Realpolitik, the notion that in international politics, the preservation of a country and the advancement of its interests are the ultimate goal, with coercive power being the best, if not the only tool for achieving those ends, is the diplomacy of choice associated with authoritarian regimes on a national front seeking vindication abroad.
Coming to the end of his term, President Khama in his handling of the change of guard in Zimbabwe has taken a gambit that a mere 4 days into the reign of Zimbabwe’s new President, Emmerson Mnangagwa, is being seen by the international community as having paid off. At home and internationally Khama will be perceived as the voice of change that had long been called for in dealings with Zimbabwe.
A long-time critic of Mugabe’s regime, Khama did not hold back in calling for the embattled (then) Zimbabwean President to resign when the military placed Mugabe under “protective custody” and subsequently when Zanu PF turned on its leader and commenced impeachment proceedings against him. Addressing an open letter to Mugabe on November 21, 2017, Khama stated that “The people of Zimbabwe have for a long time been subjected to untold suffering as a result of poor governance under your leadership. It is therefore my conviction that by vacating the Presidency, this will usher in a new political dispensation that will pave the way for the much-needed socio-economic recovery in Zimbabwe.”
The open letter lays the blame for Zimbabwe’s woes exclusively at Mugabe’s feet and further that his resignation will “usher in a new political dispensation.” History reveals otherwise and therein lies the gambit of this foreign policy faux pas. A realpolitik gambit. The enmity between the two heads of state, Khama and Mugabe, has been widely recorded and Khama’s criticism and denunciation of Mugabe has raised his profile internationally as a humanitarian and democrat. In so doing, as with the greatest proponents of realpolitik, Khama has shifted international scrutiny away from his conduct at home and raised his profile internationally. Little or no condemnation has been levelled against Khama for attacks on the media, the treatment of Basarwa, failure to act on corruption allegations against his inner circle, human rights abuses and undermining democracy protection institutions.
Mnangagwa, speaking at his inauguration, with a practised ease of 37 years within the upper echelons of Zanu PF and Mugabe’s government, sent out all the right soundbites to the watching world, “The fiscal and social infrastructure must be repaired and expanded to position our country for economic growth, employment creation, equity, freedom and democracy,” said Mnangagwa to a packed National Stadium in Harare on Friday.
“Our economic policy will have predicated on our agriculture which can create conditions for investment and land economic recovery for job creation,” he added, giving voice to much the same neoliberal policies that Khama has been so lauded for in the past.
Mnangagwa and the military leaders that put him in power, have been quick to grant immunity to Mugabe and have allowed him and his family to remain in Zimbabwe under their protection. The granting of immunity to Mugabe needs, however to be juxtaposed with how the new President stated that the “new political dispensation” would focus on “serving” Zimbabweans and bring an end corruption by Government officials.
“As we focus on recovering our economy, we must shed misbehaviours and acts of ill-discipline which have characterised the past. Acts of corruption must stop.”
The acknowledgement by Mnangagwa that there have been “misbehaviours and acts of ill-discipline” in the past, call into question why Mugabe and those within Zanu PF will not be prosecuted for their alleged crimes, both against humanity and corruption generally.
The man behind Mnangagwa’s presidency is Constantino Guveya Dominic Nyikadzino Chiwenga, Commander of the Zimbabwe Defence Force.
In 2005, the military and the Zimbabwean police, supported by Zanu PF youth commenced Operation Murambatsvina, officially known as Operation Restore Order. Publically slated as an endeavour to clean up urban slums, the operation was seen as a move to disrupt opposition constituencies and the MDC stranglehold on urban areas. The United Nations estimated that at least 700,000 people were displaced and forced out of their homes. In total the “operation” is estimated to have indirectly affected almost 2.5 million Zimbabweans. Mugabe, government and the military justified Murambatsvina as a crackdown on illegal housing and commercial activities, and as an effort to reduce the risk of the spread of infectious disease.
International condemnation of the Zimbabwean government was widespread. Internally opposition parties, church groups, non-governmental organisations, labelled the operation as a crime against humanity. The United Nations stated, at the time, that the campaign was a deliberate effort remove large sections of the urban and rural poor that formed the base of opposition against Mugabe’s administration.
In 2008, Chiwenga played a central role in keeping Mugabe in power after he lost elections to Morgan Tsvangirai and the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). The disputed election saw a runoff election for the Presidency after Tsvangirai failed to obtain 50% of the vote. The initial election results were disputed, with the opposition and Botswana’s Election observers indicating that they had been rigged. Chiwenga, at the time publically announced that the military would not support a President that did not have “liberation credentials”. A statement that was widely perceived as a threat to democracy and the rule of law. In addition, media reports of the time indicate that prior to the run-off election, pro-Zanu PF militias backed by the military attacked and killed supporters of MDC, resulting in Tsvangirai pulling out of the second round of elections. Mugabe remained in power.
Khama’s government was quick to condemn the elections in 2008, and contrary to SADC and other international observers, refused to certify them as having been free and fair.
Mnangagwa is not without his own controversy, not least being accused of orchestrating the Gukurahundi massacres of Ndebele civilians between 1983 and 1984. He has denied the allegations despite reports to the contrary.
The leadership change in Zimbabwe has been just that, a change at the head of government nothing more nothing less. The systemic corruption mechanisms that have been put in place over the last 37 years will now be subsumed by the euphoria of Mugabe’s removal. As one Zimbabwean political commentator stated “the dictator has been removed but the dictatorship remains.”
Khama was one of 3 current heads of State attending Mnangagwa’s inauguration, proudly congratulating the incoming President and ignoring the atrocities and wrongs of the past. For Khama the international game had played its course. Mugabe could not have been removed by external military intervention. Mugabe was no Jameh nor is the Zimbabwean military an impotent tool used merely to supress internal opposition.
On Saturday, the Zimbabwean Constitutional Court declared the removal of Mugabe to be constitutional. What else could it do? A mere 3 days before Mugabe had appeared on national television and said he supported the move by his general’s purging the party (Zanu PF) of corruption and he resigned in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution.
By attending Mnangagwa’s inauguration Khama endorsed the political power play that had been manipulated by the Zimbabwean military. SADC and the AU remained silent and ineffective, delaying any intervention under the guise of meetings to discuss the way forward for a peaceful resolution to the “Zimbabwean Problem”. A problem of their own creation for failing to condemn the abuse of power over the last 17 years.
The west, reminiscent of the cold war era, watched from the by-stands and applauded as Mugabe was removed. In the east, reports now emerge of Russian and Chinese support for the Military and the changing of the guard. All have vast financial stakes in Zimbabwe.
For Khama, the power play cost little, endearing him further with the west and potentially helping curb the growing concern over the influx of illegal immigrants from Zimbabwe. But politically, the position adopted by Khama has far greater implications. Coups and the military leadership that commit them have been emboldened, once the scourge of the continent, and ought to be distinguished from popular uprisings. The change is Zimbabwe was not a popular uprising but a resetting of internal party politics in Zanu.
Botswana and Khama have publically decried intrusions into democracy. The granting of immunity to Mugabe sets a dangerous regional precedent. In South Africa, President Jacob Zuma faces 475 corruption charges. In Botswana the opposition have vowed that in the event they assume power they will investigate all allegations of corruption and if cause is found they will prosecute any and all wrong doers. The path is now open for the military to step in, change the guard and protect former political leaders without due process.
Those undertaking regime change because of the unpopularity of the regime, invariably believe that the “ends justify their means.” In Zimbabwe, Khama would be quick to say that “justice has been done.” However global order calls for individual and private rationalisations to be subordinated to a public rationale and that the passing of a national judgment be subordinated to international law.
In the end Mugabe could not overcome the joint internal and international opposition to his unquestionable misrule. Khama is all too aware that ultimately, he had the support of the international community and to a large degree Zimbabweans. The removal of Mugabe would not have been his faux paus that would be the endorsement of Mnangagwa.
As things stand opposition to Mnangagwa, Chewenga and Zanu have been subdued due to the removal of Mugabe. But should some faction in the future seek retribution for the wrongs of the past this will be viewed merely as an act of vengeance, because the international powers that be have endorsed a coup that was not, and a regime change that was not.
Mnangagwa has guaranteed Zimbabweans that the 2018 elections will be held as scheduled, the test will be whether they are free and fair and whether, in the event Zanu were to lose the elections Chewenga will salute a new president without liberation credentials. Until such a time, Khama’s endorsement of the change in Zimbabwe was premature and an ominous portent of how our own military may act faced with similar challenges.