Connect to share and comment

Mugabe is still the boss

In small and big ways, the Zimbabwean leader shows he remains in charge.

Characteristically brandishing his fist, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe signals he is still in charge when arriving, with his wife Grace, at the inauguration of South African President Jacob Zuma in Pretoria, May 9, 2009. (Jerome Delay/Reuters)

HARARE — The prime minister of Zimbabwe is unable to receive visitors because President Robert Mugabe’s security officers bar their entry to his office building.

This recent incident illustrates the sort of obstacles Morgan Tsvangirai faces daily.

Senior members of a leading civic organization, the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), were blocked from meeting Prime Minister Tsvangirai by Mugabe’s security agents. The president and prime minister share offices in the same building. The NCA delegation had been due to discuss issues of constitutional reform with Tsvangirai, who is one of three principal party leaders heading the government of national unity.

Only the intervention of Deputy Prime Minister Thokozani Khupe eventually secured the group's entry.

Last week a vehicle in Tsvangirai's convoy was denied entry to Mugabe's official residence, where a state dinner was being held for a visiting North Korean delegation. Tsvangirai drove off saying he had better things to do after guards at State House refused to admit a vehicle in his convoy.

Of course, the entire visit of the North Koreans was controversial. Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) enjoys widespread support in southern Zimbabwe, known as Matabeleland, where Mugabe unleashed the North Korean-trained Fifth Brigade in a campaign of political retribution in which an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 people were killed in the mid-1980s.

To welcome the North Koreans last week Mugabe praised their support for Zimbabwe and congratulated them on their rocket launch that caused international tension earlier this year.

Mugabe's speech was, by any standard, provocative and designed to show Tsvangirai who is boss. Mugabe was, at the same time, rebuking the MDC’s international allies, who are looking to Tsvangirai to restore productive relations with Zimbabwe.

These incidents may be dismissed as trivial, but they are examples of how Robert Mugabe is letting everyone know that he is still running the show in Zimbabwe. It is not just in petty security access situations. Mugabe is also calling the shots to jail his critics for lengthy periods on flimsy charges. He is also continuing to harass the small but lively independent press.

“Everyone knows that Mugabe is still calling the shots. Look at the courts. Look at the press. He’s still in charge and it’s hurting efforts to get Zimbabwe to move forward,” said Raphael Khumalo, chairman of the Zimbabwe Independent and Standard newspapers.  

From the very start of the power-sharing government, which brought Tsvangirai and his MDC party into a coalition government, critics warned that Mugabe would not cooperate and would tarnish Tsvangirai's reputation by continuing repressive actions. That is exactly what is happening, especially regarding the rule of law and the press. Mugabe is using his control of the judiciary to jail government critics on spurious charges and to press similarly weak charges against the press.

Mugabe is demonstrating just how obstructive he can be by refusing to remove the loyalist Reserve Bank Governor Gideon Gono and the equally dedicated Attorney General Johannes Tomana. Those officials protected by him are in no doubt about whose orders they must follow.