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Monday, August 18, 2008

Mugabe held hostage by the army

HARARE - Zimbabwean strongman, President Robert Mugabe, has always been regarded as something of a political enigma. For most of his 28 years in power, he has virtually run the once prosperous Southern African country as a de-facto one party state.

In the eyes of millions of subdued Zimbabweans he is a dictactor who brooks no challenge even from his former liberation movement or the army. But after an embarrassing electoral set back during the historical March elections where his ruling Zanu PF lost its parliamentary majority to the opposition for the first time since independence, a new profile of a leader who is a hostage to very powerful forces is emerging.

Presented with a golden opportunity to revive his tattered legacy by reaching a political settlement with his main rival, Mr Morgan Tsvangirai of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, Mr Mugabe dug in his heels at the last minute.

His image of a man with sole and absolute power was brought into question. South African President Thabo Mbeki spent four days holed in a Harare hotel after Zanu PF and MDC negotiators produced a draft agreement that many believed was a panacea to the impasse that has kept Zimbabwe without a government for five months. He went back home empty handed after Mr Tsvangirai walked out of the talks protesting that he no longer “understood the language” Mr Mugabe was talking at the negotiating table.

Reports have now emerged that defence forces commander, General Constantine Chiwenga told Mr Mugabe that the army was not prepared to honour any arrangement that leaves Mr Tsvangirai as the dominant figure in government. Gen Chiwenga is the leader of the Joint Operations Command (JOC), which is made up heads of the army, police, prisons and intelligence that has effectively usurped power from Mr Mugabe since Mr Tsvangirai defeated him in the presidential election held on March 29.

Another threat
Then another threat came from former liberation war fighters who are said to have ordered the 84 year-old president not to accept any power sharing deal with the opposition, warning that he risked dire consequences including the invasion of commercial farms.

The warnings were separately delivered to Mr Mugabe on Monday, while Zimbabweans expected that the three leaders including Professor Arthur Mutambara of the small faction of the MDC were close to signing the anxiously awaited power-sharing deal. “The outcome of the talks hinges on the army generals and Mugabe is only there as a figure head,” said a researcher at the Department of War and Strategic Studies at the University of Zimbabwe who could not be named for professional reasons. “The military remains deeply suspicious of Tsvangirai and some commanders feel that they have sacrificed a lot for Mugabe to lose out their positions just like that.”

He said Zimbabwe’s political transition from the Lancaster House talks that brought the country’s independence in 1980 to an accord that ended a civil war in 1987 had always been negotiated by soldiers who must be involved if the current talks were to succeed. Another source of trouble for the talks is from Mr Mugabe’s failure to manage his succession in the ruling Zanu PF. “A ZANU-PF clique is now seeking to subvert the process as they think President Mugabe made too many concessions,” the Financial Gazette newspaper said. “That is why you see that even though the principals are bound by the terms of the MoU (Memorandum of Understanding) not to leak information to the media, confidential information is now finding its way to the state media. “They hope that Tsvangirai maintains his stance.”

That was demonstrated by the uproar that followed reports that Prof Mutambara’s faction was prepared to sign an agreement without Mr Tsvangirai that would pave way for Mr Mugabe to form a new government. Seven of the faction’s 10 MPs threatened to resign from the party rather than work with Zanu PF.

And, about Mr Tsvangirai: “If he makes the wrong move he will be finished politically because Zimbabweans will never forgive him for selling out to Zanu PF,” says Thomas Ngwenya, a former PF Zapu member.

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