Tsvangirai is doing that right now. Tsvangirai is saying it is not just a question of getting around the table, it is a question of everybody in the region, U.S., and everywhere else must put pressure on Mugabe to uphold the agreements. But anybody who knows Mugabe and Zimbabwean politics said when a power-sharing government was started, that it was not going to work. Mugabe doesn’t share power within his own party; why does anybody think he would share power with the opposition party?
Cornish: The GPA was signed in September last year in the presence of the SADC leaders, which is why Tsvangirai is going back to them. The government came into being in February, but Tsvangirai still doesn’t have access to the official prime minister’s residence.
Loory: How much of the problem is Tsvangirai himself?
Jackson: Concerns were raised that by staying in the unity government, Tsvangirai was tarnishing himself with the same brush. Many feel that he could have taken a much stronger position, and they did not understand why he was trying to compromise. You can’t compromise with Mugabe. He just sees that as a sign of weakness. Mugabe said he doesn’t abide by any rules from SADC. He doesn’t abide by any legal ruling in their court, and they have done nothing.
Loory: Why isn’t the African Union, the organization that represents virtually all the countries of Africa, doing something to try to bring this situation under control?
Cornish: What happened in Kenya established the precedent for Zimbabwe. Mwai Kibaki stole the election, refused to leave, and there was bloodshed. Former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Anan then brokered this power-sharing deal with Raila Odinga. It’s not working, but it is better than Zimbabwe. Tsvangirai was dragged in because he had no option. He would have been left in the cold if he hadn’t bowed to pressure from the region. The African Union demarcates problems on a regional basis. So, anything happening in southern Africa is referred to SADC. The leaders have been remarkably quiet on Zimbabwe. The only SADC leader who has spoken out against Mugabe is President Ian Khama of Botswana.
Jackson: The African Union is being looked on as a grouping of plunderous thugs and thieves; it’s highly unlikely they are going to do anything substantive about Zimbabwe. African people are very interested in the Zimbabwe and Kenyan situation. It is the African politicians who seem to be the problem. People on the ground are very concerned; they want Africa to change, to lose its image of being a place of desperation and misery. Zimbabwe has the potential to completely destabilize the entire region. Two to three million Zimbabweans are in South Africa, creating a huge problem and xenophobic violence.
Loory: There are several wars going on in Africa. How does Zimbabwe compare to the Congo, Sudan or Nigeria?
Meldrum: They are all inter-related. Each of those different problems results from democracy not being allowed to work. Free and fair elections are not being held, and other African leaders are not putting pressure on their fellow African leaders. They say if you have made it to be a leader then we are not going to question how you’re doing it.
Jackson: The links are very strong between Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo. There are circle trade links, and Zimbabwe was given huge mining concessions by the DRC for their help in the war there. Just this year we broke a story where the vice president of Zimbabwe, her daughter was doing deals for her based from Spain.
Producers of Global Journalist are Missouri School of Journalism graduate students Jared Gassen, Brian Jarvis, Sananda Sahoo, Melissa Ulbricht and Megan Wiegand. The transcriber is Pat Kelley.