The UK is a diminished power in Africaby Richard Dowden / September 18, 2013 / Leave a comment
Published in October 2013 issue of Prospect Magazine
Robert Mugabe: his “jaunty boast” before the election that he would step down if defeated confirmed to many that he felt certain of victory.
The overwhelming victory of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe’s July election is the biggest defeat for the United Kingdom’s policy in Africa in 60 years. Both the British Ambassador and the MI6 head officer in Harare called it wrong. So confident was the government that the winner would be Morgan Tsvangirai, leader of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), that the Department for International Development was already posting people to restart the aid programme and help the new government rebuild the economy. Not since 1951, when the British authorities released Kwame Nkrumah from jail and asked him to form a government has Britain got it so wrong in Africa. Nkrumah led Ghana to independence,
After the Zimbabwe result became clear, Britain’s complaints about the conduct of the polls sounded like the bleating of a football manager after a 4-0 thrashing. Had the margin been 3 or 4 per cent the result could have been challenged. But even though there are many reasons not to call these polls free or fair, the margin of victory was too wide to declare the result illegitimate—the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (Zanu-PF) won 61 per cent of the vote to MDC’s 33 per cent. The election was also endorsed by the regional body, the Southern African Development Community, and by Olusegun Obasanjo, the former Nigerian President who headed the African Union observer mission. Obasanjo had been a powerful ally of Britain and had the casting vote in 2002 when a triumvirate of Commonwealth leaders had to decide whether Zimbabwe should be suspended from the organisation. He voted for suspension with John Howard, the Australian premier, rather than with Thabo Mbeki, the South African President.