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Why Obasanjo and Nigerians supported Mugabe

Former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo supported President Robert Mugabe during the early years of the Zimbabwe crisis because he believed that he owed a debt to Mugabe.

A cable released by the United States embassy in Abuja said Obasanjo and Mugabe had been friends for 25 years and had developed a deep person bond.

But more importantly Obasanjo was Head of State during the Lancaster House negotiation and had repeatedly stated that he pressured Mugabe to accept a constitution that would hold land reform in abeyance even though Mugabe wanted to forge ahead immediately on the issue.

In the late eighties and early nineties, Obasanjo also counselled Mugabe to bridle his drive for land reform so that events in Zimbabwe would not scare apartheid supporters and thus throttle reform in South Africa.

“After having twice asked Mugabe to cool his heels, Obasanjo feels obliged to support Mugabe on land reform now, the flaws that riddle its implementation notwithstanding,” the embassy said.

The same applied to ordinary Nigerians. They believed that land issues were at the root of the political crisis in Zimbabwe and they deeply resented pressure from Britain because they felt that Britain did not do nearly enough to realise a fair and equitable redistribution of land in years past.

For them, land redistribution was “justice”.

 

Full cable:


Viewing cable 03ABUJA534, NIGERIA: THE FOUNDATIONS OF OBASANJO’S FANTASIES

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Reference ID

Created

Released

Classification

Origin

03ABUJA534

2003-03-19 18:09

2011-08-30 01:44

CONFIDENTIAL

Embassy Abuja

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 ABUJA 000534

 

SIPDIS

 

 

CAIRO POL FOR MAXSTADT

LONDON FOR GURNEY

 

 

E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/04/2013

TAGS: PREL PROP ZI NI UK AS

SUBJECT: NIGERIA: THE FOUNDATIONS OF OBASANJO’S FANTASIES

 

 

Ref: (A) Harare 422

–     (B) Abuja 343

 

 

CLASSIFIED BY AMBASSADOR HOWARD F. JETER; REASONS 1.5 (B) AND

(D).

 

 

1. (U) Although not a formal member of the Front Line States,

Nigeria was in the vanguard of those fighting for the

liberation of southern Africa. The current Chief of Staff of

the Air Force has told us stories of the role he played in

ferreting weapons to ZANU to shore up ZANU’s fight against the

Rhodesians.

 

 

2. (C) Nigeria’s support for Mugabe today is rooted in the

era of liberation. Nigerians generally, not just Obasanjo,

are loathe to “abandon” someone they see as both prot ?and

ally, the more so when there is a widespread perception that

“the West” (especially the UK) is carrying water for white

farmers whose forebears expropriated land belonging to the

rightful black owners. In other words, the Nigerians believe

that land issues are at the root of the political crisis in

Zimbabwe, and they deeply resent pressure from the UK, feeling

HMG did not do nearly enough to realize a fair and equitable

redistribution of land in years past. They also ignore the

overwhelming evidence that the GOZ is redistributing land not

to right historical wrongs but to provide favors to supporters

while punishing opponents. For them, this redistribution is

“justice”. The lack of reference to historical antecedents

and established principles of land redistribution in Africa

does not invalidate the “principle,” in their minds.

 

 

3. (C) Obasanjo also believes he owes a debt to Mugabe, a

friend for more than 25 years with whom he has a deep personal

bond. Obasanjo was Head of State during the Lancaster House

negotiations and has repeatedly stated that he pressured

Mugabe to accept a constitution that would hold land reform in

abeyance even though Mugabe wanted to forge ahead immediately

on the issue. In the late eighties and early nineties,

Obasanjo also counseled Mugabe to bridle his drive for land

reform so events in Zimbabwe would not scare apartheid

supporters and thus throttle reform in South Africa. After

having twice asked Mugabe to cool his heels, Obasanjo feels

obliged to support Mugabe on land reform now, the flaws that

riddle its implementation notwithstanding. Obasanjo adheres

firmly to an erroneous belief that Zimbabwe’s political and

economic crisis today is unrelated to the chaos arising from

political events that have taken place over the past year.

 

 

4. (C) The Nigerians, again not just Obasanjo, find it just

excruciatingly difficult to criticize Mugabe when they see him

in conflict with his old adversaries (white Zimbabweans); this

makes them want to see inequalities in land distribution as

root rather than secondary causes of political and economic

crisis. Zimbabweans and Nigerian diplomats in Zimbabwe see an

autocratic and increasingly brutal old man who refuses to cede

power gracefully. Nigerians in Nigeria, including Obasanjo

himself, still see the Mugabe they supported in the 70s.

These factors, together with the points made in para four, may

underlie Obasanjo’s willingness to believe GOZ assertions

despite all evidence to the contrary. Of course, we cannot

confirm that Nigerian diplomats in Harare report faithfully to

Abuja the views they hold forth to U.S. diplomats. Ambassador

Olufemi George, the MFA Under Secretary for Africa, professes

a firm belief that land is the fundamental cause of Zimbabwe’s

instability. Other key advisors, including Foreign Minister

Sule Lamido and International Affairs Advisor Ad’Obe Obe, take

equally hard lines. The position that Obasanjo takes on the

Zimbabwe question is fed and reinforced by these hardliners.

 

 

5. (C) Obasanjo was clearly annoyed with Australia for having

implemented sanctions that went beyond those imposed by the

Commonwealth. He made that clear in his letter to Howard, and

it was one of the first points he raised in a meeting (ref B)

with Ambassador Jeter and AF DAS Bridgewater. His personal

distaste for Howard magnified Obasanjo’s outrage at Howard’s

unilateral action. Animus toward Howard is pervasive within

the GON.

 

 

6. (C) Obasanjo has also been unhappy with MDC leader Morgan

Tsvangirai, whom he views as unreasonable and inflexible. The

 

SIPDIS

fact that Tsvangirai went to the media with details about an

earlier meeting with Obasanjo reportedly annoyed the Nigerian

President. Moreover, Obasanjo tends to regard the views of

those shorter in the tooth than he (whether in chronological

years or in years of experience as a national leader) as less

worthy of serious consideration than those of contemporaries.

This tendency has at times heightened domestic tensions, and

it may be a factor in his dealings, respectively, with Mugabe

and Tsvangirai.

 

 

7. (C) That said, the British High Commissioner here

believes that there is flexibility in Nigeria’s position.

Obasanjo desperately wants to hold the next Commonwealth

Summit in Abuja and will not jeopardize that opportunity even

for Mugabe. The HC told Ambassador Jeter that if a

recommendation for Mugabe’s continued suspension comes from

the Commonwealth Secretary General and Secretariat Obasanjo

will not oppose it and will go forward with the Commonwealth

Summit even if Mugabe is excluded. However, if the

recommendation comes from Howard, it will be much harder for

Obasanjo to swallow.

JETER

(17 VIEWS)

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