Tuesday 6 August 2013

The West's dilemma with Robert Mugabe

There is little love lost between Robert Mugabe and the West. Most Western governments have condemned the outcome of the recent parliamentary and presidential elections in Zimbabwe, if not outright claimed electoral fraud.

But there have been some voices more recently who have quietly sought to introduce more nuanced narratives into the picture. Some of these have been the pieces in the Guardian by Know Chitiyo and  Blessing-Miles Tendi.

The main dilemma for the West is one of values and principles (as always, you may say). Here is a guy who has nearly singlehandedly ruined the economy of his country through his disastrous land reforms, enriched his family members and cronies along the way, and yet, receives most of the votes of the long suffering Zimbabwean electorate. Democracy in action, but with the wrong outcome.

But if you look more closely, the story adopts different shades of grey, rather than the deep black it assumes in the reports of many Western observers. First, there is Morgan Tsvangirai, who suffered from brutal physical attacks and has shown immense courage since 2008, yet has also made significant miscalculations along the way.

Then, there is the liberation narrative that uniquely favours the incumbent Zanu-PF party and Mugabe, who does not hesitate to exploit it ruthlessly to his and his party's advantage. And last, but not least, there is a large expatriate community, contributing enormously to the economic conditions at home. Zimbabweans now constitute the largest expatriate community of all Africans. This must have a deleterious effect on the strength of the opposition, essentially exporting dissent.

The West struggles to maintain a consistent position in this story. Its insistence on democracy and free and fair elections is simply conceptually too weak to make a difference. A democratic ballot may not yield the results that ensure a free society or a well run economy. So, perhaps there is little the West can do but to insist on compliance with basic human rights and hoping for a better future. This may sound precious little, but it may be better than meddle in Zimbabwean politics.

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