Basildon Peta: Mass protests are needed to force Mugabe’s hand

Friday 04 April 2008 00:00 BST

Will he or won't he? It has been nearly a week since the polls closed, and still no word from Robert Mugabe on when he will begin his journey into political oblivion.

It now seems clear that the more Mr Mugabe's hand-picked electoral authorities stall on announcing his apparent loss to long-time rival Morgan Tsvangirai, the more manoeuvring Mr Mugabe is doing to hang on.

Yet my problem now is no longer with "Comrade Bob" but with the man I actually want to see in the State House, Mr Tsvangirai himself.

There is no doubt Mr Tsvangirai is a man with nerves of steel – if only he could bring them to bear when they are needed most.

I cannot fathom why he kept mum for three long days, then made a belated appearance to claim victory before disappearing again. He has enough frontline experience to know that this gentlemanly approach does not work in the rough and tumble of African politics.

Perhaps he is indeed enmeshed in negotiations for a dignified exit for Mr Mugabe, which he does not want to scupper by any public action. But should that be his business?

A close aide tells me Mr Tsvangirai fears any action that may trigger the imposition of a state of emergency, or even a nullification of the parliamentary victory he has won. That is all beside the point.

Mr Mugabe is on his knees and what is needed is mass pressure to force his hand. That pressure should begin from within the country, specifically from Mr Tsvangirai and his victorious supporters.

If there was ever a time that Mr Tsvangirai ought to take a leaf from Raila Odinga's book, it is now.

We all know how, after brazenly stealing the presidential vote, Mwai Kibaki's hand in Kenya was forced by Mr Odinga's wise deployment of his most vital asset; his mass support.

I am not advocating the mass murder and mayhem we saw in Kenya. But it is within Mr Tsvangirai's rights to demand the immediate release of all outstanding results or threaten peaceful mass protests by his ubiquitous followers.

There is always the risk that such protests might turn violent or might be brutally crushed. But this is not the time to be overly cautions.

It is not time to fear Mr Mugabe – a rash reaction will only hasten his demise. His African peers, who tend to avoid nipping a problem in the bud and prefer to react to escalations, will be emboldened to act against him, were he to make any such move.

It pains me to see Mr Mugabe still in the driving seat, dictating the future even after losing a popular election.

But let us hope that today –finally – we know at least what he has decided about his future.

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