Discussion with NDI's Senior Associate for Africa Christopher Fomunyoh and George Shire on
BBC'c Newshour

May 5, 2003

Download and listen to this interview (MP3, 1.6 mb)

Owen Bennett Jones (Newshour): This is Owen Bennett Jones with Newshour. President Mugabe's supporters say he's a man who's stayed true to his anti-colonialist ideals. His critics say he's a leader that's plunged his country into poverty. Well, for years now, Britain has led the diplomatic campaign against Mr. Mugabe, but now the presidents of South Africa, Nigeria, and Malawi are highly involved; they're in Zimbabwe, talking to the President about Zimbabwe's political future. Well, after the talks today, the Nigerian president said he'd come to initiate a process, but that the people of Zimbabwe must be the ones to decide their own future.

(pre-recorded) President Olusegun Obansanjo: What we have come to try to do is to get negotiations resumed. Because we know that once you are able to get negotiation resumed, the follow-up political issues, the economic issues, social issues that are bedaubing Zimbabwe today will be addressed. Only the people of Zimbabwe themselves, that will be the architects of their own fortune and political coming-together.

Jones: The three African presidents also spoke to Mr. Mugabe's main opponent, Morgan Tsvangirai, and afterwards he was asked about his legal challenge to President Mugabe's rule: Would the opposition drop that challenge if there were a meeting between representatives of the Movement for Democratic Change and President Mugabe's Zanu PF?

(pre-recorded) Morgan Tsvangirai: Well, there is substantial progress, an unimpeded progress, to the resolution of the crisis; the court case moves it farther away, because there will be no sort of dispute. So, we have [emphasized] to the three leaders that it is not an issue to stop people from talking. Because dialogue is important, it is the progress on the dialogue that will determine the fate of the court case.

Jones: But it sounds like it may not be as easy as that; there could be what diplomats call a sequencing problem. President Mugabe has not ruled out some sort of compromise with the opposition, but he has said that first the challenge to his presidency must be withdrawn.

(pre-recorded) President Robert Mugabe: I am president of the country. I have legitimacy, from the election and from the process that's sworn me as president of the country. The MDC has said, "We don't recognize you." Does the MDC now say they recognize me? That's the issue. And, uh, if they do, well, that means the action in the court has got to be withdrawn and we start talking, and we can move ahead.

Jones: Well, the controversy surrounding Mr. [Robert] Mugabe [President of Zimbabwe] raises this question: Are the economic problems in countries like Zimbabwe the result of poor leadership or the outcome of broader factors such as the enduring legacy of colonialism? Or, indeed, a little of both? Well, to discuss that, I am joined now by George Shire, a Zimbabwean academic close to Zanu PF and Dr. Christopher Fomunyoh, who's a Senior Associate for Africa of the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs in Washington.

Dr. Formunyoh, welcome. To you, what's your view? Is it, is it leadership, or history?

Chris Fomunyoh: I believe it's leadership, because, um, colonial rule obviously was a terrible moment in African history and in human history as a whole. But, four decades after colonial rule ended, we cannot blame all of Africa's problems today on the legacy of colonial rule. It's a question of bad governance and it's a lack of visionary leadership. I'm indeed saddened to have President Mugabe view this solely as a question of "I" and "me." What about the people? What about the country that the leaders of Africa have pledged to serve?

Jones: George Shire, what do you think? Leadership?

George Shire: Well, uh, first of all, that, uh, I think we need to, as a matter of record, say that for the, between the 23 years of Mugabe's presidency, two-thirds of that time, Robert Mugabe was everybody's best customer indeed. Went and received all sorts of international accolades for the way in which he led Zimbabwe. The crisis in Zimbabwe begins at that moment in which the land distribution program begins to emerge in earnest because it touches on the interest of modern national commercial farmers and the international community, and so on. Now, everybody can see that. The other thing to say is that, you know, what is happening in Zimbabwe now is uh, comes out of a facilitator's framework which is, produced a five-point plan: One, much of the acknowledgement is spent on two political parties in Zimbabwe and to do so requires Morgan Tsvangirai on the one hand, and Robert Mugabe on the other. To recognize themselves, each other, as leaders of political institutions. So this is not about Robert Mugabe personally, it's to do with the respect of political institutions in the country.

Jones: Let me just put your first point to Dr. Formunyoh, though: That, when President Mugabe addressed the colonial legacy, if you like, the land question, then the problems began, which suggests that it is not just leadership, there are broader issues at stake.

Fomunyoh: Obviously there are broader issues at stake. But, you know, part of leadership is the ability to be able to address the issues that you are confronted once you are elected into public office. Leaders do not choose their problems in advance, they, however, are tested; the mettle of leadership is tested in the way in which they address these problems. Obviously, land reform is the number one issue in Zimbabwe. And my sense is that every Zimbabwean, black or white, ruling party or opposition party, agrees on the need to undertake serious land reform. The problem is, the question then is, how do you get there? Is land reform synonymous with one individual sticking to power at all costs? And here we have President Mugabe, who served his country well in the past, and I agree with that, who led a liberation movement, and who is going to be remembered, most likely, not for what he did to liberate Zimbabwe, but for the way in which he has brought the country down because of the electoral dispute.

Shire: But, Robert Mugabe will be remembered for having delivered, at last, the land question, which has dominated Zimbabwean politics for the last hundred years. Which is still pivotal to understand ideologically how the region works. So, he'll become a symbol of that. Robert Mugabe has not been working in isolation as an individual, he's been working with others. And if you look at successes, they far outweigh the minuses. He's not an angel, but he certainly is not the devil.

Jones: Let me put it like this, Doctor: Can you give examples where, in your view, better African leaders have led to better results?

Fomunyoh: Absolutely! I mean, fortunately, in the last ten years as we've seen democratization take root, as we've seen the end of apartheid in South Africa, leaders have begun to emerge on the continent that have proven the fact that despite Africa's problems, and I admit, there are problems, that genuine regional leadership can make a difference. President Mandela comes to mind, but there are other Heads-of-state, that probably don't meet the stature of Mandela because of his particular unique experience; but President Diouf of Senegal, President Konare in Mali, even Jerry Rawlings in Ghana, Chissano in Mozambique, leaders who have known when to be effective, but also when to be able to pass the mantle of leadership to a new, younger generation. And I think that really underscores the fact that leadership matters.

Shire: We would not have had the peaceful settlement with Mozambique without the involvement of Zimbabwean troops at the success, with, and through the leadership of Robert Mugabe. You would not have had the orchestration of the arms struggle to the last conclusion of the defeat of apartheid, without to the involvement of the front line setting, the critical involvement of Robert Mugabe. You would not have had the stability of what is now called South Africa Republic community, as a regional institution, without the pivotal role played Robert Mugabe, who has been a chair of G7, who has chaired the African Union positively, who has won accolades from African Union leadership themselves, and so the idea- Part of the difficulty here is that a lot of people blindly have conflated Robert Mugabe as an individual and the problems of Zimbabwe. And they have tried to mask their own involvement in this question, and that's the problem.

Jones: A quick response, Doctor?

Fomunyoh: Precisely, George, I think you put your finger on the fundamental issue, for Mr. Mugabe and his supporters. Is he prepared, at this point, to stake all that he may have accomplished through the history Zimbabwe and the whole southern African region—and I give you that because it is a matter of public record—is he then prepared to stake all of this, just by holding onto power, how is he going to be remembered-

(Shire's voice can be heard in the background)

Shire (interrupting): I'm, I'm sorry, that is not the case. Robert Mugabe has been saying, since nigh to the year 2000, this is the last term of his office. And he also has been saying that the Lancaster House Constitution, which is a British creature, is not acceptable to any Zimbabwean. That is what people are talking about now, is how to manage the future. That seems to be a fairly responsible thing to do.

Jones: Okay, guys, we've run out of time, we'll ask you back another time, but thanks very much debating that with us today. That was George Shire and Dr. Christopher Fomunyoh.