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M Blackman

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Conference on Zimbabwe at LSE decides that is democracy not right for Africa

17/07/2008 London – A negotiated settlement and a government of national unity were discussed at the public lecture ‘Zimbabwe: Beyond the Endgame’ hosted by the London School of Economics last night. The majority of the panellists, drawn both from Zimbabwe and Britain, maintained the view that a pragmatic and negotiated settlement is needed to solve the crisis in Zimbabwe and that western intervention is both futile and unwanted.

Professor James Putzel, Director of the Crisis States Research Centre, stated that it was important that the ‘security forces need to remain intact’ and that impunity was needed for some military leaders. He went on to say that a slow transition was preferable to sudden change of power, particularly considering that the MDC does not have ‘too much of vision as far as economic development is concerned’. Guguletu Moyo of the International Bar Association, who acted as a spokesperson for Prof Arthur Mutambara (the head of the splinter group of the MDC), emphasised the need for a negotiated settlement. Ms. Moyo added the caveat that this could only be done by Zimbabweans. She explicitly stated that although the Kenyan and South African paradigms were helpful, only Zimbabweans could decide what their way forward was, saying that in the case of Zimbabwe ‘there were very different people involved.’

Patrick Smith, editor of Africa Confidential, went on to argue that the ‘western cold war alliance piece of theatre’ held at the UN Security Council was entirely unhelpful as a way of resolving Zimbabwe’s crisis and that if a settlement was to be reached then the example South Africa should be looked at. Dr. Martin Rupiya, an ex-colonel of the Zimbabwean army, went further, claiming that the West was biased towards the MDC. The ex-soldier-turned-academic claimed that the Blair government, before withdrawing its financial support 1998 (that would have gone some way to resolving the land issue), it had offered the ZANU-PF £12 million for land reform while, at the same time, offering the MDC £32 million. He stated that this was a clear indication of the West’s partisan outlook. The MDC representative – having to speak from the floor although seemingly an invited guest – however, pointed out that considering the MDC was only formed in 1999 this claim had little veracity.

The West’s bad faith, with regards to Africa, had previously been brought up by one of the panel’s interlocutors. She announced that Mandela, who through implication she grouped Mr Tsvangirai with, is a ‘Coca-Cola brand held by the West’ and that Mugabe, for people who saw themselves as African, meant something very different. This utterance received vocal support form sections of the audience. When the MDC member – again only being aloud to speak from the floor – stated that Mandela was somebody that he, as an African, was proud of and that ‘Mugabe is an embarrassment’ he was met with a shout of ‘no he’s not’.

The notion that Morgan Tsvangirai could be a viable leader of Zimbabwe repeatedly received short shrift, and as an answer to Zimbabwe’s problems it was not considered. The lecture was concluded with the head of the Royal African Society, Richard Dowden, stating that, given the evidence of the elections recently held in Nigeria, Kenya and the DRC, he did not think that ‘democracy is going to work in Africa’. This statement was received little enmity in the LSE’s sated main lecture theatre.

 

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