Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Farewell to Mugabe?

The following article appears in the Independent:

Robert Mugabe will relinquish his leadership of Zimbabwe's ruling party by December, paving the way for his exit as President and new elections by June 2004, the South African President Thabo Mbeki has told George Bush.

The Independent has established that Mr Bush has pledged a reconstruction package for Zimbabwe worth up to $10bn (?6.2bn) over an unspecified timeframe, if a new leader takes over.


Mr Bush surprised Zimbabwe opposition figures when at a press conference after the Pretoria meeting he presented a united front with Mr Mbeki, and declared him the "point man" on Zimbabwe.

Privately Mr Bush is said to have exerted pressure on the South African President by indicating that South African companies would benefit from the aid package for Zimbabwe, since many of them would be well placed to bid for contracts. South African firms are owed huge amounts of money by Zimbabwe, mainly for fuel and electricity supplies.

Evidence that Mr Mugabe has promised to quit his party post in December is emerging from within the ruling party, where distinct factions are already vying to succeed him.

Personally, I am sceptical as to the veracity of this story; there is simply too much about it that fails to ring true. That President Bush would be willing to pledge $10 billion to the reconstruction of Zimbabwe, of all countries, strikes me as too absurd to be believed. Why would he do such a thing for a country that has no domestic constitutuencies or strategic value, when more strategically important entities like Pakistan and the Palestinian Authority have failed to enjoy such munificence?

Then there is the African Big Man Disease to consider. How likely is it that an old fashioned African despot like Mugabe would ever cede power anywhere other than on his deathbed? Add the remote possibility of this happening to the unimportance of Zimbabwe in American eyes, and the odds are very much against this story being true. The fact is that if there were no white farmers in Zimbabwe, the crisis unfolding there would not enjoy even the limited press it has had thus far.