Comment: intervention in Zimbabwe is the only solution

By David Aaronovitch (THE TIMES, 24/06/08):

Maybe this time,” sang Lord Malloch-Brown on the Today programme yesterday. “Something’s bound to begin. It’s got to happen, happen sometime. Maybe this time I’ll win.”

Well, all right, I am – like postmodernist scholars – decoding the metatext. What the Minister of State for Africa, Asia and the UN actually said was that the mood around the world had so turned against Robert Mugabe and his various cronies that their combined diplomatic effort would bring him down.

Till now, Lord Malloch-Brown allowed, there had only been a “fairly limited set of measures” taken against the Zimbabwean President. This was changing. The Australians were kicking out the kids of Zanu (PF) officials being educated in Oz. The EU would be freezing bank accounts. The African Union and the Southern African Development Community would not be recognising Mr Mugabe’s imminent second-round election theft thus delegitimising him, and the UN would “force in” election observers to monitor that second-round (from which Morgan Tsvangirai had already withdrawn) or – in a manner unspecified – “force some change of government”. These were “powerful steps – as long as you accept that there are pressures short of military action”.

Perhaps, I thought, his lordship simply knows something we don’t about back-channels and internal divisions in Mugabe’s apparat. Because, unless you regard the recent burnings, rapes, beatings, murders, threats, arrests, starvings and raids as some kind of exotic preamble to negotiation, then what seems clear is that the Zanu (PF) military-security group has no intention of allowing any transfer of power to an elected opposition, no matter what a whingeing world says about it.

Or am I missing a clue, cleverly hidden in the present repression? If so, it seems that Morgan Tsvangirai of the Movement for Democratic Change missed it too when he took refuge in the Dutch Embassy in Harare on Sunday night. Recalling Bosnia, one can only hope that the Dutch keep their embassies safer than they did their UN safe havens.

This obduracy on the part of the Zimbabwean junta is not so incomprehensible. The regime represents that astonishing phenomenon, the ideo-kleptocracy, which believes that its enrichment and corruption is a historically necessary reversal of colonialism. “The people of Zimbabwe,” one senior Zanu (PF) minister said yesterday, “have declared war against any force that would recolonise Zimbabwe”; and that would take away his money, power, foreign assets, yachts and mistresses and – at best – slap him in chokey for the rest of his days.

What might embolden him is the record. He might reflect that, over nearly 30 years, he and his comrades have repeated the same essential pattern of behaviour, each time taking Zimbabwe’s people on another downwards journey, and have got away with it over and over and over again. For most of my adult life we have witnessed the incremental and inevitable destruction of a nation, almost in slow motion. After initially ignoring the repression and violence, we have for two decades applied the same strategies of pressure, minor sanction, condemnation, talks, aid and buck-passing, only to enjoy the same flickering hopes, to bemoan their subsequent betrayal and to start anew.

Right from the beginning it was all there, in Mugabe’s 1980 revelation that he believed in a one-party state. It was evident in his 1982-83 suppression of the Ndebele-based opposition of Joshua Nkomo using the notorious 5th Brigade trained by North Koreans; in the 20,000 resulting deaths and the use of starvation as a political weapon; in the intimidation of the opposition by Zanu (PF) “youth brigades” during the 1985 elections; in the 1987 absorption of Nkomo’s Zapu and Mugabe’s extolling of “one single, monolithic and gigantic political party”. But we didn’t take too much notice, because there were no whites involved.

And then the farm grab started, ostensibly redistributing white land to the poor, and in fact giving it to the ideo-kleptocrats, in whose hands it became barren. It was all there, this time for the whites: the roving groups of thugs, the murders and the round-ups. The same with the stolen election of 2000. The same with the stolen election of 2002. The same with the stolen election of 2004. Each time there were hopes that maybe the ageing Mugabe would mellow, or that his party would bring down the curtain and begin to compromise and each time it all got worse. We chucked him out of the Commonwealth, he macheted a few more opponents, we refused to shake his hand, he killed another opposition election worker.

We believed – understandably – in the crucial role of South Africa. South Africa, led by Thabo Mbeki, in turn believed in quiet diplomacy, in secret talks, in dignified exits that might be delayed by incautious condemnations, in governments of national unity between the raped Opposition and their rapers. Several times President Mbeki, who dislikes Mugabe intensely, would manage to get the Zimbabwean leader into talks about this or that aspect of an imaginary future – land settlement, development, whatever – only to have Mugabe renege the instant the two men were back in their own capitals.

And what do we imagine now? That Zambia’s crossness, Angola’s criticism (only a few weeks after that country passed on Chinese weapons to the armed forces of Zimbabwe) and Botswana’s rather valiant anger will persuade the Harare murderers that the game is up, especially now we are investigating freezing their European assets? Again, one asks, do the diplomats know something we don’t, and that the historical record fails to suggest? Is there some Zimbabwean Admiral Dönitz or Juan Carlos, waiting to arrange the transition? Why aren’t we just as likely to get Mugabe’s Heydrich, Emerson Mnangagwa, the Joint Operations Command strongman?

“Military intervention,” said one BBC person yesterday, expressing the views of the consensus, “is not a realistic option.” It might be better if it was. How many South African or British soldiers would it take to unseat the junta and disperse the Zanu (PF) “veterans”, who are now veterans only of whipping and gouging defenceless people, or raping women without the slightest chance of resistance?

Instead, the suffering people of Zimbabwe (life expectancy, 37) get what the Foreign Secretary called yesterday “the worst rigged election in African history”.