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US assessment of Tsvangirai, Mutambara & Ncube

A confidential 2007 diplomatic cable from the outgoing American ambassador to Zimbabwe, Christopher Dell, is among the U.S. State Department documents released online by the website WikiLeaks on Sunday.  In the cable, Dell outlines his views of Zimbabwe’s prospects at the time – eight months ahead of the 2008 elections — and gives blunt assessments of key political figures.

Among the highlights:

President Robert Mugabe “has survived for so long because he is more clever and more ruthless than any other politician in Zimbabwe. To give the devil his due, he is a brilliant tactitian (sic) and has long thrived on his ability to abruptly change the rules of the game, radicalize the political dynamic and force everyone else to react to his agenda…”

Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai (now the Prime Minister) “is a brave, committed man and, by and large, a democrat. He is also the only player on the scene right now with real star quality and the ability to rally the masses. But Tsvangarai (sic) is also a flawed figure, not readily open to advice, indecisive and with questionable judgment in selecting those around him. “He is the indispensable element for opposition success, but possibly an albatross around their necks once in power. In short, he is a kind of Lech Walesa character: Zimbabwe needs him, but should not rely on his executive abilities to lead the country’s recovery.”

Arthur Mutambara, leader of a smaller wing of the MDC, “is young and ambitious, attracted to radical, anti-western rhetoric and smart as a whip. But, in many respects he’s a light-weight who has spent too much time reading U.S. campaign messaging manuals and too little thinking about the real issues.

Welshman Ncube (of the Mutambara faction of the MDC) “has proven to be a deeply divisive and destructive player in the opposition ranks and the sooner he is pushed off the stage, the better. But he is useful to many, including the regime and South Africa, so is probably a cross to be borne for some time yet.”

On other opposition politicians: “With few exceptions – Tendayi (sic) Biti, Nelson Chamisa the talent is thin below the top ranks. The great saving grace of the opposition is likely to be found in the diaspora. Most of Zimbabwe’s best professionals, entrepreneurs, businessmen and women, etc., have fled the country. They are the opposition’s natural allies…”

A South African-brokered government of national unity, subsequently ushered in after the 2008 elections by then President Thabo Mbeki, was in 2007 seen by Dell as a “less attractive” option. Dell added: “Mbeki has always favored stability and in his mind this means a ZANU-PF-led GNU, with perhaps a few MDC additions. This solution is more likely to prolong than resolve the crisis and we must guard against letting Pretoria dictate an outcome which perpetuates the status quo at the expense of real change and reform.”

The full text of the cable, as posted on WikiLeaks