Richard Dowden: If the people want power, they must fight for it

It is clear that Tsvangirai's pleas to the rest of the world have failed

Related Topics

While it was always a possibility that the Zimbabwean opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, would pull out of Friday's second round of the presidential election, when I met him in Harare three weeks ago it seemed unlikely. Then he was in a defiant mood, calling on Robert Mugabe to retire to ensure a peaceful transition and the establishment of a broad-based government. Having won a majority in the first round of the presidential election and, with other opposition parties, a majority of seats in parliament, Mr Tsvangirai sounded confident of victory. But he did not unequivocally commit to running and already the first floor of the headquarters of his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) was crammed with thousands of people seeking sanctuary from Zanu-PF thugs. Many were swathed in bandages or plaster, nursing beaten faces and broken limbs.

Operation Mavhoterapapi (Who did you vote for?) was already under way. It was targeted at known MDC activists who were systematically and brutally beaten. About 80 are reported dead but the scale of the violence was national. Many had their identity cards destroyed or were driven from their areas, making it impossible for them to vote.

What no one knew was whether the nationwide, organised violence against suspected MDC voters would work. It was clear that a shocked Zanu-PF was making sure its own constituency would turn out as it failed to do in round one. But would MDC supporters risk their lives to turn out again to cast their ballots? Inspired by the brutality, would they defiantly march to the polling stations on 27 June? No one seemed sure but many people sensed that ordinary Zimbabweans might be cowed into staying at home and Mugabe might win. Mr Tsvangirai himself left the country immediately after the 29 March poll and stayed away for weeks.

No dictator in Africa has ever been driven out by a mass uprising. Outside intervention, coups, armed rebellions and even elections have provided their exits. It was always inconceivable that after the run-off, Mugabe would congratulate Mr Tsvangirai on his victory and politely step aside. So maybe Mr Tsvangirai was right to spare the lives of his supporters by pulling out.

But would he have strengthened his political and moral credibility by toughing it out? It is clear that Mr Tsvangirai's pleas to the rest of the world to sort out Zimbabwe have failed. If he wants power and the people of Zimbabwe want rid of tyranny and an end to impoverishment, they will have to suffer and fight for it. Taking refuge in the Dutch embassy like a dissident, as Mr Tsvangirai did yesterday, is not the mark of great leadership. The battle for power in Zimbabwe is still to be fought.

Assuming that on Saturday, Mugabe will celebrate winning 100 per cent of the vote, two factors now come into play. Firstly, the economy is barely alive. African economies do not die, they fade into subsistence. There are no buffers or precipices. But the government's ability to pay people to do its bidding is almost at an end. When I arrived, £1 was worth a billion Zimbabwean dollars. When I left it was two billion. Today £1 is worth 40 billion Zimbabwean dollars. What will happen when thousands of soldiers, policemen and spies have to start finding food rather than going to work for Mugabe? The government may have a monopoly of violence at the moment but, as the economy shrinks, so will the government's power to rule.

The second factor is the growing chorus of respected Africans who are speaking out against Mugabe. Presidents Levy Mwawanasa of Zambia and Ian Karma of Botswana have denounced him. Even former close allies like the former presidents of Mozambique and Tanzania, Joachim Chissano and Ben Mkapa, have been critical. So, incredibly, has President Eduardo dos Santos of Angola– a man who also does not believe in elections.

In a continent where African presidential solidarity is, in public at least, rock solid, do not underestimate the importance of these voices in removing Mugabe's legitimacy. Being made a pariah by Western countries is one thing; being made a pariah by other African rulers is something else.

Against this stands the rapidly diminishing figure of South Africa's President Thabo Mbeki, already rejected by his own party and stepping down at the next election. His quiet diplomacy policy on Zimbabwe has failed and it is clear he has no alternative. He treats the crisis in Zimbabwe like a domestic row that needs a mediator, rather than a power struggle in which one side has cast aside any pretence of playing by the rules or restraint.

As his own power wanes, so will his ability to prevent other African leaders from taking on a leadership role on Zimbabwe. That is a necessary shift but, for the foreseeable future, it is in Zimbabwe itself that change will have to happen.

Richard Dowden is the director of the Royal African Society

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Cover Supervisor

£75 - £90 per day + negotiable: Randstad Education Group: Are you a cover supe...

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Piper Ryan Randall leads a pro-Scottish independence rally in the suburbs of Edinburgh  

i Editor's Letter: Britain survives, but change is afoot

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Some believe that David Cameron is to blame for allowing Alex Salmond a referendum  

Scottish referendum: So how about the English now being given a chance to split from England?

Mark Steel
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam