Why South Africa's Mbeki won't rein in Mugabe
Even in Africa, pressure is mounting for Thabo Mbeki to increase pressure on Zimbabwe's president.
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa
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The leader of the region's economic power has the best chance of brokering a deal between President Robert Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai to avert further violence in the wake of an election widely condemned as a sham.
Yet African leaders wrapping up a two-day summit in Egypt are growing more critical of Mr. Mbeki's failure to rein in Mr. Mugabe, with some calling for Mbeki to step up his mediation or step aside.
So what's preventing Mbeki from confronting Mugabe?
The cerebral, reclusive leader has never explained his approach. But the Monitor answers five key questions that help show why he sticks to the path he's chosen.
What is Mbeki's relationship to Mugabe?
Mbeki met Mugabe in 1980, when Mugabe had just taken control of the new nation of Zimbabwe from white colonial rulers.
Mbeki was an exiled member of the African National Congress (ANC), and Mugabe set the tone of their relationship at that moment, the older brother instructing the younger brother on how a successful liberation struggle leader should rule.
"When Mbeki was in exile, he was part of the ANC's diplomatic effort, and you worked with and were friendly with African elites who supported your cause," says Steven Friedman, who covered the liberation struggle in the 1980s and '90s, and now is a research fellow at the Institute for Democracy in Southern Africa (IDASA) in Tshwane, as Pretoria, South Africa is now called.
Mbeki's reluctance to criticize other African leaders was noticed early, when Mbeki was the deputy to South African President Nelson Mandela in the late 1990s.
In 1995, Mr. Mandela was highly critical of the Nigerian military government, which was preparing to execute Nigerian poet and activist Ken Saro-Wiwa. Mbeki assured Mandela that Mr. Saro-Wiwa would be spared, but when the military executed him in November 1995, Mr. Friedman says, "Mandela was incensed, he thought he'd been lied to and deceived."
What power does Mbeki actually have to influence Mugabe?
For years, Mbeki's government has argued that pushing Mugabe to the wall only made the Zimbabwean leader more intransigent, and that gentle persuasion worked better. Indeed, with his firm control over all of the levers of power, including a sizeable army, a well-paid police force, and a well-trained intelligence apparatus, Mugabe is not an easy man to push around.
Yet, Mugabe's greatest weakness now is his lack of legitimacy. The June 27 runoff election was conducted outside the bounds of Zimbabwean law, with levels of violence and intimidation condemned by African observers.
Nelson Mandela, and more recently the African National Congress, have broken from Mbeki by publicly condemning the violence surrounding the Zimbabwean elections.
This would give Mbeki cover should he choose to take a harder line with Mugabe.
"Mugabe has all the power, but Morgan Tsvangirai and the [Movement for Democratic Change] have all the legitimacy, and Mugabe needs Morgan more than Morgan needs Mugabe," says Francis Kornegay, a senior researcher at the Center for Policy Studies in Johannesburg, South Africa.