After 37 years, Robert Mugabe has stepped down as president of Zimbabwe following the military coup. Please join our speakers as they discuss the implications of a transition of power in Zimbabwe.
GAVIN: Hi, everyone. Welcome to today’s Council on Foreign Relations conference call on a post-Mugabe Zimbabwe. And we have with us John Campbell, the senior fellow for Africa policy studies at the Council, and Peter Godwin, a Zimbabwean himself and an acclaimed author, a journalist, former human rights lawyer.
I have to tell you that I find it—there is an interesting at least echo for me in the title of this conference call. Ten years ago, I was doing a fellowship at the Council and wrote a paper about planning for a post-Mugabe Zimbabwe. I didn’t think it would take 10 years to get to the post-Mugabe Zimbabwe, but here we find ourselves.
I want to remind everyone that this conference call is on the record, so that’s not always true of every Council engagement, but this one is, so please note that for yourselves.
And what we’ll do is I’ll chat with John and with Peter for a bit and try and draw out some of the more interesting trends and questions in front of us and then we’ll turn it over to everyone else.
So, gentlemen, why don’t we start by trying to assess the degree to which these events which in some—in some ways really are breathtaking, long awaited. We’ve all seen the kind of jubilant crowds on television. To what extent do these really represent change?
You have ousted a leader 37 years in power, but it’s also the case that, you know, at 93 years old this leader hadn’t been exactly singlehandedly running this country for some time. And the forces who provoked this change and indeed the new president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, are all part of Mugabe’s history, all part of the regime that has ruled for so long. So to what extent is this really change? And to what extent is it more of the same?
Do you want to start, Peter?
CAMPBELL: Well, from my perspective—
GAVIN: Oh, go ahead, John.
CAMPBELL: Well, from my perspective, essentially what happened is a kind of internal coup, a coup within the ruling party, ZANU-PF, which essentially was over the question of who was going to lead the party in the post-Mugabe era. Was it going to be Mugabe’s wife or was it going to be someone else? And the most frequently mentioned candidate was Mnangagwa who had been vice president of the country until Mugabe fired him. I think basically the coup was precipitated when the military leaders of ZANU-PF concluded that Mugabe was going to opt for his wife as his successor.
Now, what I’m saying here is all internal ZANU-PF. In other words, it doesn’t have anything to do with principle or with politics or political reform. It has to do with who is going to actually run the show, but it’s the same show, so that, at least in the short term, I think there should be a greater emphasis put on continuity between Mugabe and Mnangagwa rather than differences.
Now, obviously, personality here matters a lot. Mugabe had become a tyrant. But on the other hand, Mnangagwa was a very close associate of Mugabe’s and participated in many of the more grotesque human rights abuses that Mugabe committed. So I suppose I don’t think the leopard has really changed its spots.
GODWIN: Let me just preface my—sorry, go ahead.
GAVIN: No, please.
GODWIN: Well, I want to preface any prognostications I make with a health warning. You said that you were doing a thing 10 years ago, which was on the post-Mugabe Zimbabwe. Well, the last—the British edition of a book that I published in 2009 had the subtitle “The Last Days of Robert Mugabe.” So you might say that was a little premature and embarrassing. So I just need to put that out there so that you take any prognostications I make with a large grain of salt.
A lot of people have been tripped up in writing premature obituaries, not just of Robert Mugabe, but of ZANU-PF, his party. So, I mean, you know, the ambassador is absolutely right.
But even more so than that, I think that ZANU-PF may just have pulled off a most stunning political trick. And I would reach back—I mean, this may seem like a rather obscure analogy—but for those of you who are old enough, like me, to remember what the Tories did in England when people got sick of Margaret Thatcher towards the end of her reign and they were very low in the polls, and so what they did was they dumped her and put John Major, not at the general election, but at a party conference. And therefore, they signaled to the electorate that it’s OK, we’ve made the change for you. And John Major indeed went ahead and won the next election.
I mean, that will be relevant if Zimbabwe had free and fair elections, which it doesn’t. But what they’ve managed to do, I mean—I would argue that actually Emmerson Mnangagwa is much more of a continuity candidate than Grace Mugabe was. There are distinctions within the ruling party, and until recently, about two years ago, trying to figure out what was going on in ZANU-PF, the ruling party in Zimbabwe, was a bit like old-fashioned Kremlinology in the Soviet Union—
GODWIN: —that there was—or even a bit like China still is today, that there was this sort of black box in there, that there was all sorts of speculation and prognostication, but no one actually knew what was going on precisely, the relationships and things.
What’s really central within not just ZANU-PF, but any of the Southern African liberation war-based political parties is the kind of big, you know, the big BC-AD divisions are chronological, they’re gerontocratic. So people who have—who have fought in the war, people who fought in the liberation wars have this built-in authenticity, this political validity. And you see this also in other parts of the world with someone like Fidel Castro, for example, that the participation in guerilla war is this you are dunked in the font of political validity, that it’s the gift that keeps on giving. And anyone who hasn’t been in the war, even if just by virtue of not being old enough, doesn’t have that. And until that older generation ages out, the youngsters have to wait their turn.
You layer on top of that the fact that Zimbabwean society traditionally is quite heavily gerontocratic, that people are very respectful of age, that people—that people don’t, you know, unlike in the West where people are impatient and rude with the elderly, that’s not what happens in those societies. And within ZANU-PF itself, when Grace Mugabe made her move to try and replace her husband—and I think, you know, she had—in a sense, historically, politically, we would look at things like, you know, we would look at situations like Imelda Marcos or Evita Peron or even Madame Mao, that she was—she was seeking to consolidate a dynastic sort of cycle to this power.
What she was doing—and the group that then supported her were called G40, and they were called G40 because they were the young people in the party, they were in their 40s. And by definition, being in their 40s had not fought in the guerilla war. And in her public utterances, she started speaking in a way that was unheard of in Zimbabwe in that she was bellicose, she was insulting, she was humiliating to people like Emmerson Mnangagwa, to all the old guard that were left there.
And I think what you had was you further had another dimension which was that ZANU-PF initially was a real thing, I mean, whether you liked it or not. It was a party that had structures, it had politburo, it had, you know, it had various organs, it had provincial organs, it had a kind of internal democracy. And over the years, ZANU-PF was hollowed out in the same way that ZANU-PF hollowed out the state institutions and made them overly political and not national, overly party political.
So what happened within ZANU-PF was that over the years it became a personality cult and it was more and more just about Mugabe. And there was no internal democracy. So I would compare it, for example, to the ANC in South Africa, which, whatever else you think about it, does have a certain internal democratic, you know, functionality. And you saw that in the way in that Thabo Mbeki got tossed. And, you know, that would never have happed in ZANU-PF. Robert Mugabe was creating this, it was a personality cult.
And as such, Grace saw her chance to take it over with the Mugabe name, but made her move prematurely and made it without the army. And we all saw what happened.
GAVIN: Well, I think that’s such a—
CAMPBELL: I think—
GAVIN: —powerful point about generational change or the lack thereof. And it’s interesting to think about that in the context of what this means for not just Zimbabwe’s political future, but economic future, right? Here’s a country where you’ve got over 70 percent of the population under the age of 30. Despite some economic growth in recent years, although it’s slowed down dramatically in 2015, you have staggering unemployment. Even with a dream political transition, what would it take for Zimbabwe to become a prosperous country again?
CAMPBELL: Well, from my perspective, it’s all about governance. Zimbabwe is right now an economic disaster. Nobody really knows what percentage of the population is now living outside of Zimbabwe. Some figures put it at 25 percent. But if in fact Zimbabwe could get the governance right, if there were confidence in political and financial institutions, then it would seem to me that there are any number of different growth strategies that could be pursued with success.
I mean, the country has, from a certain perspective, enormous advantages. It’s got plenty of fertile land. It has a population with a very high level of primary education. I mean, Zimbabweans know how to read and write, and further, read and write in English. So then, of course, there’s the mineral wealth.
At the time the country became independent, it was, in many respects, one of the most developed countries in Africa. To my mind, part of the great tragedy of Robert Mugabe and ZANU-PF is that, in effect, they destroyed Zimbabwe essentially for political reasons and through political methods. Oh, sure, you know, there have been things like drought which has affected all of Southern Africa. But basically, the economy was ruined through the political actions of the Mugabe regime.
GODWIN: I mean, just to add to that, Michelle, you know, economists argue over this point that Zimbabwe is certainly among the very high contenders for the trophy for the fastest-shrinking economy in peacetime in world history. I mean, nobody has quite managed to devastate an economy so quickly and so comprehensively as ZANU-PF has under Robert Mugabe. And there were self-sustained injuries. This wasn’t through war, this wasn’t principally through famine, this wasn’t through anything at all.
And remember, you know, this is a country that not very long ago the Zimbabwean dollar, the hyperinflation for the Zimbabwean dollar got so bad that at the end it was halving in value every 24 hours. And it—you know, one of my great regrets is that if you look at the coverage of Zimbabwe in the rest of the world, if you look at the news coverage and when people get interested in Zimbabwe, there is—you know, I cut my teeth as a young cub correspondent in the early 1980s, 1983, ’84, and my first big story unfortunately was the massacres in southern Matabeleland, so-called Gukurahundi, where Mugabe sent down his North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade and they killed more than 20,000 civilians. And I reported on that firsthand.
And so for me, the dramatic arc that you will find in much of the media even today and in the last week where all sorts of correspondents were kind of blundering in and affecting deep knowledge of something they had only just chanced upon was this whole thing Mugabe was this great liberating hero and then there was a great period of prosperity. And then at a certain point in the late 1990s when his previous wife, Sally Mugabe, this sort of moderating influence, dies, and he then sees this rather attractive lady in the presidential typing pool, aka Grace, who inconveniently happens to be married to someone else, an air force officer who Mugabe quickly posts to be defense attaché in Beijing, and has two children with before his own wife dies, that Grace is sort of shrill and kleptocratic, and then under Grace’s influence he soon becomes this villain that the world soon loves to hate. And unfortunately, the real timeline, you know, his felonies don’t quite fall into that, you know, suitable, dramatic arc.
I mean, as soon as 1982, ’83, what you have is Mugabe doing the North Korean-helped, -assisted massacres. And so for me, that was his original sin. And the media almost completely ignored it. I mean, I ran pieces, and I was then working for the London Sunday Times. But there was very little traction, very little pickup on any of that. There was no sanctions, there was nothing going on at the U.N. Nobody reacted to it.
And one of the—you know, we ask ourselves now—and it’s a relevant question, and I’m sure we’ll come onto this in a minute about, you know, as his replacement, Emmerson Mnangagwa, you know, steps up, what do we do now, we have a very small window in which we may, you know, affect Zimbabwe—is that the international community helped create Robert Mugabe, and they helped it by insulating him initially from the consequences of his human rights abrogations.
So when he pulled off Matabeleland massacres with nary a kind of, you know, comment internationally, he thought, well, this is great, I can get away with this sort of stuff. Now, bear in mind the reason he could get away then was because the world was preoccupied with the, you now, enormous moral stain that we faced in Southern Africa at that time, which was apartheid in South Africa. And as far as Mugabe was the sort of chairman of the frontline states and the sort of, you know, the galvanizing figure against white South Africa, if you criticized Mugabe then, it was very easy for you to be portrayed as somehow an apologist for apartheid, which is what happened to me when I went after him on that. And it was made worse by the fact that I’m a white Zimbabwean.
But the lessons then, you know—very soon afterwards, so you see Mugabe using political violence then. You see him using political violence during the liberation war. And this is—I’m not criticizing this morally, I’m just looking at what techniques he used, you know, cause and effect. So you have two times that he uses political violence and it works. He then bullies the ZAPU, the other guerilla-based political party of Joshua Nkomo, into a sort of unity pact in sort of 1987 or so. You then have a complete one-party state which persists all the way through until the late 1990s when the MDC and Morgan Tsvangirai, they emerge out of the union movement, whereupon he gets violent again and, you know, tortures their followers. And it reaches its apotheosis in the elections of 2008 where the opposition wins the first round of the election. And you see enormous violence again.
But in all of these, the most coverage that Zimbabwe gets in the rest of the world is when the white farmers—when the white farms are taken over. And so there’s a kind of racial tinge to it in the way that we look at Zimbabwe. And therefore, it’s, you know, the perception of Zimbabwe has been distorted by that.
GAVIN: Yes. And it says as much about the kind of pathologies, right, of the rest of the world as it does about Zimbabwe’s own political culture. But you make such powerful points about a political culture of violence and one in which legitimacy has been defined almost solely by association with the liberation struggle. And that raises some interesting questions again for the country’s future.
I want to open it up now for questions from our members. Please, though, I ask everyone to respect that in order to get as many questions as possible and make this as rich a conversation as possible, let’s all try and refrain from making speeches, and really trying to ask concise questions. I have no doubt we have tremendous expertise and knowledge on the line. But to make this a good exercise for everyone, we do have to be concise in our questioning.
And just one more reminder that this is on the record.
OPERATOR: Thank you. At this time we will open the floor for questions.
(Gives queuing instructions.)
GAVIN: Maybe as we wait for the first question, I could ask you two a little bit about the regional implications of what’s happening in Zimbabwe now.
Obviously, when the crisis has reached a boiling point in the past, South Africa has been very concerned about mass migration and the potential destabilizing effects of that. And indeed, making sure that the South Africans were comfortable with the manner in which this transition has been handled has clearly been a priority of ZANU-PF. To what extent does what’s happening in Zimbabwe today matter for the rest of Southern Africa and the region at large?
CAMPBELL: Well, I think it matters a lot.
GAVIN: Go ahead, John.
CAMPBELL: I think it matters a lot. If Zimbabwe were to launch on a trajectory towards democracy and the rule of law—that’s a huge if—the positive implications for Africa as a whole I think could be massive, example if nothing else.
In general, the trajectory towards democracy and the rule of law in Africa over the past 10 years or so has been relatively positive. But there have been some reverses, and there have been some reverses that seem to me to be coming more frequent. If we had an example of a country like Zimbabwe, a positive example, I think it could have huge implications.
On a minor point, it’s interesting to me how much of the South African media has taken up the question of dynasty of Grace succeeding Robert Mugabe and comparing it with the efforts that Jacob Zuma is making to have his ex-wife become the leader of the African National Congress.
It’s interesting. South Africa and Zimbabwe are radically different places. South Africa is, in my view, fundamentally a democratic state conducted according to the rule of law. But it is interesting that South African media has focused on this dynastic dimension.
Do we have questions from our members?
OPERATOR: Thank you. Our first question comes from MacArthur DeShazer with Lockheed Martin.
Q: Yes, hi. My question is directed both to John and Peter.
I read a number of articles indicating that China is involved behind the scenes in what is going on, what has happened in Zimbabwe. And I wonder about your perspective on China’s involvement in the changes that have just taken place.
GODWIN: Yeah, it’s an interesting question. Listen, I mean, I keep making the mistake, one of my many, in looking at China in Zimbabwe and in Africa generally of thinking of China’s attitude to Africa and its participation in Africa as essentially monolithic. And I have to keep reminding myself I’m going back to the time when that’s what China was.
And if you look at Zimbabwe as an example, there are three different kinds of Chinese involvement in Zimbabwe. There are big state-owned companies that are involved in various things. There are military companies which China has, which are basically entirely run by the military. There are medium-sized commercial Chinese ventures, and there are little mom-and-pop Chinese companies in Zimbabwe, too. That’s actually four.
And I don’t think—personally, I don’t subscribe to this conspiracy theory that this is all that the nefarious hand of China is behind this whole thing at all. I don’t think that’s what happened. I do, however, think that at a certain point in this process, the Mnangagwa side, the military—and remember, Mnangagwa was trained in China as was Chiwenga, the general who led the coup—that they reached out to China and told them that this was what was going on and they had nothing to fear and everything would be fine.
And this goes to John’s point that essentially what you had in this coup was a—was a—it was a continuity coup. And that’s why everybody got very confused to begin with, and was it a coup and wasn’t it a coup and what was going on.
I mean, and of course, Zimbabwe—the people coming in, Mnangagwa and people, were at great pains to say this wasn’t a coup, because if it’s acknowledged to be a coup, it has all sorts of legal implications to the authority of the new government, the legal authority. And it was also was confusing because mostly when one looks at a coup, they’re kind of this wasn’t a West African-style coup where usually the guy sitting in uniform in the state’s broadcasting studio at 4:30 a.m. reading from a prepared statement is either the general who wants to take over or one of his minions, and that the army—it’s a general who actually wants to take over. And in this case, you know, that wasn’t—that wasn’t what was going on at all.
So I do think that the Chinese signed off on it, but I don’t think they were—they were behind it to begin with.
CAMPBELL: I would add that I have seen reports, which I find credible, that the South Africans were also given advance notice.
GODWIN: Yeah, I think that’s—I think that’s—I think that’s absolutely true. And I would just, to your earlier point about the dynastic element in South Africa that the South African press is bringing up, it’s my opinion that the ANC—that the South African intervention in Zimbabwe before has always aimed, it seems to me, at one net result. And that result is to keep the ruling party, ZANU-PF, in power. And I think the reason for this is that if you look at the Southern African liberation war countries, in all of them, the original liberating political party is still in power, even though the presidents may have changed. So you’ve still got—you’ve got the MPLA in power in Angola, you’ve got SWAPO still in power in Namibia, you’ve got ZANU-PF in Zimbabwe, FRELIMO in Mozambique, and the ANC in South Africa. And it is not in the interests of any one of them to see any of the others lose power because that creates a really dangerous precedent that shows that the time has come to change these generations and that younger rivals, younger oppositions can actually now take over.
So the South Africans, the last big intervention was in the elections in 2008 when they pressured the Zimbabwean opposition to accept a government of national unity, which lasted for four years and then they were tossed out by an unfair election. And I think here, again, the South Africans would have very quickly signed off on this because—on this so-called non-coup and changed to Mnangagwa because it was the best chance to keep the continuity and to keep ZANU-PF in power.
CAMPBELL: And in fact, the South African government has been assiduous in not characterizing what happened as a coup.
Do we have another question?
OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Charlayne Hunter-Gault with PBS “NewsHour.”
Q: Good day, everybody. This has been most fascinating.
Peter, to your point, you talk about the lack of coverage in the Western media in particular. I don’t see much about Morgan Tsvangirai, nor do I see much about the U.S. role over time, then and now. Could someone speak to those two points, please?
GAVIN: Thank you.
Peter, do you want to start by talking about—I’m sorry. Peter, do you want to start by talking about Morgan and the state of the MDC?
GODWIN: Sure, I’ll do the Morgan bit of it. So, I mean, you know, Morgan Tsvangirai has been—so here’s the problem at the moment, that ZANU-PF couldn’t have chosen this timing better because the opposition in general is fractured now. You know, there’s no unity, there is all sorts of rival factions. And even within the MDC, Morgan Tsvangirai has been—has been very ill recently. He’s, I think, recovering, but, you know, he’s had a—he’s had a very close brush with cancer. So he’s been, you know, personally, he’s been sort of, you know, slightly out of the picture. He was down in South Africa for treatment.
There have been—you know, there’s been talk of Nelson Chamisa and people, you know, younger MDC people coming up. There are various other political parties and leaders that I won’t—I won’t confuse everyone with. But the problem is, at the moment, if, as Mnangagwa has intimated, they will go ahead and have the next elections when they were constitutionally mandated, which is sometime before next September, that at that point the combination of the fact that Mnangagwa—Mnangagwa has one enormous, enormous advantage: He is not Robert Mugabe. So the Zimbabweans generally, present company included, are just so relieved to see the back of Mugabe, you know, after 37 years of stasis, of this sort of heavy hand on top of everything with no change. They’re so just delighted to see a change.
And also, the army has got this sort of popularity in that they’re seen as the catalysts of change. So that in—that in addition to the fact that the opposition is very decided gives ZANU-PF a real chance of actually winning elections freely and fairly. So it’s great timing for them, for the ruling party at the moment if they can get through the next six months without screwing anything up. I mean, little things that improve the quality of life for Zimbabweans.
And you may find this hard to believe, but at the moment, if you drive around Harare, you get stopped literally every few hundred yards at a police roadblock and shaken down for a few bucks because the police aren’t being paid properly and that’s how they do it. And people hate it. And now the army has—so the police have been absent from the streets of Harare for the last two weeks, and so the roadblocks disappeared. And insofar as they come back, it’s now the army will now stand with the police and stop them from doing that. That alone is enough to, like, help ZANU-PF win an election. I mean, it’s these little things they can do.
GODWIN: So I fear that, you know, the opposition has got a really uphill struggle if they’re going to try and mount some kind of a united—you know, some kind of united challenge to ZANU-PF before September.
GAVIN: John, do you want to speak to the U.S. role?
CAMPBELL: Sure. I think the U.S. has been very largely absent, very largely absent. We have—we have at this point no ambassador in South Africa. I think we have—we have an acting assistant secretary of state for Africa, but he’s only acting. There has been—there has been no assistant secretary appointed. We literally don’t have the machinery in place to do very much.
And I think it’s interesting that the State Department’s statements as events unfolded in Zimbabwe were—they were pretty white bread, yeah, if not pabulum. So I think, essentially, we’re very largely absent, just not there.
GAVIN: Do we have another question?
OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question comes from Jean Herskovits with State University of New York.
Q: Thank you, both of you, all three of you, for this very interesting discussion.
My earlier question which had to do with China has been more than amply answered. But I thought—I think I heard Peter say that there is a small window of opportunity for people in the I take it the Western world, Europe and the U.S., to be constructive. And I wonder if you could elaborate a bit. I mean, John has made it clear that on the U.S. side we don’t have much strength going forward. But I wonder if there are any suggestions that you might have in this regard.
GODWIN: I mean, I think one of the very first things that insofar as, you know, there can be international pressure brought to bear, one of the first things is what to do about these personal sanctions that are—that have been levied for some time against a number of members of the Mugabe cabinet, including Mnangagwa. I mean, you can, you know, as a matter of public record, you can go and look at the U.N. report of experts that goes back, I think, to 2002 when the Zimbabwean army, the ZNA, was in the Congo and you can see Mnangagwa there, he’s mentioned several times personally as, you know, essentially money-laundering and all sorts of things.
So the question is, do we hold our noses and say—you know, if you look at Mnangagwa purely on his resume, frankly, we’re in deep trouble. This is somebody who has been at Mugabe’s elbow for 37 years. He’s been his consiglieri, his enforcer, he’s got more blood on his hands than Mugabe, going all the way back to Gukurahundi, the Matabeleland massacres, and all the way up to the 2008 torture, the torture that was on an industrial scale of opposition members. He is—he’s involved in corruption.
He’s, you know—for him to try and put any daylight between himself and any of Mugabe’s policies is just ridiculous, but such is the desperation for change among both Zimbabweans and, at this point, the international community, that people are saying, well, let’s just hold our noses and see what he does. He’s presenting himself and indeed his party as ZANU-PF 2.0, you know, this sort of reformed ZANU-PF, that he’s going to be a reformer, he’s going to be a sort of technocrat, he’s going to clean up government, he’s going to slim it down, he’s going to, you know—he’s making all of these noises which sound great, except he’s a 75-year-old man who’s spent his entire political career doing otherwise.
So, you know, I’m battling about this myself. On the one hand, I’m feeling very curmudgeonly writing pieces, you know, raining on our own parade even before we’ve given him a chance, saying, listen, this is who he is, let’s not kid ourselves, this is not a new beginning. You know, this is—this is just the same old party, you know, entrenching itself.
And it’s very—it’s very difficult to know what to do. But, I mean, I think that if the opposition could bring pressure now, I mean, there’s a small window, and it’s closing even as we speak, where the party might have been vulnerable. But I think they’ve managed to transition already and with the army making clear that they support Mnangagwa, that, you know, he’s the guy we’re going to have to deal with, whether we like it or not.
CAMPBELL: I would wonder—
GAVIN: John, what do you think?
CAMPBELL: Well, I would wonder if there might be a slight window for Western NGOs to step up their activity in Zimbabwe. It won’t last very long because the Western NGOs will start reporting on things, which the administration won’t like. But still, it might—it might help over the longer term prepare the way for a different kind of politics in Zimbabwe. But it’s NGOs, I don’t think it’s governments. I can’t see the U.S. government or the British government actively involving themselves.
GODWIN: I mean, on that point, the police raided a meeting of NGOs I think two or three days ago and closed it down. So I suspect they’re not—they’re not going to have any more room to maneuver than they did before.
And the one other thing—and I’m aware that this is on the record, so I’m going to sort of be somewhat circumlocutory about this—but I think that the British have been—the British are very keen to get involved, especially, you know, under a Torie government. And they have been talking to Mnangagwa. They’ve sent Rory Stewart rushing out there very quickly. And I think—I wouldn’t be surprised if you saw the Brits step up, I mean, especially, you know, as they pull out of—with Brexit approaching. And, you know, I think Britain is feeling its post-imperial kind of druthers at the moment. And Zimbabwe is sort of a place they feel like they have some kind of historical relevance.
And I had heard—and this is—you know, I can’t stand this up—but the talk was that some—that in some ways the Brits helped to precipitate this coup, because they were opening up, I hear, back-channel communications with Mnangagwa going back some months where he was in the dispute—in the rivalry with Grace, posing already, saying, listen, I’m the reformist, whatever; you know, I can help fix this. And they were talking to him and they were kind of, I think, giving him encouraging signals.
So I think you’ll—I wouldn’t be surprised at all if you see the Brits bustling into this very quickly.
CAMPBELL: This is a very interesting point. I mean, the white farmers were a particularly Tory concern. And there have already been noises about the possibility of paying some compensation for land that was seized, and even inviting some of the white farmers back. I think both of those—both of those things would be very popular within the Tory Party.
GODWIN: Yeah. I mean, but let’s be clear that the discussion—the reference that Mnangagwa made in his speech to compensating white farmers is only for improvements to farms, not for the land itself, which—
CAMPBELL: That’s right.
GODWIN: —ZANU-PF’s argument historically is that the land was—you know, was never paid for in the first place. But you’re absolutely right that this is exactly the sort of thing that would appeal to a Tory government. And that money, of course, won’t be found within Zimbabwe. That money will come from a pot that is provided from various sources internationally.
GAVIN: Well, Emmerson Mnangagwa is nothing if not savvy, a savvy operator.
Do we have another question?
OPERATOR: Thank you.
(Gives queueing instructions.)
Our next question comes from Craig Charney with Charney Research.
Q: Hello, John and Peter.
My question is this. I understand that Mnangagwa has a long history of collaboration with Mugabe. But there have been some leaders with similar pasts who have surprised when things have—de Klerk in South Africa, elsewhere—one thinks of figures like Habibie in Indonesia, who was Suharto’s vice president, or Zedillo in Mexico, who found that the political demands of their situations, as well as their own political intelligence, led them to go well beyond the limits of the old regime.
What are your thoughts about the chances that Mnangagwa will surprise in this way?
CAMPBELL: Well, that would be a—that would be a very hopeful thought. My trouble is I can’t find any evidence in Mnangagwa’s past of that kind of—that kind of approach. I hope it’s true. It’s certainly possible. But I just don’t see any evidence of it yet.
GODWIN: Absolutely. I mean, I would go—I would add to that only that, you know, there is an argument—I take the questioner’s point absolutely, and it’s a very good one. And it’s—and I’m struggling with this, you know, in—(laughs)—my own heart, this sort of, you know, we should give him a break and see where—he has already made his money. I mean, he’s stolen it, but he’s stolen a lot of it. And so that’s—so he doesn’t need any more. And often the people who become these anticorruption crusaders can do that, you know, with—from the comfort of a fat bank account. He can afford to almost—he can afford, as I explained earlier, to at least have one really free and fair election, because ZANU-PF have a pretty good chance of winning it fair and square.
And just while we’re on the subject, you know, monitoring elections in Africa, and anywhere else, for that matter, consists of a hell of a lot more than Jimmy Carter and a few people coming in a few days before and having a look at people putting ballots into boxes. You need people on the ground, you know, weeks and months and months and months in advance. You need to be looking at the electoral register, you know, which in Zimbabwe has a record number of centenarians, people who are over 100, even though it’s got one of the lowest life spans in the world. You know, there are all manner of things there.
I think that—I think that there is a chance that he will say the right things and that he will certainly, on the economic front, try and send reassuring signals to investors. He’s already—he’s already said that to foreign investors, you know, that your—that any investment will be safe.
And I would point out, even that is not a great departure from ZANU-PF’s orthodoxy. So at the height of the white-farm invasions, you had the bizarre situation where the only white farmers who survived were ones who had non-Zimbabwean EU citizenship, people who were from—who were German or Dutch or whatever that held those passports. And that—they were safe under an investment guarantee—investment-guarantee pledge. So they got to keep their farms.
So, you know, I think he may make all the right moves economically. And there may be some pressure to give him—to give him exactly the chance that you allude to.
Q: I wonder if perhaps the test in this area is going to be what sort of election is permitted; that if, in fact, ZANU-PF feels the need to steal an election it might win, that would be a rather bad sign. But if, in fact, it allows relatively open political competition, whether it wins or loses, that would be a fairly good sign towards a liberalizing atmosphere, no?
GODWIN: Yes, but I think that they will only—they will only allow a free and fair election if they’re absolutely convinced that they would win it. I mean, I—I learned the hard way with ZANU-PF very early. I was one of the people who went back to Zimbabwe in 1980 because we were going to create this great new progressive, colorblind country, and learned very quickly that ZANU-PF was much more interested in power than in democracy. Democracy was fine so long as it gave them power. And when it didn’t, then it should be—it could be dispensed with.
And I would just draw one last thing on this subject to your attention, which is that the coup, or non-coup, or whatever you want to call it, that happened a week ago is not the first coup, really, in Zimbabwe’s history; that in 2008 elections, as the opposition won the first round and it went to a second round, the current—the current military commander, General Chiwenga, who conducted this coup, then, in advance of that second round, made a public statement in which he said that the Zimbabwean National Army would not sit by and allow a non-liberation party to rule the country. And that was effectively a preemptive coup. He was saying to the electorate, don’t bother voting for the opposition, because we, the army, will not allow them to take power. So that’s what you’re really dealing with here.
Q: Thank you.
CAMPBELL: I think Peter made a very important—
GAVIN: It’s interesting to note—go ahead, John.
CAMPBELL: I think Peter made a very important point when he talked about the difficulties of election monitoring. How are we going to know whether the next Zimbabwean elections are free and fair? We just went through foreign observers proclaiming the Kenyan elections to be free and fair, and the supreme—the Kenyan supreme court came to a rather different conclusion.
So whether or not the next Zimbabwean elections are free and fair, I think the only definition we can use is whether the Zimbabweans themselves regard it as—regard the elections as credible.
GAVIN: That’s a great point. And just on this, it is kind of interesting to note some of the arrests over the past week, including the arrest of the ZANU-PF Youth League figure who was an ally of Grace Mugabe’s.
GAVIN: But the charges were about sort of casting aspersions on the military.
CAMPBELL: That’s right.
GAVIN: And so lines are being drawn, right, about what is acceptable and unacceptable speech, but also, of course, a message to the losing side in this power struggle.
Do we have another question in the queue?
OPERATOR: Thank you.
Our next question comes from Lisa Vives with Global Information Network.
Q: Yes. Hello.
So my question is, at the speech this weekend, Mnangagwa said that there was going to be a national holiday for Mugabe. He was going to get $100,000 a year and a couple of million dollars, and all his—all their expenses will be taken care of, et cetera, et cetera; you know, keep his house, despite everything.
So what was the reaction in Zimbabwe? And what message is that trying to convey?
GODWIN: I mean, the reaction in Zimbabwe—it’s—people—I mean, a large number of people in Zimbabwe—and I’m—it’s impossible to say; you know, there’s no polling done it and whatever—but certainly a lot of people—I think people want to try and break this cycle. Sometimes—and I do understand that, that you have this sort of cycle of sinning and revenge and whatever, and it just goes round and round.
I mean, I feel like—(inaudible, background noise)—in Kenya you’re somewhat—you know, we’re stuck in a Groundhog Day in Kenya where the two people vying for power are the direct descendants of the original president and his—(laughs)—original rival. And, you know, and there’s an ethnic element to it and whatever.
And in Zimbabwe, people are saying if we have to hold our noses and if we have to sort of take a step back and if we have to forfeit the penance or the punishment in order to get out of this closed circuit, this kind of sterile binary, we’ll do it, if that’s the price we have to pay.
Now, in my opinion, the only people who have the authority to bestow, you know, benediction or forgiveness are the people who have themselves suffered. So, for example, it’s up to the relatives and the people of southern Matabeleland at some point to say, OK, we’re going to move on.
And to be fair, if you talk to them, mostly what they’re saying is—they’re not even saying we want people in The Hague or whatever. They’re saying we want an acknowledgement of what happens here. We want—we want an inquiry. We want—you know, in the same way as the TRC, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa, you know, meted out very few actual punishments. It was mostly just a ventilation of history, of saying this is what actually happened.
So I think, somewhat surprisingly, Zimbabweans are sort of prepared to accept Mugabe can sort of stroll off into a well-deserved kind of obscurity and live out his last few years, his dotage, you know, with a pension, et cetera. They’re much less forgiving, of course, of Grace. Grace is a much more polarizing figure and very unpopular.
I do think there’s an element of Stockholm Syndrome between Zimbabwe and Mugabe that, you know, it looks like we’ve been chained to the radiator in his basement for so long that it’s kind of hard to, you know, imagine a time before he existed and was telling us what to do.
So I think that, you know, they’re prepared to take the Mugabe lenience thing in their stride if it can lead to meaningful change.
CAMPBELL: And it’s, of course, what the governments in the region would like as well.
GAVIN: Do we have another question?
OPERATOR: Thank you.
Our next question comes from Willene Johnson with Komaza, Inc.
Q: Hello. Can you hear me?
GAVIN: Yes. Go ahead. Yes, we can.
Q: Yes. Great. Thank you very much.
I also would like to thank all of the participants for a very insightful discussion.
Earlier on, you mentioned that there is—you have expressed some skepticism about a role for Western governments. But I wonder if you believe—and this is a question for both of the speakers, or for all three of you—if you believe there’s a role in supporting African institutions. And I say that because, while South Africa might have given a signoff, in effect there are also many South Africans who are very concerned about actions that they’ve seen that are not constitutional. They would like to see this important country in the region living by the rule of law. And, of course, they would also like to see an economic recovery, in part because of the effect that the strains have had on South Africa.
So how do you see or do you see it as a viable way out for other governments to support the African institutions—that is, SADC and the AU—in terms of the political rule and constitutionality, and the African Development Bank, in terms of economic recovery, given that the current president of that bank is the former minister of agriculture in Nigeria, and he’s someone who’s been pushing agricultural development. And a return to productive agriculture is clearly an important part of the future for a viable, dynamic Zimbabwe.
Do you want to start, John?
CAMPBELL: Yes. First of all, I agree with what the questioner was suggesting about African public opinion. I would also note that the president of Botswana issued a very strong public letter saying, in effect, to Mugabe that he had to go because of the misgovernance that had taken place on his watch.
I guess a problem I have is how do you convert this kind of sentiment into action? SADC, for example, certainly played, if anything, an enabling role for Mugabe’s misgovernance, and even human-rights abuses. The AU has a lot on its plate and is also still very much in the process of institutional development.
The questioner mentioned the Africa Development Bank. And there, I think, is a place where there might well be possibilities; agencies like the Africa Development Bank that are specifically concerned with particular economic innovation.
GAVIN: And they have been engaged in Zimbabwe in recent years.
Peter, the last word on this? Because we are down to our final minute.
GODWIN: Yeah. I mean, I think—I think, you know, the great thing about inheriting an economy that is skittering along the very bottom of failed statehood is that there’s really only one way to go, and that’s up. I mean, you can—you know, with very little tinkering here and there, you can improve things, because honestly it’s so completely boulderized and utterly impoverished that, you know, it survives—I mean, you know, Zimbabwe survives very, very heavily on foreign remittances. John alluded earlier to possibly as many as a quarter of Zimbabweans living outside the country, and that includes many of the most educated, the most innovative, the most highly qualified of Zimbabweans.
The South African—the South African hospitality industry would collapse if Zimbabweans left tomorrow. Now, I’m not talking about white Zimbabweans. I’m talking about black Zimbabweans; you know, the Botswanan safari industry. Wherever you go in southern Africa, but also all over the world, you’ve got these incredibly talented Zimbabweans, black Zimbabweans, who are desperately needed at home, who are now in this diaspora. And without their remittances, Zimbabwe would collapse tomorrow.
So that’s another thing to watch. And, you know, in the history of diasporas, unfortunately, it’s very rare for diasporas to move back en masse. And with every passing month and every passing year that they stay outside their original countries, that they stay in exile, the less likely they are to return.
GAVIN: Well, I think that’s right. And, you know, just to add my two cents—and, you know, Botswana has long been an outlier in SADC in terms of its willingness to speak to abuses of civil and political rights in Zimbabwe and elsewhere.
But it’s such an interesting point the questioner made. You know, if we did have all hands on deck in the U.S. government, one certainly could imagine vigorous engagement with SADC, at the AU, with other regional powers around the sort of shared interests and desires in seeing a thriving and prosperous Zimbabwe going forward, and seeing if there couldn’t be some common ground since so many of us desire the same outcome about how one might align incentives to try and get there.
Well, I want to thank all of the members who’ve joined us today, and my apologies to anyone who had a question that we didn’t get to. But I think it’s been a very rich discussion, and especially to thank Ambassador John Campbell and Peter Godwin for their insight and their thoughtful reflections on where Zimbabwe has been and where it might be going.
Thank you all so much for joining us. And this concludes today’s call.