HARARE -- Reconciliation talks mean that our self-inaugurated president Robert Mugabe is now unlikely to face justice in Zimbabwe but it is hard to see where he could run from international law--and he must know that.
The last colonial-vintage ruler, Ian Smith, spent the twilight of his years peacefully at his Shurugwi farm. Credited with a dirty anti-liberation war that accounted for 20,000 deaths in the 1970s, Smith received a handshake of forgiveness on the eve of freedom in April 1980 from a Mugabe who had been expected to vent his Marxist-Leninist vengeance on him.
Now national hatred has turned on Mugabe.
Mugabe’s political resumé features the Gukurahundi massacres in Matabeleland with North-Korean-trained troops, Operation Murambatsvina that “cleaned out the filth” of slum-dwellers, military intervention in the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the abduction, torture, murder and displacement of thousands of Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) activists: these fall squarely into the category of crimes against humanity.
Now faced with the real prospect of him losing power, many of us believe that for his every past action there should now be an opposite and equal retaliation.
There might be, however, a substantial part of the present generation that will want to adopt a more conciliatory position to facilitate rapid nation building.
We cannot expect any support for his prosecution from our neighbours (except Botswana). Many Africans of all types support Mugabe and really believe his economic vandalism is caused by Western (principally British) machinations.
Other Africans tell me Mugabe is not as bad as Uganda’s Idi Amin or Ethiopia’s Haile Mengistu--but this callous moral relativism means nothing to the dead, the tortured or the fearful in Zimbabwe or to more than two million refugees.
The only person with the moral authority to stand up and call the dictator a dictator is our neighbour Nelson Mandela but his single mild comment about “failure of leadership,” last month during the election terror, gave the impression that all Zimbabwe needs is a few policy adjustments.
In practice, it is difficult to see what trade-offs Southern African Development Community-appointed mediator President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa can demand in order to insulate Mugabe from national or international prosecution.
Pursuit of consensus like the 1979 British-brokered Lancaster House Agreement calls for large-scale compromises but this depends on the ability of MDC to extinguish the anger of its supporters and allies who bore the full brunt of Mugabe’s post-2000 political wrath followed by the latest post-election campaign of terror.
Many groups are crying foul for being shut out of the negotiations in Pretoria between Mugabe’s representatives and the MDC: the 1998 People’s Convention that gave rise to the formal opposition was a concoction of disparate civil society bedfellows.
Ironically, it is in Mugabe’s own interest to encourage an inclusive negotiating team since reconciliation and forgiveness are backed by the Zimbabwe Council of Churches, the Christian Alliance of Zimbabwe and the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe.
Yet the very relationship between freedom and justice is a potential hazard for Mugabe and his cronies.
If Zimbabweans suddenly find themselves once more with a credible judiciary, even where Mugabe’s legitimacy is no longer a priority issue, aggrieved citizens--and there are millions--may use their new-found freedom to challenge any immunity clause.
And international law now makes it impossible for dictators to retire in comfort to the Côte d’Azur or even inside their own country: the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor filed charges of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes against Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir last month, around the time Bosnian-Serb leader Radovan Karadzic was mysteriously seized to face justice and while the trial of fallen Liberian ruler Charles Taylor continues at the ICC.
Paradoxically, it makes dictators harder to shift as they have nowhere to hide. China didn’t seem to want him at the Olympics but they have no problem selling him arms so maybe they or his friends in North Korea will have him. Any offers?
Rejoice Ngwenya has been involved in constitutional research and electoral supervision from 2000 to the present.