Nuanced African political analysis in the New York Times?!

We’ve all wondered the same:

Mr. Mbeki’s biographers, his colleagues, even his brother debate why he has stuck with his approach despite years of bad faith by Mr. Mugabe. Mr. Mbeki’s consistency is variously attributed to a hubristic resistance to admitting failure, a world view deeply suspicious of Western interference in African affairs, a hard-nosed calculation of political interests and a realistic assessment of the limits of South Africa’s power when confronted with an unrelenting autocrat.

The answer?

Mr. Mbeki’s policy, typically called “quiet diplomacy,” is built on the staunch conviction that his special bond with Mr. Mugabe can resolve the crisis in Zimbabwe through patient negotiations, his colleagues and chroniclers says.

…South African officials contend that Mr. Mbeki’s mediation led to a relatively fair election in the first round of voting in March, with tallies posted at polling stations, a plurality of votes for Mr. Tsvangirai and a majority in Parliament for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.

“His approach has produced results,” said Themba Maseko, the spokesman for the South African government.

Read the full article

While almost everyone may disagree, I think this is exactly the right approach. And almost no leader in the world has had more experience or success negotiating the end to armed (and unarmed) conflicts in the region.

(I’m also willing to bet that Mbeki is being quietly encouraged to maintain his stance by the other world leaders. It’s called Good Cop, Bad Cop.)

This deal is time-limited, however–Mbeki is obliged to step down in 2009, and his likely replacement (Zuma) is not nearly so conciliatory.

Okay, I promise to stop writing about Zimbabwe now.

9 thoughts on “Nuanced African political analysis in the New York Times?!

  1. you’re right chris, there’s no post mbeki plan.

    australia’s tory rag thought so too, so it’s come up with this this synthesis of historical, geo-political and economic considerations.

  2. Was “quiet diplomacy” the right apporach when Reagan was refusing to condemn Apartheid South Africa ?

    Plus Mbeki tends to get involved a bit much when he negotiated. In Ivory Coast, he clearly sided with Gbagbo for a long while and things started getting better after someone else took over the negotiation.

    It looks like he’s trying to out-african the African Union. Really.

  3. Chris, with all respect I think you’ve got this one wrong. You’ve determined that Mbeki’s EIGHT PLUS years of “quiet diplomacy” have been a success? By what metric? Since 2000, the growth collapse, hunger, repression, and exodus have all intensified. What exactly would demonstrate to you that Mbeki’s policy is a failure? Another decade or so of catastrophe? Death of the entire population?

    Mbeki could turn off the electricity any time he wanted, and could therefore cause immediate if difficult change in Zimbabwe if he desired to. The sad fact is that he does not desire to. Yes the transition would be difficult but the growth collapse, emigration, etc. in Zimbabwe are already comparable to those seen in some countries at war, so how much worse would it need to get, exactly, before you would call Mbeki’s inflexible decade of “quiet diplomacy” a failure?

    Mbeki’s “quietness” is more often symptomatic of flat-out apathy. At the World Economic Forum for Africa in Cape Town in 2006, I saw all three of Mbeki’s speeches, and he did not mention HIV/AIDS *once*. This in the country on earth with the largest number of HIV-infected people. His silence on that issue is more than a decade old. That silence doesn’t conceal behind-the-scenes virtue; instead it cloaks criminal neglect and ignorance which Mbeki has never publicly moved past, a neglect that has resulted directly in untold numbers of deaths in his own populace. This is a man who does not change his mind even in the face of the clearest possible evidence.

    I don’t know what facts you have access to that suggest to you that he’s any better on Zim, but I’d love to know what they are!

  4. I’m saying you need just one leader who can talk to both sides, and who can have the ear of Mugabe without embarrassing the man. Just one. Someone to keep the lines of communication open. Someone to speak truth to power. Just one. Because once you cut Mugabe off completely, it will get worse. Much worse. And the last remaining option with be military.

  5. I’m saying you need just one leader who can talk to both sides, and who can have the ear of Mugabe without embarrassing the man. Just one. Someone to keep the lines of communication open. Someone to speak truth to power. Just one.

    Chris, what does he say to Mugabe ? Does he really talk truth to power ? Did Reagan “privately” pressured Pete Botha ? How do we know ?

    I can’t think of one historical example of the “understanding” really manage anything. Even the US got concessions from Israel by publically putting their fist on the table and saying “i’m not with you on this one”.

    This is literally the same excuse we heard about Pinochet, Samoza, Mobutu and many others.. “we’re talking to them”. Yeah right.

  6. please don’t stop writing about zim, it’s very interesting! (although i also think that you overestimate the role mbeki is playing…)

  7. I am not sure Mbeki is really trying all that hard to do what’s best (or even what he thinks is best) for Zimbabwean people. So then you get the usual alterior motives, also mentioned in the post: a world view deeply suspicious of Western interference in African affairs, the sanctity of sovereignty,… In this respect, I thought this rather interesting, because it digs a little deeper: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/apr/17/whymbekistandsback

  8. Hi Chris, this is an excellent discussion with a lot of great points. I think you’re right about needed to have “quiet diplomacy”, but I think the situation has gone on way too long for that. It’s estimated that tens of thousands have died as result of the economic disaster that is Zimbabwe. I don’t think the lives of the people still living in Zimbabwe is worth waiting for. Of course, nothing will happen…