call to back mbeki

VOCAL: Gugulethu Moyo. © Unknown.
VOCAL: Gugulethu Moyo. © Unknown.

Phil Hazlewood

Phil Hazlewood

London - The world should unite behind South Africa's push to broker reconciliation in Zimbabwe, experts said on Monday, warning that non-African countries have "limited" power to influence the country directly.

Britain-based analysts said the lack of a common position between African and non-African states had helped, not hindered, President Robert Mugabe, allowing him to consolidate his position and use the colonial card.

They also warned that further violence was likely after the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) withdrew from Friday's run-off election.

"The international community clearly has a role," Gugulethu Moyo, a Zimbabwean lawyer who works on Southern African issues with the International Bar Association, told AFP.

In particular, non-African leaders should focus on easing the humanitarian crisis in the violence-wracked African country. "But in terms of the political problems, their options are very limited," she said.

"Either you use force or you negotiate and encourage negotiation. What's desirable and most likely is a negotiated settlement... the two sides coming together, that would be the neater solution, even if it takes a while."

President Thabo Mbeki is currently pushing for talks between the MDC's Morgan Tsvangirai and Zanu-PF leader Mugabe, who is accused of sanctioning pre-election violence to stifle opposition.

Tom Cargill, the head of the Africa Programme at the Chatham House foreign affairs think-tank, said the Iraq war in 2003 had seriously affected the concept of international humanitarian intervention.

"There's not a huge amount of appetite, in fact zero appetite, for any kind of military intervention into Zimbabwe, and so there's a limited degree to which sovereign states can influence each other," he said.

"I think this (Zimbabwe) very much shows up those limits."

Previous condemnation of violence in countries such as Sudan and Somalia in recent years has had little effect, making foreign governments unwilling to take unilateral action unless they are directly threatened, Cargill said.

As a result, countries continue to be vocal in their condemnation, but politically favour the consensus of regional blocs such as the EU or AU and the UN, he added.

The director of the Africa Research Institute, Mark Ashurst, agreed that foreign powers cannot tell the veteran Zimbabwean leader what to do.

But Mugabe had been helped because the non-African sanctions-based approach stood at odds with the African position, characterised by Mbeki's "quiet diplomacy" towards his country's neighbour. That has enabled Mugabe - still a hero to many Zimbabweans for securing independence from Britain in 1980, despite his recent record - to use the colonial card to galvanise support, Ashurst said.

With Zimbabwe's economy in free-fall, its currency worthless and hyper-inflation running into millions of percent, measures such as travel bans and further sanctions were tinkering at the edges, he said.

"The international community has played its biggest card and there's nothing they can do that can hurt Zimbabwe more than the International Monetary Fund deciding to withdraw balance of payment support," added Ashurst.

Following the MDC pull-out on Sunday, the editor of The Zimbabwean, Wilf Mbanga, warned that Mugabe "will want to destroy the MDC once and for all".

"He will kill a lot of people," he added, likening Mugabe to a dangerous "wounded animal".

But Knox Chitiyo, the head of the Africa Programme at the Royal United Services Institute (Rusi) think-tank, discounted the suggestion of a mass uprising against Mugabe and Zanu-PF.

"There will be some level of people coming out on the streets to protest but that will be shut down by the state security," the former University of Zimbabwe lecturer said.

"There may be the emergence of terrorist groups. But people remember the war of liberation and the terrors that that brought.

People are fearful. People know that however terrible things are, if it came to civil war things would be 10 times worse.

"The state has the capacity to unleash a genocide." - Sapa-AFP