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The Zimbabwe Cable


(Writer's note: this post provides multi-faceted background on Zimbabwe, whose President was assessed in the July 2007 final cable of the American ambassador. The post contains the full content of the cable. But is the post multi-faceted background or just meandering summary? Are the facts fair? You decide. Create yor own insights. Was Hillary biased, misinformed, pandering or sincere when she voted for US sanctions? Does it inform her current approach? How could the US ambassador ignore the devastation of AIDS? What was Tony Blair's real motive? Why did the US authorize sanctions, but still give aid? Why wasn't deflation an issue? How do the grass roots feel about the land grab? And why tap the President's wife? Why is the army loyal and apparently not interested in overthrow? Was colonialism racism? The point is to minimize the editorial and provide a platform of facts by which readers could form their own questions and conclusions./wr)

Buried in the buzzard of diplomatic cables released by WilkiLeaks is a remarkable piece of first source diplomacy. Bundled in the quarter million documents is the outgoing American ambassador's confidential report assessing the leadership and conditions in Zimbabwe, a deeply troubled regime in Africa. Entitled “The End is Nigh,” the 2600 word cable offers the insights and analysis of America's highest diplomat posted in the country.

Classified as “confidential,” the ambassador's report, dated July 13, 2007, expresses what a Canada-based, Zimbabwean online news site calls “admiration and disdain” for Robert Mugabe, only Zimbabwe's second President since its founding on April 18, 1980.

Robert Mugabe has served as Zimbabwe's president for 24 years and was the country's first prime minister. Before taking power, Mugabe was a leader of the Zimbabwe African Union or ZANU, one of two factions of armed resistance challenging the ruling minority regime when the former break away British colony was known as Rhodesia.

The media questions fielded by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the US State Department's press conference did not address the impact of the cable's release on US-Zimbabwe relations. Yet Zimbabwe's severe economic distress, political violence, and heavy handed laws threatens the stability of the whole of Southern Africa, a region of key strategic and economic importance to America.

In late October 2010, in Masvingo, 400 Zimbabwe's soldiers marched in a Sunday demonstration carrying placards, chanting the slogan, “provoke a hero, start a war,” pledging allegiance to Mugabe, and repeating insistently that he should rule Zimbabwe forever.

For many reasons, others fear Mugabe's rule. In early October 2010, the governor of Zimbabwe's central bank, Gideon Gono, suddenly disappeared into hiding. Reports surfaced Gono had carried out a five year, secret affair with Mugabe's 46 year-old second wife, Grace. Mrs. Mugabe served as the president's secretary and borne him two children before they were married in an elaborate 1996 Catholic mass after the death of his first wife. Famous for her extravagant personal spending, one UK newspaper parodied her lavish tastes in a country where the poor are starving with the headline, “Let them eat Chanel.”

Following Gono's 2003 appointment, hyper-inflation devastated and shredded Zimbabwe's economy. Between 2002 and 2006, Zimbabwe's economy lost more than half its value. Despite the country's stunning economic collapse, Gono boasted he was being reviewed for the presidency of the World Bank. His principal achievement seems to have been finding ways to fund Mrs. Mugabe's many shopping sprees to Asia—he often escorted her abroad and was a business partner. He also enriched many of the political elite while developing no base of support for himself.

Under Gono's direction, Zimbabwe maintains the world's highest rate of inflation and is considered the world's second worse economy, after North Korea. The rate of inflation was once measured in the hundreds of billions, but was probably exaggerated. To meet inflated currency demands, Gono authorized bills in new denominations as high as 100 billion Zimbabwean dollars. There are now no official exchange rates; the Zimbabwe dollar does not circulate outside the country.

Gono's monetary policy is peppered with biblical references; he frequently commits policy statements “into the Lord's hands.” Before becoming the governor of the central bank, he was Mugabe's personal banker. Gono is now prohibited by Zimbabwe’s ruling ZANU-PF party from traveling to the US. Sanctioned by the European Union, he is unable to travel to Europe. Since the rumors, he is no longer able to rest in his own Harare home with its 47 bedrooms.

Other protests of Mugabe's leadership have flared into public view. A one national hero who fought beside Mugabe during war for Zimbabwe's independence, refused to be buried in the national cemetery. In keeping with his wishes, his family declined to have him interred at the national shrine with those he considered “crooks and thieves.”

Since the ambassador's 2007 forecast of the country's and Mugabe's fortunes, the economy has made progress. The most recent International Monetary Fund (IMF) report estimates GDP will be US$8 billion for 2011. That jumps from US$4.2 billion in 2008, an increase of 90 per cent in three years.

Industrial capacity is now up to 40 per cent compared to 2008. The mining industry, mainly gold and platinum, has expanded. Agricultural output is stable. Tobacco production more than doubled in 2009. Deposits now stand at US$2.4 billion and rise $80 million a month.

National tax revenues, only only $1 billion in 2009, will double to $2 billion in 2010, and are estimated to be $2.7 billion in 2011.

The party in power, ZANU-PF, blames the implosion of the economy on western “sanctions.” But in fact, the international community has been very generous to Zimbabwe. For the past three years, foreign aid to Zimbabwe provided food aid for more than half the population.

In 2010, foreign aid exploded to $800 million (all amounts, US$), half of it for humane assistance, including $200 million earmarked for health, $100 million for education and $50 million for water and sanitation. Ninety per cent of the aid comes from a group of States comprised of 17 countries loosely called the “Friends of Zimbabwe.” Within the group are the US, providing a third of all aid; Britain, at 14 per cent; and Germany and Norway each contributing 7 per cent. Transfers from the 3.5 million Zimbabweans living abroad in the diaspora total $1.2 billion annually.

The new growth of the macro-economy contrasts with miniscule wages of workers. Seventy percent of the 12.5 million Zimbabweans earn an average of $245 a year, less than half the average weekly American paycheck. Income disparaties are extremely wide. The top ten percent of the population receives nearly half of the country's income.

Using a macroeconomic comparison, Warren Buffett's 2009 total investment in the Burlington Northern Railroad of $44 billion is almost nine times greater than Zimbabwe's entire GNP for 2010.

Zimbabwe is a difficult country to start a business. Zimbabwe has few protections for property rights, and limited regulation, according to the US Heritage Foundation. Its GNP is one third of Zambia's, its neighbor whose GNP it equaled only 10 years ago.

Zimbabwe's army consists of 29,000 troops and is equipped with one of the world's most ubiquitous weapons, the Russian AKM, a variant of the well known AK-47. The police organize much of the country's corruption, extorting fees from vendors and drivers, and operate many of the country's illegal markets.

Despite its tensions and distress, Zimbabwe ranks tenth in African internet usage, with 1.4 million users, just behind the Sudan. (Nigeria is first with 10 million users.) The country has an active tourist industry, with visitors coming mainly from South Africa. The three major components of its economy are agriculture, mining (precious metals, coal), and industry (chemicals, textiles).

Zimbabwe before its current economic and political woes had a long and proud history as an ancient southern African urban center and thriving kingdom. Set in a broad, lush, green highlands with ample rain and bounded by north and south river routes along the Zambezi and Limpopo with access to the Indian sea, a major trade route ran up the rift valley the length of Africa to Asian minor and a web of routes within the region extended east to Angola and south to Cape Town.

Zimbabwe was the site of the city kingdom of Mapungubwe, which flourished from 1020 to 1270. Mapunubwe's ancient site, set along several hills, has yielded the ruins of an amphitheatre and elevated burial grounds with panoramic views with the remains buried upright with objects of prestige. Mapungubwe is one of the first southern African societies to exhibit extensive wealth and to draw social distinctions in housing, objects, and burial rites between its rulers and citizens.

The name Zimbabwe was first used for an community that built enormous granite walls and stone structures--the largest stone construction projects south of the Sahara. Perhaps as many as 10,000 people lived in the ancient city of during its zenith. The ancient Shona people smithed iron and gold and managed large herds of cattle; signs of their intelligence, status, and wealth.

Blue porcelain from China's Ming dynasty (1368-1644) made its way to Zimbabwe. Its central highlands were an essential part of the pre-industrial world's most important trade route, the Silk Road. Under hot dry skies, along paths worn by thousands of foot prints, ancient caravans of traders entered Zimbabwe and shared the comforts of its African hospitality. They packed pepper and sesame grown in the valley and ivory and gold to take away to China and Europe, and returned with goods from Istanbul and Beijing. They exchanged goods with honesty and integrity.

Today, AIDS has entered the country, its first case reported in 1985. Since 1990, life expectancy has dropped from 61 to 33 years. Zimbabwe ranks among the world's most infected countries. In the army, the infection rate may be as high as 80 percent. Almost sixty percent of infected adults are women. A million children are orphaned because of the disease. In four years, between 2002 and 2006, 4 million people died. The annual expenditure for an HIV-positive person in Zimbabwe is $4.

Once considered the best educational system in modern Africa, with a literacy rate above 90%, Zimbabwe's education system has also suffered. Its teachers have left the country. Examinations have gone ungraded. School children without notebooks have been observed writing lessons in the dust. The University of Zimbabwe has closed its residence halls and cut courses of study. In 2008, reports say schools only opened for 23 uninterrupted days.

Robert Mugabe went to Jesuit secondary schools and earned seven college degrees (two master's). Mugabe studied at South Africa's Fort Hare University, meeting African political leaders Kenneth Kaunda, and Julius Nyerere, the father of modern African education and a former President of Tanzania. Mugabe's degrees include two in law, one each in science, education, and administration from the University of London External Studies Program, an outstanding university program which has produced seven Nobel laureates in peace, physics, economics, and medicine. He knows the value of education; he refers to himself as teacher number one. But the country he governs can not buy desks for its school children.

Its a far cry from the proud moment when, after 47 plenary sessions, he and other Zimbabwe leaders signed the Lancaster House Agreement on December 21, 1979. The agreement called for a transfer of state power to the African parties, outlined an Independence constitution, a cease fire, and the transitional steps.

The issues in Zimbabwe have been characterized by a lot of shouting from all sides. The mining and agricultural industries, the nation's two most important economic sectors, have been the targets of aggressive laws, removing many of the traditional protections of corporate ownership and requiring increases in the African share of ownership. Western observers have classified Zimbabwe as a failed state, yet much of the state still works, albeit under extreme conditions. According to US Energy Information Administration statistics, Zimbabwe imports 12,800 barrels of oil daily, but is a net exporter of coal, producing 3.35 million tons of high quality coal annually, ranking 39th in the world. It ranks 96th in electricity generation and 78th in consumption. A number of business analysts point to deals that show an active interest in investing in Zimbabwe; its stock market trades 10 million shares a day. But these deals and shares mainly involve large mining firms, cellular service providers, breweries and have no impact on citizen lives.

The British newspaper site, the Guardian and Mail, tells a familiar story:

“Tobacco was the mainstay of Zimbabwe's economy during the 1980s and 1990s. The "golden leaf" was the county's main export product, accounting for about 50% of Zimbabwe's foreign currency earnings. About 700,000 people were dependent on the industry for their living. For decades, Zimbabwean tobacco was coveted by blenders as among the finest in the world. Zimbabwe was the second-largest producer of flue-cured tobacco after the United States in the 1990s. Its crop was recognized for its quality in major tobacco markets in Europe, Asia and the US.”

 The market crashed. In 2007, the time of the ambassador's cable, after recent grower protests, “the exchange rate of one US dollar to Z$250 was adjusted upwards to a special rate of one US dollar to Z$30,000, but farmers insisted that this was still not enough. The US dollar was at the time fetching 20 times more on the parallel market. A few farmers said they had received Z$5-billion, which is equivalent to only $5.”

In Zimbabwe, Z$5 billion was only enough to buy a five-liter pack of orange juice.

Harare's tobacco market was one of the largest in the world. But the tobacco market collapsed, when under Mugabe and the ZANU-PF party, the parliament has passed laws to limit private corporate ownership and to break up and transfer ownership of private commercial farms to those previously denied property ownership.

The land question, more than Mugabe's personality and flaws, or the systemic intimidation of his party, or its corruption or western sanctions, shapes and underlines the modern history and politics of Zimbabwe. Land drives the current struggle, the economic collapse and its repair.

In the 1890s, European settlers from South Africa entered Zimbabwe and bargained for land and mining claims, then seized additional land from the Shona, the indigenous African people. Establishing control, the settlers put down the Shona's armed fight to maintain sovereignty and force the land's return. First a mining company and later the new settler government provided large land grants to emigrating settlers and forced Africans to resettle in new areas. Uprooted from their traditional communities, they were required to live on reserves specifically designated for their use. Africans were unable to own land outside of the reserves.

After independence in 1980, power was returned to the African majority but the land remained in the hands of the generations of settlers, who sought to protect their property rights by becoming citizens in the new Zimbabwe. According to a BBC 2000 report, 4,400 white farmers owned 32 percent of Zimbabwe's prime farm land, in fertile locations with best soil, highest rain fall in country. In contrast, one million Africans owned 38 percent of the farm land, often in drought prone areas with poor soil. Settler farms were highly mechanized and industrialized. African farms primarily engaged in subsistence farming, scratching out a meager living by supplying families needs and selling the small surplus in local markets. For the first twenty years, the government operated on the principle of “willing buyer, willing seller.” The program for transferring land operated on the principle of matching buyers and sellers, providing government services and assistance to African buyers, but in 2000, that changed dramatically.

The old program had not raised agricultural productivity or African income. In 2000, it was scraped for a fast track resettlement program. The new program was command-driven and the government was in command. Within a year, 160,000 families had been resettled on 3,100 large scale commercial farms covering 7.3 million hectares. Despite the announced intent of the program to provide “growth with equity,” land was serendipitously vested in the custody of crusading politicians who often reaped personal benefits. One newspaper, the Zimbabwe Independent described the situation: “productive farms, misappropriated by ZANU-PF officials through the needless violent evictions of their owners, have been subdivided into unproductive smallholdings, residential plots, housing co-operatives for the party faithful or sold to the landless in hard currency for a profit to the politically connected.” It is now the government who decides “who gets land and who does not.”

Described as a “clique of dishonest political speculators masquerading as revolutionaries,” there are those who agree the government's claim to a revolutionary legacy of an iron fist is a legitimate point of view. The colonial debate has always been about puppets and puppet masters, and the passions of former post-colonial states are high; often they refuse to let go the legacy of the colonial victim. The legacy is replayed and frames each step forward.

Imperialism, the intent and ideology of western government and corporations to subjugate and control the resources and labor of poorer countries is the source of all opposition to the path of the new state, the theory goes. Imperialism fuels the criticisms of national policy; it topples and trashes the economy by withholding investments, grants, and lowering market prices. Every conflict points to imperialist stooges seeking to undermine the revolutionaries in power. Imperialism distorts media coverage. Imperialism is active, comprehensive, duplicitous, surreptitious, and determined to overpower, dominate, and control its target states.

Zimbabwe felt targeted. Mugabe and its leadership viewed every decision and action through the prism of rigorous European academic leftist analysis. They fought to maintain power at all costs. In America, “left” is a slogan, not a rigorous method of analysis. In Zimbabwe, “left” was a bulwark against those countries and corporate interests who many believed wanted to gain power by blunt force and proxy, who sought to squeeze the people to capitulate under their sufferings and vote Mugabe and his government out so those sympathetic to western interests could be re-installed.

Mugabe felt his years of resistance and negotiations with the British and with leaders in world capitols gave him a historic experience and an institutional memory that mandated his guardianship of Zimbabwe. The only fatal mistake, as he saw it, was compromising Zimbabwe's independence. For him, the country's independence was inextricably tied to his service as President. He alone had the fortitude and intellectual acumen to stand up to those who sought to bring the country down.

Mugabe had suffered long terms of imprisonment and missed the funeral of his three year old son. His first wife, Sally, a Ghanian woman he met while teaching in Ghana, was listed for deportation from England for her organizing activities. Two of his brothers had died from diseases as children. His father, a Malawian carpenter, abandoned the family. Mugabe trusted no one but himself to have the resolute strength to stay the course. Suffering was the price of his faith.

Britain under Tony Blair did use the new harsher land transfers as an opportunity to opt out of its commitments made to Zimbabwe as a part of the Lancester House Accord. As a part of the agreement, Britain agreed to make reconstruction payments to Zimbabwe to cover the costs of compensation to settlers for land transfers and to provide training and services to the Africans being re-settled again on the corporate farms. The intent was to address the interests of the settlers and successfully create a communal model of small farmers to replace the corporate farms and to alleviate the numbing poverty that existed on the African reserves.

Blair dropped the payments. He accused the Mugabe government of human rights violations, corruption, and a disregard of the rule of law. His views influenced other western nations. In the acrimony, the disruption caused by the suspension of payments helped tanked the economy and exacerbated tensions inside and outside of Zimbabwe. Those leaders inside and out who had once agreed to be partners were breaking Zimbabwe apart by pulling in different directions.

The men who negotiated were peers, but not friends. Britain wanted the honors of shedding the last vestige of its legacy of colonialism and to applaud itself for its rational transition to African rule. For Robert Mugabe, things were quite different. He had endured prison, struggled in the bush, traveled the capitols of the world, repeatedly countered the toothless arguments of those who insisted that land that was stolen was theirs by sovereign right. The theft was a matter of record, the land's return was a matter of struggle, and Mugabe was deeply determined that it should not happen again in any form. From the beginning, he was not inclined to be forgiving or to indulge the whim of any request that fortressed the rights of the settler communities and families. He saw nothing wrong with repaying their former privilege with hard slams or using the law to heighten their exposure to risks. When it was done to the Africans, there was no outcry he knew first hand, too well. He saw compromise as a first step to surrender.

The 107th US Congress during the tenure of George W. Bush as US president passed the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act of 2001 which proclaimed its support the struggle of the people of Zimbabwe to “effect peaceful democratic change,” but authorized a long, detailed list of economic sanctions. Among the hostile actions the act endorsed was intelligence gathering against Zimbabwe's government. Its senate sponsors included Republican Jesse Helms of NC and Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton of NY.

In a quote, Robert Mugabe in May 2007 article entitled “Our Cause is Africa's Cause” in New Africa magazine, expresses in populist terms the imperialist threat. He also frames justifications for violent police actions being well within the realm of proper use of state authority to answer these threats by those he views as imperialism's domestic agents:

“Mugabe: [Laughs]. I wasn’t there. I didn’t even know they had been beaten! [He is referring to an incident involving members of an opposition party.] But if a person challenges the police, breaches law and order, and thinks the police would just look at him and shake hands with him, and say “you’ve done a good thing by tossing and pushing us around.” well, he is quite mistaken. The police are there to maintain law and order. And it doesn’t matter who, if you threaten them with force, they will answer back with force. And the police did their work. We may regret that in doing their work, they might have exceeded the punishment they gave them. But these things happen. It happens in war, it happens everywhere. If you challenge the police, don’t think they are going to be merciful with you at all.”

Mugabe goes on:

“If America wants a man like Christopher Dell [the American ambassador] to remain here, then he’s got to behave because we will not brook further nonsense from him. Baffour Ankomah, interviewer: Everywhere else, when a country is under siege by foreign powers, as Zimbabwe now is, the opposition closes ranks with the government and fight the siege together. In Zimbabwe, it is the other way round. Have you tried to get your opposition to sit down and think this through? Mugabe: The opposition is an extension of imperialism, they are agents of imperialism; they are not home-grown opposition people, they were put together as an opposing package by the British, the three parties in Britain – the Labour Party, Conservative Party and the Liberal-Democrats – established the Westminster Foundation Fund . .”

Mugabe summarizes his view of American policy:

“Yes of course, they gave us that assistance during Carter’s administration, because they didn’t want a failure of our constitutional negotiations which were taking place in Lancaster House in London in 1979. But as soon as Carter was out and Ronald Reagan had come in, the funds were stopped, because they said we were communists. They accused me of being a communist. But they never, never really approved of a solid African government, a government that stands on its own. They were behind Nkrumah’s fall [Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana], and they have been behind the fall of other governments – in Latin America, everywhere. So we don’t trust them. They just don’t want a strong government, a government that lives by the truth and wants to help its own people, they don’t want that.”

This interview was given a month before the American ambassador penned his final confidential cable.

His cable is reprinted by copying its facsimile from a web page of the New York Times. The Times describes the cable: “As Christopher W. Dell leaves Zimbabwe after three years as American ambassador, he sends a frank account of its aging, erratic leader, Robert Mugabe.” Before being appointed ambassador to Zimbabwe, Dell, a career foreign service officer, served as ambassador to Angola.

Here is his cable in full:

Source Embassy Harare

Classification CONFIDENTIAL

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 HARARE 000638




E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/12/2017 TAGS: PGOV, PREL, ZI

SUBJECT: The End is Nigh

Classified By: Ambassador Christopher W. Dell under Section 1.4b/d

  1. (C) Having said my piece repeatedly over the last three years, I won't offer a lengthy prescription for our Zimbabwe policy. My views can be stated very simply as stay the course and prepare for change. Our policy is working and it's helping to drive change here. What is required is simply the grit, determination and focus to see this through. Then, when the changes finally come we must be ready to move quickly to help consolidate the new dispensation.


  1. (C) Robert Mugabe has survived for so long because he is more clever and more ruthless than any other politician in Zimbabwe. To give the devil his due, he is a brilliant tactician and has long thrived on his ability to abruptly change the rules of the game, radicalize the political dynamic and force everyone else to react to his agenda. However, he is fundamentally hampered by several factors: his ego and belief in his own infallibility; his obsessive focus on the past as a justification for everything in the present and future; his deep ignorance on economic issues (coupled with the belief that his 18 doctorates give him the authority to suspend the laws of economics, including supply and demand); and his essentially short-term, tactical style.

  2. (C) While his tactical skills have kept him in power for 27 years, over the last seven this has only been achieved by a series of populist, but destructive and ultimately self-defeating moves. In reaction to losing the 2000 referendum on the constitution, a vengeful Mugabe unleashed his “Green Bombers” to commit land reform and in the process he destroyed Zimbabwe's agricultural sector, once the bedrock of the economy. While thousands of white farmers saw their properties seized, hundreds of thousands of black Zimbabweans lost their livelihoods and were reduced to utter poverty. In 2005, having been forced to steal victory by manipulating the results of an election he lost, Mugabe lashed out again, punishing the urban populace by launching Operation Murambatsvina. The result was wholesale destruction of the informal sector, on which as much as 70-80 percent of urban dwellers had depended, and the uprooting of 700,000 Zimbabweans. The current inflationary cycle really began with Murambatsvina, as rents and prices grew in response to a decrease in supply.

  3. (C) And now, faced with the hyperinflationary consequences of his ruinous fiscal policies and growing reliance on the printing press to keep his government running, Mugabe has launched Operation Slash Prices. This has once again given him a very temporary boost in popularity (especially among the police, who have led the looting of retail outlets and now seem well positioned to take a leading role in the black market economy) at the cost of terrible damage to the country and people. Many small grocery and shop owners, traders, etc., will be wiped out; the shelves are increasingly bare; hunger, fear, and tension are growing; fuel has disappeared. When the shelves are still empty this time next week, the popular appeal of the price roll back will evaporate and the government simply doesn't have the resources to replace the entire private commercial sector and keep Zimbabweans fed. It may attempt to do so by printing more money, adding even more inflationary pressure on a system already reeling from the GOZ's quasi-fiscal lunacy combined with the price impact of pervasive shortages. The increasingly worthless Zim dollar is likely to collapse as a unit of trade in the near future, depriving the GOZ of its last economic tool other than sheer thuggery and theft of others' assets.

  4. (C) With all this in view, I'm convinced the end is not

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far off for the Mugabe regime. Of course, my predecessors and many other observers have all said the same thing, and yet Mugabe is still with us. I think this time could prove different, however, because for the first time the president is under intensifying pressure simultaneously on the economic, political and international fronts. In the past, he could always play one of these off against the other, using economic moves to counter political pressure or playing the old colonial/race/imperialist themes to buy himself breathing room regionally and internationally. But he is running out of options and in the swirling gases of the new Zimbabwean constellation that is starting to form, the economic, political and international pressures are concentrating on Mugabe himself. Our ZANU-PF contacts are virtually unanimous in saying reform is desperately needed, but won't happen while the Old Man is there, and therefore he must go (finding the courage to make that happen is another matter, however, but even that may be coming closer).

This is not some sudden awakening on the road to Damascus, but a reflection of the pain even party insiders increasingly feel over the economic meltdown. We also get regular, albeit anecdotal, reports of angry and increasingly open mutterings against Mugabe even in ZANU-PF's traditional rural bastions. Beginning in March, the other SADC leaders finally recognized (in the wake of the terrible beatings of March 11 and the international outcry that followed--another self-inflicted wound for Mugabe) that Zimbabwe is a problem they need to address. Thabo Mbeki appears committed to a successful mediation and is reportedly increasingly irritated with Mugabe's efforts to manipulate him or blow him off altogether. If Mugabe judges that he still commands all he surveys by virtue of being the elder statesman on the scene, he may be committing yet another serious blunder. Finally, one does well to recall that the only serious civil disturbances here in a decade came in 1998 over bread shortages, showing that even the famously passive Shona people have their limits. The terror and oppression of the intervening years have cowed people, but it's anyone's guess whether their fear or their anger will win out in the end.


  1. (C) This is the big, unanswerable question. One thing at least is certain, Mugabe will not wake up one morning a changed man, resolved to set right all he has wrought. He will not go quietly nor without a fight. He will cling to power at all costs and the costs be damned, he deserves to rule by virtue of the liberation struggle and land reform and the people of Zimbabwe have let him down by failing to appreciate this, thus he needn't worry about their well-being. The only scenario in which he might agree to go with a modicum of good grace is one in which he concludes that the only way to end his days a free man is by leaving State House. I judge that he is still a long way from this conclusion and will fight on for now.

  2. (C) The optimal outcome, of course, and the only one that doesn't bring with it a huge risk of violence and conflict, is a genuinely free and fair election, under international supervision. The Mbeki mediation offers the best, albeit very slim, hope of getting there. However, as Pretoria grows more and more worried about the chaos to its north and President Mbeki's patience with Mugabe's antics wears thin, the prospects for serious South African engagement may be growing. Thus, this effort deserves all the support and backing we can muster. Less attractive is the idea of a South African-brokered transitional arrangement or government of national unity. Mbeki has always favored stability and in his mind this means a ZANU-PF-led GNU, with perhaps a few MDC additions. This solution is more likely to prolong than resolve the crisis and we must guard against letting Pretoria dictate an outcome which

HARARE 00000638 003 OF 004

perpetuates the status quo at the expense of real change and reform.

  1. (C) The other scenarios are all less attractive: a popular uprising would inevitably entail a bloodbath, even if it were ultimately successful; Mugabe's sudden, unexpected death would set off a stampede for power among ZANU-PF heavy weights; a palace coup, whether initiated within ZANU-PF or from the military - in which Mugabe is removed, killed, exiled or otherwise disposed of, could well devolve into open conflict between the contending successors. Similarly, some form of "constitutional coup" i.e., a change at the top engineered within the framework of ZANU-PF's "legitimate" structures could well prove to be merely the opening bell in a prolonged power struggle. None of the players is likely to go quietly into the night without giving everything they have, including calling on their supporters in the security services. Moreover, experience elsewhere would suggest that whoever comes out on top initially will struggle, and more than likely fail, to halt the economic collapse. Thus, there is a good prospect of not one but a series of rapid-fire “transitions,” until some new, stable dispensation is reached.

  2. (C) The final, and probably worst, possibility is that Mugabe concludes he can settle for ruling over a rump Zimbabwe, maintaining control over Harare and the Mashona heartland, the critical forces of the National Reserve Force and CIO and a few key assets--gold, diamonds, platinum and Air Zimbabwe to fund the good times. Under this scenario the rest of the country, in one of the comrade's favorite phrases, could “go hang,” leaving it to the international community to stave off the worst humanitarian consequences.


  1. (C) Zimbabwe's opposition is far from ideal and I leave convinced that had we had different partners we could have achieved more already. But you have to play the hand you're dealt. With that in mind, the current leadership has little executive experience and will require massive hand holding and assistance should they ever come to power.

  2. (C) Morgan Tsvangarai is a brave, committed man and, by and large, a democrat. He is also the only player on the scene right now with real star quality and the ability to rally the masses. But Tsvangarai is also a flawed figure, not readily open to advice, indecisive and with questionable judgment in selecting those around him. He is the indispensable element for opposition success, but possibly an albatross around t heir necks once in power. In short, he is a kind of Lech Walesa character: Zimbabwe needs him, but should not rely on his executive abilities to lead the country's recovery. Arthur Mutambara is young and ambitious, attracted to radical, anti-western rhetoric and smart as a whip. But, in many respects he's a light-weight who has spent too much time reading U.S. campaign messaging manuals and too little thinking about the real issues. Welshman Ncube has proven to be a deeply divisive and destructive player in the opposition ranks and the sooner he is pushed off the stage, the better. But he is useful to many, including the regime and South Africa, so is probably a cross to be borne for some time yet. The prospects for healing the rift within the MDC seem dim, which is a totally unnecessary self-inflicted wound on their part this time. With few exceptions--Tendayi Biti, Nelson Chamisa--the talent is thin below the top ranks. The great saving grace of the opposition is likely to be found in the diaspora. Most of Zimbabwe's best professionals, entrepreneurs, businessmen and women, etc., have fled the country. They are the opposition's natural allies and it is encouraging to see signs, particularly in South Africa and the UK, that these people are talking,

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sharing ideas, developing plans and thinking together about future recovery.

  1. (C) Unfortunately, among the MDC's flaws is its inability to work more effectively with the rest of civil society. The blame for this can be shared on both sides (many civil society groups, like the NCA, are single-issue focused and take the overall dynamic in unhelpful directions; others, like WOZA, insist on going it alone as a matter of principle), but ultimately it falls to the MDC as the largest and the only true political party, to show the way. Once again, however, these are natural allies and they have more reason to work together than fight against each other.


  1. (C) If I am right and change is in the offing, we need to step up our preparations. The work done over the last year on transition planning has been extremely useful, both for stimulating a fresh look at our own assumptions and plans and for forging a common approach among the traditional donor community. But the process has lagged since the meetings in March in London and should be re-energized. It is encouraging in this respect that USAID Washington has engaged the Mission here in discussing how we would use additional resources in response to a genuinely reform-minded government . I hope this will continue and the good work done so far will survive the usual bloodletting of the budget process.

(C) The official media has had a field day recently whooping that "Dell leaves Zimbabwe a failed man". That's not quite how it looks from here. I believe that the firm U.S. stance, the willingness to speak out and stand up, have contributed to the accelerating pace of change. Mugabe and his henchman are like bullies everywhere: if they can intimidate you they will. But they're not used to someone standing up to them and fighting back. It catches them off guard and that's when they make mistakes. The howls of protest over critical statements from Washington or negative coverage on CNN are the clearest proof of how this hurts them. Ditto the squeals over “illegal sanctions.” In addition, the regime has become so used to calling the shots and dictating the pace that the merest stumble panics them. Many local observers have noted that Mugabe is panicked and desperate about hyperinflation at the moment, and hence he's making mistakes. Possibly fatal mistakes. We need to keep the pressure on in order to keep Mugabe off his game and on his back foot, relying on his own shortcomings to do him in. Equally important is an active U.S. leadership role in the international community. The UK is ham-strung by its colonial past and domestic politics, thus, letting them set the pace alone merely limits our effectiveness. The EU is divided between the hard north and its soft southern underbelly. The Africans are only now beginning to find their voice. Rock solid partners like Australia don't pack enough punch to step out front and the UN is a non-player. Thus it falls to the U.S., once again, to take the lead, to say and do the hard things and to set the agenda. Hundreds, maybe thousands, of ordinary Zimbabweans of all kinds have told me that our clear, forthright stance has given them hope and the courage to hang on. By this regime's standards, acting in the interests of the people may indeed be considered a failure. But I believe that the opposite is true, and that we can be justifiably proud that in Zimbabwe we have helped advance the President's freedom Agenda. The people of this country know it and recognize it and that is the true touchstone of our success here.

(End of cable.)

Zimbabwe's recent stormy history has been entangled by brute collisions of power, hostile suspicions, ideology, misunderstandings, honest mistakes and dishonest intent on all sides. Zimbabwe argues it is being treated differently than even harsher regimes with deplorable human rights records like China, for example. The difference, Mugabe and its leaders argue, is the willingness to accept and protect western capital and to relinquish its strict control of its national resources.

Three years after the cable, Robert Mugabe is still President. He is moving to set another national election, nigh mid-2011 and to re-write the national constitution. To fight against outside imperialist forces corrupting the upcoming 2011 national elections, Zimbabwe's finance minister is using a US discretionary grant of $50 million to fund election operations and infrastructure. If this seems like being fed by the hand that wants to strangle it, in fact the Police Commissioner, Augustine Chihuri has said as much. Chihuri was quoted as telling a group of junior officers in Harare that "this country came through blood and the barrel of the gun, and it can never be recolonized through a simple pen [the vote].”

Three years after Ambassador Dell's cable, the battle in Zimbabwe for economic prosperity continues even within Zimbabwe's government. The Zimbabwean news site reports: “Legislators from all political parties are threatening to torpedo the 2011 national budget unless they are granted US$3,000 monthly salaries, increased from US$400 a month. Finance Minister Tendai Biti has staunchly resisted the demand. But the legislators have said the 2011 budget will not be passed and the House of Assembly is united across the political divide in its plans to sink the Appropriation and Finance Bills. "When the other two arms of the State – the Judiciary and the Executive are given Mercedes Benzes from day one, body guards, maintenance, fuel and everything – we are getting offroaders," one representative said amid applause from all the benches."The ministers are given two cars, they do not bear the cost of maintenance, no insurance on their part. Madam Speaker, there are Members of Parliament who are walking on foot here . . This is unacceptable at all costs." The legislators also expressed outrage at the budget overruns on foreign travel for ministers, which topped US$29 million between January and October 2010, meaning each and every minister blew almost US$1million in travel this year. Biti has said the action being taken by the honourable members are not supportive of the noble objectives to sustain the economic stability because they will trigger demands for salary increments by other sectors. "These will lead to a wage spiral, hence creating inflation and further weakening our competitiveness and threatening the nascent economic recovery," said a banking analyst. He said the salaries the MPs were demanding far outstripped the country's GDP per capita.”

The finance minister, Tendai Biti, a lawyer and member of an opposition party, had been arrested by the government every year since 2000 (including charges of treason) until he was appointed Zimbabwe's Minister of Finance in 2009. He quickly moved to demonetize Zimbabwe's currency, substituting a basket of currencies made up of the South African rand, Botswana pulo, US dollar, British pound, and the euro, with interconnected exchange rates. This quickly defused Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation. The finance ministry's excellent, well organized and transparent web site reports September 2010's annual inflation rate as only 4.2 percent. The country's consumer price index of 91.2 in September 2009 had only risen to 95.0 by August 2010. The site has restored confidence in the economy and the government's management by publishing publishing consumer and investment news, national budget and statistics with periodic reviews and updates, and answering citizen's questions. Zimbabwe actually ran a trade surplus with Europe in 2008.

Yet there is an ugly underbelly that lingers beneath the good news. French citizen Catherine Joineau-Meredith who owned a farm protected by bilateral investment agreements signed by France and Zimbabwe saw her farm destroyed and she was fined and ordered off by the courts. Ms. Joineau-Meredith is quoted in the Zimbabwe Mail as saying, “What happened on my farm has nothing to do with any kind of land reform: the land has not been utilized, the equipment and crops have been stolen, all my animal stock has been slaughtered and finally my home has been burnt.”

Has land reform become Zimbabwe's choice of political patronage? An article on ZimOnline states “all of ZANU-PF's 56 politburo members, 98 Members of Parliament and 35 elected and unelected Senators, 10 provincial governors, 16 Supreme Court and High Court Judges, 40 current and former ambassadors were allocated or seized former commercial farms and 65 percent of the country's more than 200 mostly traditional chiefs have benefited from land reform. These officials are estimated to control 50 percent of land for commercial farms, but have little experience with farming and leave the land fallow. The 350,000 commercial farm workers have seen little benefit unless they were members of the ruling party.”

I saw Robert Mugabe speak to a group of US senators on the foreign relations committee at a breakfast meeting in the Capitol on a trip to Washington in the early 1980s. He is a slight man, with a medium built. He was formal and straightforward. The senators were all smiles and effusive in the manner of American politicians. President Mugabe reminded me of someone whose heart, mind, history and character were a part of the resources of Zimbabwe. The long war and its protracted struggles and political engagements were the equivalent of a manufacturing process that produced the final product. The product was the reclamation of what he saw as “his” all along. The senators no doubt thought they he would be wooed by their charms and the potential largess America was willing to trade for bilateral influence. Zimbabwe, after all, had natural wealth, but it needed help. What they had not calculated on was that not only did Mugabe speak of independence and respect for differences, he wouldn't budge.

US Secretary of State Clinton calls the document leak that included the Dell cable an attack on America, the international community, and has said there is 'nothing laudable about endangering lives.' The current American ambassador to Zimbabwe, Charles A. Ray, is pushing the party line; he has said activists in Zimbabwe may suffer “beatings, imprisonment, and even death,” if their candid views are made public. But the views of all the major players are well expressed and well known by all parties. It is a strength of Africa that its leaders seldom speak in secret about their political leanings or their opponents. I have examined the Dell cable carefully and found nothing in the ambassador's views that would result in loss of life. The Toronto Star reports that Zimbabwe's leaders from all sides have already dismissed the cable's comments and opinions.

Nelson Chamisa, spokesperson for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change party, for example told the Associated Press that Dell’s statements are not “the collective opinion of the people of Zimbabwe who will determine the future of this country.”

The document, already widely published and available online worldwide, does illuminate American thinking about an historic, pivotal African state at the center of the 20th century's political storms. Its history mirrors the issues of north-south economic development. Zimbabwe was one of the last of the African colonies to gain independence. It used armed struggle to leverage the settler's century-old grab of power. Its leaders rose from the bush and the confines of African reserves. The country is rich in minerals and rare earth in high demand by the West. It is one of the most fertile agricultural centers of the world, but its principal crop is tobacco. It has an ancient history with monumental achievements. Its people and products were tied to Paris and Beijing.

It is at the center of a fierce 21st century debate: how do power, prosperity, and progress change hands between north and south, black and white? How is power conferred and transferred? What are its moral and political limits?

Zimbabwe is both simple and complex, and its example is compelling. It reflects the opportunities and challenges that confront US foreign policy and the debate about that policy's purpose. After writing the cable, Ambassador Dell left Zimbabwe without a courtesy call on Robert Mugabe. He declined the diplomat's traditional farewell visit to his appointed country's head of state. Currently, he serves in Kosovo.

Perhaps in these modern times, given the ease with which the diplomatic documents were obtained, the Cassandra-in-reverse of American policy, the country's myopic internal view, President Mugabe, Secretary Clinton, Dell and other diplomats and leaders would do well to recall an old Zimbabwe proverb that conveys the hazards of errant relations between process, content, and means: “It is only a fool who plays with fire when his arms are made out of grass.”


seriouscat 7 years, 4 months ago

I'm sorry Perlo. You have taken the time to write a very in-depth post on a topic about which I don't know enough or have enough of a sustained interest to read in its entirety. But I agree with the tone and sentiment, and appreciate the time you take to write quality analysis of such matters.

I also appreciate the mission of wikileaks. Julian Assange is doing all of us little people a favor by exposing nothing more than the truth and providing information. Isn't it telling that the exposed emporors all want him jailed or dead? What they don't get it that it is too late. The truth crushed to the Earth will rise again!

Is the internet finally going to do for modern man what the printing press did for Medieval man? I am hopeful when I see material like this and actions like Assange's.

Walter Rhett 7 years, 4 months ago

"Cat," thanks for reading! The post is really a mini-series. It's a long series of mini-stories about Zimbabwe's history, colonial legacy, independence, economy and its President's bio, spiced with stories of education, AIDS. land grabs, failing markets, and infidelity. Read a little at a time, skip what you find boring or uninteresting. The post provides a balanced background on Zimbabwe a miinimum of editorial.

It does at the end say why knowing about Zimbabwe is important and places that within American diplomacy. When you have time, give it another try. Warm up what's left later! Thanks again. Oh, a note: it's been read by Zimbabweans, and noted editors, writers, activists, and others in Africa, Europe, and in the US and has been widely hailed as balanced. Comments have run from fascinating to full on to very interesting.

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