Foreign Policy Blogs

An End to the Zim Stalemate?

The International Crisis Group has posited a possible solution to the Zimbabwe stalemate. Their outline has garnered the general support in principle of both factions of the divided Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), Zimbabwe's major opposition party, as well as members of President Robert Mugabe's own Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) whose dissatisfaction with the status quo is growing. The plan calls for the retirement of President Robert Mugabe, a power-sharing transitional government, a new constitution, and elections.

 This all sounds great. Mugabe retires, opening the political field for free and fair elections in which all parties will be guaranteed a place at the table. The new government will operate under a new constitution. The rivers will flow with honey, the lakes fill with beer, and the land will once again become Africa's breadbasket. The Zim soccer team will win the World Cup in South Africa in 2010 and lions and zebras will frolic together on the veld.

 In other words, let us not get ahead of ourselves. The prospects that Mugabe's retirement will mean the end of, to coin a term, “Mugabeism” within ZANU-PF seems unlikely. The idea that he would retire without putting in place a successor seems dubious. Even if that successor fails to take his place, surely he or she will hold onto enough support within the new dispensation, and as important among the former revolutionaries who still wield power through force of guns in the countryside, to make a smooth transition dubious.  I’ve been arguing for a little while now that the opportunity for change is nigh. But I find the ICG report to be naive despite its detached and official tone. Mugabe tends not to adhere to the will of international organizations seeking his ouster.

This is not to propose embracing cynicism and certainly not to wish for the proposed plan to go awry. But the first step in dealing with Big Men is to be prepared for what they are capable of and not what we might hope for them to do.  Or, to invoke (and clean up) a common riddle one of my old high school football coaches used to present when our desires and reality clashed, wish in one hand and spit in the other, and guess which one fills up faster? 

The ICG report represents another sign that winds of hope blow across Zimbabwe. But that hope has not yet translated into a mandate for change.