By Owen Gagare
HARARE- The United States government offered President Robert Mugabe an exit package which would have guaranteed a soft landing for the octogenarian leader just prior to the 2008 harmonised elections. The offer was declined. The US government was confident that Mugabe would be defeated in the elections.
Former US ambassador to Zimbabwe James McGee made the offer to then Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare minister Nicholas Goche on March 10 2008, but a “supremely confident” Goche dismissed the ambassador arguing Mugabe would win comfortably.
oche refused to comment on the subject yesterday only saying: “Ah, I don’t comment on those things.”
According to a cable released by whistle-blowing website WikiLeaks, McGee told Goche Zimbabwe was in a transition and the US was willing to help Mugabe secure a smooth exit from office and offer him protection from possible prosecution.
“Speaking in direct language, the ambassador averred that Zimbabwe was in a transition that would result in Mugabe’s exit from office. Noting that the US had a firm policy on Zimbabwe, he stated that we would be willing to assist Mugabe, now, to achieve a dignified departure,” reads the cable.
If Mugabe lost the election, it said, he would be exposed to prosecution for his past misdeeds. He could talk to the US, make plans to leave, and protect himself.
“Goche declined to follow-up on the ambassador’s offer. He agreed that Zimbabwe was in a transition, but argued that a Zanu PF change in leadership would occur at the Zanu PF congress in December 2009. Mugabe would not lose the election and there would be no run-off.”
Goche said Mugabe’s support was “as strong as ever, particularly in the rural areas”. He said the ward-based elections worked in favour of Zanu PF which had strong structures. “As for cracks in Zanu PF, Goche said this had always been the case, but the party continued to be viable,” reads the cable.
Goche was dismissive of Mavambo leader Simba Makoni, whom he said had never run for office and did not have a constituency.
“Any votes he received would be at the expense of the MDC’s Morgan Tsvangirai. This was good for Zanu PF. He added that Dumiso Dabengwa’s defection to Makoni was insignificant. Dabengwa had run for parliament in 2005 and polled few votes; he had little support in Matabeleland.”
The Ambassador stressed that re-engagement would be based on Zimbabwe’s compliance with US principles, including free and fair elections, return to the rule of law and observation of human rights. However, Goche reportedly interrupted McGee arguing that rule of law and human rights were just a euphemism for returning land to the whites.
He said Zimbabwe wanted to be treated just like other countries. He asked why Zimbabwe was being unfairly treated when it had co-operated with the US in countries such as as Liberia, Somalia and Angola.
“When the ambassador noted the importance of economic reform, Goche responded that Zimbabwe had large mineral resources, particularly diamonds and platinum. These resources would be used to pay off international and bilateral debts. He maintained that Zimbabwe was in the process of increasing agricultural productivity; increased productivity would allow Zimbabwe to tackle its inflation problem.”
However, on elections, Goche said he was disappointed that his push for independent election observers had been crushed by the Foreign Affairs minister.
In his comment McGee said Goche’s supreme confidence that Mugabe would win elections may have been due to confidence in Zanu PF’s ability to rig and the absence of additional Zanu PF defections to Makoni.
“During the meeting, Goche cryptically mentioned that we would understand Mugabe’s strength when we learned who had visited with the president earlier in the day. An intermediary later told us that Goche, prior to meeting with the ambassador, had met with Mugabe. Mugabe told Goche that he had met with Solomon Mujuru who had pledged his loyalty,” reads the cable.
McGee stated he did not believe Mugabe could win a free and fair election.
Mugabe went on to lose the first round of elections to MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai who, however, failed to garner enough votes to be declared an outright winner. Mugabe contested the runoff alone after Tsvangirai pulled out citing widespread violence and intimidation of his supporters. The Zimbabwe Independent