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Dell said Mugabe was cleverer than any other politician in Zimbabwe

United States ambassador to Zimbabwe Christopher Dell, whose mission was to allegedly to oust President Robert Mugabe, said a day before he left the country that Mugabe has survived for so long because he was “more clever and more ruthless than any other politician in Zimbabwe”.

“To give the devil his due, he is a brilliant tactitian and has long thrived on his ability to abruptly change the rules of the game, radicalize the political dynamic and force everyone else to react to his agenda,” Dell said in his famous cable entitled, the End is nigh.

The ambassador said Mugabe was fundamentally hampered by several factors:

  • his ego and belief in his own infallibility;
  • his obsessive focus on the past as a justification for everything in the present and future;
  • his deep ignorance on economic issues (coupled with the belief that his 18 doctorates give him the authority to suspend the laws of economics, including supply and demand);
  • and his essentially short-term, tactical style.

 

Full cable:

 

Viewing cable 07HARARE638, The End is Nigh

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Reference ID

Created

Classification

Origin

07HARARE638

2007-07-13 10:04

CONFIDENTIAL

Embassy Harare

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RUFOADA/JAC MOLESWORTH RAF MOLESWORTH UK

RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 1869

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 HARARE 000638

 

SIPDIS

 

SIPDIS

 

DEPARTMENT FOR P, AF, AND AF/S FOR MOZENA AND HILL,

NSC FOR SENIOR AFRICA DIRECTOR B.

PITTMAN AND B. LEO; USAID FOR M. COPSON AND E. LOKEN

 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/12/2017

TAGS: PGOV PREL ZI

SUBJECT: The End is Nigh

 

 

Classified By: Ambassador Christopher W. Dell under Section 1.4b/d

 

1. (C) Having said my piece repeatedly over the last three years,

I won’t offer a lengthy prescription for our Zimbabwe

policy. My views can be stated very simply as stay the

course and prepare for change. Our policy is working and it’s

helping to drive change here. What is required is simply the grit,

determination and focus to see this through. Then, when the changes

finally come we must be ready to move quickly to help consolidate

the new dispensation.

 

THE SITUATION

 

2. (C) Robert Mugabe has survived for so long because he is more

clever and more ruthless than any other politician in

Zimbabwe. To give the devil his due, he is a brilliant

tactitian and has long thrived on his ability to abruptly

change the rules of the game, radicalize the political

dynamic and force everyone else to react to his agenda.

However, he is fundamentally hampered by several factors:

his ego and belief in his own infallibility; his obsessive

focus on the past as a justification for everything in the

present and future; his deep ignorance on economic issues

(coupled with the belief that his 18 doctorates give him

the authority to suspend the laws of economics, including

supply and demand); and his essentially short-term,

tactical style.

 

3. (C) While his tactical skills have kept him in power for 27

years, over the last seven this has only been achieved by a

series of populist, but destructive and ultimately

self-defeating moves. In reaction to losing the 2000

referendum on the constitution, a vengeful Mugabe unleashed

his QGreen BombersQ to commit land reform and in the

process he destroyed ZimbabweQs agricultural sector, once the

bedrock of the economy. While thousands of white farmers

saw their properties seized, hundreds of thousands of black

Zimbabweans lost their livelihoods and were reduced to utter

poverty. In 2005, having been forced to steal victory by

manipulating the results of an election he lost, Mugabe

lashed out again, punishing the urban populace by launching

Operation Murambatsvina. The result was wholesale

destruction of the informal sector, on which as much as

70-80 percent of urban dwellers had depended, and the

uprooting of 700,000 Zimbabweans. The current inflationary

cycle really began with Murambatsvina, as rents and prices

grew in response to a decrease in supply.

 

4. (C) And now, faced with the hyperinflationary consequences

of his ruinous fiscal policies and growing reliance on the

printing press to keep his government running, Mugabe has

launched Operation Slash Prices. This has once again given

him a very temporary boost in popularity (especially among

the police, who have led the looting of retail outlets and

now seem well positioned to take a leading role in the

black market economy) at the cost of terrible damage to the

country and people. Many small grocery and shop owners,

traders, etc., will be wiped out; the shelves are

increasingly bare; hunger, fear, and tension are growing;

fuel has disappeared. When the shelves are still empty

this time next week, the popular appeal of the price roll

back will evaporate and the government simply doesnQt have

the resources to replace the entire private commercial

sector and keep Zimbabweans fed. It may attempt to do so

by printing more money, adding even more inflationary

pressure on a system already reeling from the GOZQs

quasi-fiscal lunacy combined with the price impact of

pervasive shortages. The increasingly worthless Zim dollar

is likely to collapse as a unit of trade in the near

future, depriving the GOZ of its last economic tool other

than sheer thuggery and theft of othersQ assets.

 

5. (C) With all this in view, IQm convinced the end is not

 

HARARE 00000638 002 OF 004

 

 

far off for the Mugabe regime. Of course, my predecessors

and many other observers have all said the same thing, and

yet Mugabe is still with us. I think this time could prove

different, however, because for the first time the

president is under intensifying pressure simultaneously on

the economic, political and international fronts. In the

past, he could always play one of these off against the

other, using economic moves to counter political pressure

or playing the old colonial/race/imperialist themes to buy

himself breathing room regionally and internationally. But

he is running out of options and in the swirling gases of

the new Zimbabwean constellation that is starting to form,

the economic, political and international pressures are

concentrating on Mugabe himself. Our ZANU-PF contacts are

virtually unanimous in saying reform is desperately needed,

but won’t happen while the Old Man is there, and therefore

he must go (finding the courage to make that happen is

another matter, however, but even that may be coming closer).

This is not some sudden awakening on the road to

Damascus, but a reflection of the pain even party insiders

increasingly feel over the economic meltdown. We also get

regular, albeit anecdotal, reports of angry and

increasingly open mutterings against Mugabe even in ZANU-PF’s

traditional rural bastions.   Beginning in March, the

other SADC leaders finally recognized (in the wake of the

terrible beatings of March 11 and the international outcry

that followed Q another self-inflicted wound for Mugabe)

that Zimbabwe is a problem they need to address. Thabo

Mbeki appears committed to a successful mediation and is

reportedly increasingly irritated with MugabeQs efforts to

manipulate him or blow him off altogether. If Mugabe

judges that he still commands all he surveys by virtue of

being the elder statesman on the scene, he may be

committing yet another serious blunder. Finally, one does

well to recall that the only serious civil disturbances

here in a decade came in 1998 over bread shortages, showing

that even the famously passive Shona people have their

limits. The terror and oppression of the

intervening years have cowed people, but itQs anyoneQs guess

whether their fear or their anger will win out in the end.

 

WHAT WILL THE END LOOK LIKE?

 

6. (C) This is the big, unanswerable question. One thing

at least is certain, Mugabe will not wake up one morning a

changed man, resolved to set right all he has wrought. He

will not go quietly nor without a fight. He will cling to

power at all costs and the costs be damned, he deserves to

rule by virtue of the liberation struggle and land reform and

the people of Zimbabwe have let him down by failing to

appreciate this, thus he neednQt worry about their

well-being. The only scenario in which he might agree to

go with a modicum of good grace is one in which he

concludes that the only way to end his days a free man is

by leaving State House. I judge that he is still a long

way from this conclusion and will fight on for now.

 

7. (C) The optimal outcome, of course, and the only one that

doesnQt bring with it a huge risk of violence and conflict, is

a genuinely free and fair election, under international

supervision. The Mbeki mediation offers the best, albeit

very slim, hope of getting there. However, as Pretoria

grows more and more worried about the chaos to its north

and President MbekiQs patience with MugabeQs antics wears

thin, the prospects for serious South African engagement

may be growing. Thus, this effort deserves all the support

and backing we can muster. Less attractive is the idea of

a South African-brokered transitional arrangement or

government of national unity. Mbeki has always favored

stability and in his mind this means a ZANU-PF-led GNU, with

perhaps a few MDC additions. This solution is more likely

to prolong than resolve the crisis and we must guard

against letting Pretoria dictate an outcome which

 

HARARE 00000638 003 OF 004

 

 

perpetuates the status quo at the expense of real change

and reform.

 

8. (C) The other scenarios are all less attractive: a popular

uprising would inevitably entail a bloodbath, even if it

were ultimately successful; MugabeQs sudden, unexpected

death would set off a stampede for power among ZANU-PF

heavy weights; a palace coup, whether initiated within

ZANU-PF or from the military – in which Mugabe is removed,

killed, exiled or otherwise disposed of, could well devolve

into open conflict between the contending successors.   Similarly,

some form of “constitutional coup” i.e., a change at the top

engineered within the framework of ZANU-PFQs “legitimate”

structures could well prove to be merely the opening bell

in a prolonged power struggle. None of the players is

likely to go quietly into the night without giving everything

they have, including calling on

their supporters in the security services. Moreover, experience

elsewhere would suggest that whoever comes out on top

initially will struggle, and more than likely fail, to halt

the economic collapse. Thus, there is a good prospect of

not one but a series of rapid-fire Qtransitions,Q until

some new, stable dispensation is reached.

 

9. (C) The final, and probably worst, possibility is that Mugabe

concludes he can settle for ruling over a rump Zimbabwe,

maintaining control over Harare and the Mashona heartland,

the critical forces of the National Reserve Force and CIO

and a few key assets Q gold, diamonds, platinum and Air

Zimbabwe to fund the good times. Under this scenario the

rest of the country, in one of the comradeQs favorite

phrases, could Qgo hang,Q leaving it to the international

community to stave off the worst humanitarian consequences.

 

 

WHAT OF THE OPPOSITION?

 

10. (C) ZimbabweQs opposition is far from ideal and I leave

convinced that had we had different partners we could have

achieved more already. But you have to play the hand youQre dealt.

With that in mind, the current leadership has little executive

experience and will require massive hand holding and assistance

should they ever come to power.

 

11. (C) Morgan Tsvangarai is a brave, committed man and, by and

large, a democrat. He is also the only player on the scene

right now with real star quality and the ability to rally

the masses. But Tsvangarai is also a flawed figure, not

readily open to advice, indecisive and with questionable

judgment in selecting those around him. He is the indispensable

element for opposition success, but possibly an albatross around

t heir necks once in power. In short, he is a kind of Lech Walesa

character: Zimbabwe needs him, but should not rely on his executive

abilities to lead the country’s recovery. Arthur Mutambara is young

and ambitious, attracted to radical, anti-western rhetoric and

smart as a whip. But, in many respects heQs a light-weight

who has spent too much time reading U.S. campaign messaging

manuals and too little thinking about the real issues. Welshman

Ncube has proven to be a deeply divisive

and destructive player in the opposition ranks and the

sooner he is pushed off the stage, the better. But he is

useful to many, including the regime and South Africa, so

is probably a cross to be borne for some time yet. The

prospects for healing the rift within the MDC seem dim,

which is a totally unnecessary self-inflicted wound on

their part this time. With few exceptions Q Tendayi Biti,

Nelson Chamisa Q the talent is thin below the top ranks.

The great saving grace of the opposition is likely to be

found in the diaspora. Most of ZimbabweQs best

professionals, entrepreneurs, businessmen and women, etc.,

have fled the country. They are the oppositionQs natural

allies and it is encouraging to see signs, particularly in

South Africa and the UK, that these people are talking,

 

HARARE 00000638 004 OF 004

 

 

sharing ideas, developing plans and thinking together about

future recovery.

 

12. (C) Unfortunately, among the MDCQs flaws is its inability to

work more effectively with the rest of civil society. The

blame for this can be shared on both sides (many civil

society groups, like the NCA, are single-issue focused and

take the overall dynamic in unhelpful directions; others,

like WOZA, insist on going it alone as a matter of

principle), but ultimately it falls to the MDC as the

largest and the only true political party, to show the

way. Once again, however, these are natural allies and

they have more reason to work together than fight against each

other.

 

STAYING THE COURSE, PREPARING FOR CHANGE

 

13. (C) If I am right and change is in the offing, we need to

step up our preparations. The work done over the last year on

transition planning has been extremely useful, both for

stimulating a fresh look at our own assumptions and plans

and for forging a common approach among the traditional

donor community. But the process has lagged since the

meetings in March in London and should be re-energized. It is

encouraging in this respect that USAID Washington has

engaged the Mission here in discussing how we would use

additional resources in response to a genuinely

reform-minded government . I hope this will continue and

the good work done so far will survive the usual

bloodletting of the budget process.

 

14. (C) The official media has had a field day recently whooping

that “Dell leaves Zimbabwe a failed man”. That’s not quite

how it looks from here. I believe that the firm

U.S. stance, the willingness to speak out and stand up,

have contributed to the accelerating pace of change.

Mugabe and his henchman are like bullies everywhere: if

they can intimidate you they will. But ther’re not used to

someone standing up to them and fighting back. It catches them

off guard and that’s when they make mistakes. The howls of protest

over critical statements from Washington or negative coverage

on CNN are the clearest proof of how this hurts them. Ditto

the squeals over Qillegal sanctions.Q In addition, the regime

has become so used to calling the shots and dictating the

pace that the merest stumble panics them. Many local

observers have noted that Mugabe is panicked and

desperate about hyperinflation at the moment, and hence heQs

making mistakes. Possibly fatal mistakes. We need to

keep the pressure on in order to keep Mugabe off his game

and on his back foot, relying on his own shortcomings to do

him in. Equally important is an active U.S. leadership

role in the international community. The UK is ham-strung

by its colonial past and domestic politics, thus, letting them

set the pace alone merely limits our effectiveness. The EU is

divided between the hard north and its soft southern

underbelly. The Africans are only now beginning to find

their voice. Rock solid partners like Australia donQt

pack enough punch to step out front and the UN is a

non-player. Thus it falls to the U.S., once again, to take

the lead, to say and do the hard things and to set the agenda.

Hundreds, maybe thousands, of ordinary Zimbabweans of all

kinds have told me that our clear, forthright stance has

given them hope and the courage to hang on. By this regimeQs

standards, acting in the interests of the people may indeed be

considered a failure. But I believe that the opposite is true,

and that we can be justifiably proud that in Zimbabwe we have

helped advance the PresidentQs freedom Agenda. The people of

this country know it and recognize it and that is the true

touchstone of our success here.

 

DELL

 

(25 VIEWS)

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