Endgame for Mugabe

As election results go against Mugabe, reports suggest he is in talks that may bring to a close his 28-year rule of Zimbabwe

Whisper it quietly, but Zimbabwe may be witnessing the final days (if not hours) in office of the only leader it has ever known. While the people of this ruined country waited last night for their electoral voice to be heard, reports from high-level talks between aides of Robert Mugabe and the opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai suggested they were edging closer to accomplishing the previously impossible.

After 28 years of seemingly unshakeable authority – in which all opponents have been sidelined, exiled or killed – the "old man" as Zimbabweans call him, was reported to be considering relinquishing power. Saturday's elections went so strongly against the ruling party, that it is understood he has been advised to quit now rather than face a humiliating second round against his hated rival, Mr Tsvangirai.

Sources close to the talks said that an "exit package" was being negotiated that could see the 84-year-old retire or even, according to one scenario, leave the country. While an agreement was far from settled, Mr Mugabe was believed to be seeking immunity from prosecution as well as guarantees relating to millions of pounds worth of assets held in a number of countries.

A US State Department official confirmed negotiations were under way, saying they followed indications that Mr Tsvangirai would secure a majority in the presidential election but fall short of the 51 per cent required to avoid a run-off.

However, both the ruling party and the opposition were at pains to quash the rumours. "Any speculation about deals and negotiations is speculation, because the results have not been announced," said Mr Tsvangirai in his first public appearance since Saturday's vote. "Let's wait for [the electoral commission] to complete its work, then we can discuss the circumstances that will affect the people."

And a junior minister in Mr Mugabe's government said: "There is no need for a deal ... there are no negotiations whatsoever."

As speculation swirled, Zimbabwe's electoral commission continued its theatre of the absurd. The official results, released at a trickle, continued to show the ruling Zanu-PF party and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) running neck-and-neck in terms of parliamentary seats. However, these results contradicted both the findings of independent election observers and the results amassed by opposition polling agents nationwide.

Three days after the poll, there had still been no official results concerning the presidential vote. A second round, which would have to be held within 21 days, appeared unlikely, after massive resources were poured into Saturday's poll, much of it in the form of crude vote-buying by Zanu-PF.

One scenario is that Mr Mugabe would stand aside and allow an alternative candidate from Zanu-PF to contest a second round. But that also carries the risk that the opposition would unite and the angry populace would give an even more resounding "No" to Zanu-PF than they did four days ago. "There is no way that Mugabe wants a second round. He would lose badly and be humiliated," said a senior diplomat close to the election crisis. Mr Mugabe himself ruled out a run-off before the weekend, saying there was no "second round in this boxing match".

Zimbabwe's two main cities remained calm, although riot police have been dispatched for nightly patrols, and roadblocks mounted outside all major towns. But Harare was awash with wild rumours. The wildest of those – that "Comrade Bob" had already fled the country – was quashed after he was spotted in the suburbs by foreign diplomats.

Political and business cronies will be dreading any departure of Comrade Bob. "I was talking to some of the bigwigs in the ruling party and they are also concerned about the possibility of a change of guard," Marwick Khumalo, the head of the Pan-African Parliament observer mission, told local radio in South Africa.

"Zanu-PF has actually been institutionalised in the lives of Zimbabweans, so it is not easy for anyone within the sphere of the ruling party to accept that 'Maybe we might be defeated or might have been defeated'."

Were Mr Mugabe to negotiate his exit now, he would leave behind him a country of 90 per cent unemployment; life expectancies of 34 and 37 for women and men respectively; 4,000 dead per month from Aids; and four million close to starvation. Yet no statistic encapsulates the turmoil of Zimbabwe as completely as the rate of inflation: 200,000 per cent and climbing.

The staunch Catholic emerged from more than a a decade in a Rhodesian prison to lead one faction of the liberation struggle against the white rule of Ian Smith, then won a resounding victory in the first elections to follow independence in 1980. Cast in the role of liberator, Mr Mugabe was initially the darling of the liberal world. Now he is the man who perfected the art of democratic dictatorship. The full extent of his fall may be apparent to him as he mulls the shrinking list of countries that might entertain him in exile in his dotage.

The demise of Africa's dictators

Gnassingbe Eyadema

He was Africa's longest-serving ruler, presiding over the tiny nation of Togo for almost 40 years until his unexpected death. A former wrestling champion who was rarely seen in public without his dark glasses, Eyadema became head of state when Harold Wilson was Britain's prime minister. Until his death on 5 February 2005 at 69, Eyadema was the world's longest-serving leader after Cuba's Fidel Castro. Afterwards, Eyadema's son, Faure Gnassingbe, seized power with the backing of the army, triggering protests and riots.

Charles Taylor

He launched a rebellion in his homeland Liberia in 1989 but violence rumbled on for 14 years even after he became President. Went into exile in Nigeria in 2003 in a deal to end the conflict. In 2006, he was held by Nigerian police as he tried to cross the border into Cameroon. Currently on trial in The Hague for war crimes, accused of fomenting war in Sierra Leone.

Mobutu Seso Seke

Ruled the renamed Zaire (previously Congo) for more than 30 years. He seized power in 1965 with tacit support from the West, to act as a bulwark against Communist expansion. But Zaire's people sank into deeper poverty, despite its vast natural resources. Mobutu fled with $5bn (£2.5bn) in 1997 after rebel forces approached, but died four months later at 66.

Idi Amin

The former Ugandan dictator seized power in a coup in 1971, unleashing a reign of terror on the east African country. Up to 400,000 people are believed to have been killed during his time in office. He was forced from power in 1979 by Tanzanian troops and Ugandan exiles, and fled to Libya and Iraq before settling in Saudi Arabia, where he died in 2003.

Hastings Banda

Appointed himself "president-for-life" of Malawi in 1971 and ruled with an iron fist, squashing dissent, reshuffling ministers to prevent the emergence of a rival and accumulating a fortune. In 1993, when the tyrant was ill, voters rejected his one-party state in a referendum, held the first multi-party elections and voted Banda out and into retirement.

Click here to have your say

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Property
pets
Arts and Entertainment
tvThe C-Word, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Sport
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
News
Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn are breaking up after nearly three years together
peopleFormer couple announce separation in posts on their websites
Sport
football
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’
tvThe Enfield Haunting, TV review
News
news
News
The Mattehorn stands reflected in Leisee lake near Sunnegga station on June 30, 2013 near Zermatt, Switzerland
news
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living