William Gumede: Amid the despair of Zimbabwe, there is still hope

Related Topics

There can be no clearer illustration of the impotence of Africa's regional institutions and leaders to find local solutions to the continent's problems than their astounding inaction in the face of Zimbabwe's terrifying descent into the abyss. Any deal to stave off the country's collapse will founder unless it involves both its neighbours and the international community, yet, no matter how dire the situation, there is just no appetite in Africa for an Iraqi-style foreign invasion to rid the country of Robert Mugabe.

Western intervention on this scale is a non-starter. First, African countries – even those who implacably oppose Mugabe – would see foreign forces on African soil as an affront to their dignity, especially if it involves one from Britain, the former colonial master of Zimbabwe. Second, although African countries have this week finally started to put pressure on Mugabe, they have always been opposed to using peacekeeping troops to resolve conflicts within the continent.

The United Nations must be central to the resolution of the Zimbabwean impasse, and the Security Council's condemnation of Mugabe is a necessary if long overdue component in the process. The fact that South Africa and China, who previously blocked discussion of Zimbabwe in the Security Council, joined in the condemnation is another step forward.

In the absence of an opposition in this week's presidential run-off, Mugabe will probably claim victory, no matter how ridiculous that would be. But such a farce can be prevented. Indeed, victory for the people of Zimbabwe can still be salvaged from this bloody wreckage.

Two things have changed. African leaders have finally come to terms with the fact that Mugabe is a shameful blot on the continent. The fact that Angola, Senegal, Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda have added their voices to calls for Mugabe to listen to reason is ground-breaking in a continent where the rule is that African leaders do not criticise their peers even if they brutalise their people.

The other obstructive rule has been that African leaders always side with the fellow African leaders when they are criticised by the West, especially by former colonial powers, no matter the merits of the criticisms. That rule has also now been broken. And a third rule, that fellow African movements always close ranks when another is criticised by outsiders, is also now broken.

Jacob Zuma, the president of South Africa's ruling ANC, now says that the ANC cannot support Mugabe and Zanu-PF on the basis solely of their shared anti-colonial struggle experience. In the African context this is hugely significant. It means that Mugabe is now for the first time isolated within Africa up to his rallying base.

But how to deal practically with the crisis? A joint African-West solution, backed by the UN, should involve cancelling the presidential re-run, and installing a transitional government based on the results of the 29 March elections, won by Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC. It would be an outrage if a solution involved Mugabe remaining head of Zimbabwe. A deal would also have to involve key Zanu-PF leaders in a transitional cabinet of national unity – without Mugabe at its head.

Disappointingly, during the UN Security Council meeting on Monday, South Africa blocked a stronger statement that would have formally recognised Morgan Tsvangirai, the leader of the MDC, as the legitimate president, and a deal may have to involve giving Mugabe and his allies some kind of immunity. The advantages of this would outweigh the moral hazards.

African countries must send a peacekeeping force, during a transitional period, with members from all African countries that can contribute. The West could partner such a peacekeeping force by providing financial, material and logistic support.

There is more to be done: an offer from the West to cancel at least some of Zimbabwe's debt will do a lot to restore African confidence. Furthermore, both the UK and the US must pay the disputed funds for land reform, which Mugabe has used as a red flag to mobilise African leaders behind him since 2000. Many Africans still do remember unfulfilled Western promises in many areas – which remain a sore point across the continent.

Amid the despair of the death, destruction and starvation perpetuated by Mugabe – a situation abetted by the inaction of African and Western leaders – there is still the possibility of a solution to what has happened in Zimbabwe. But what's needed is a sense of urgency combined with cool heads and pragmatism.

William Gumede is author of 'Thabo Mbeki and the Battle for the Soul of the ANC'

React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: Telesales & Customer Service Executives - Outbound & Inbound

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Recruitment Genius: National Account Manager / Key Account Sales

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment Consultant

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...

Day In a Page

Read Next

Letter from the Political Editor: Mr. Cameron is beginning to earn small victories in Europe

Andrew Grice
Pakistani volunteers carry a student injured in the shootout at a school under attack by Taliban gunmen, at a local hospital in Peshawar  

The Only Way is Ethics: The paper’s readers and users of our website want different things

Will Gore
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'