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WikiLeaks will impact on politics in Zimbabwe

By Takura Zhangazha

The American and Zimbabwean governments both have a right to an opinion on what goes on in either of their two respective countries. Some of these opinions are bound to be impolite or what is now commonly referred to as undiplomatic. Some of these opinions are public, some are secret.

On Sunday November 28 2010 a freedom of information organisation called WikiLeaks released an initial 20 000 classified or secret diplomatic briefs from many American embassies to the same country’s intelligence and state departments. One of those briefs as revealed by WikiLeaks, was on Zimbabwe from former United States Ambassador to Zimbabwe Christopher Dell.

The date of this brief is July 13 2007 and its contents relate to what Dell considers his understanding of the nature of politics in Zimbabwe.  This includes his own judgment of the characters of the major political players within the context of the period in the run-up to the 2008 election.

In this brief, a lot of rather unpleasant and somewhat unflattering statements are made about Zimbabwean political players, either those that were in government or those that at that time were in mainstream political opposition.

In a statement on the same leaked brief, the current US Ambassador to Zimbabwe, Charles Ray, alluded to the truth that American foreign policy is determined by that country’s President while at the same time expressing the American government’s disappointment with WikiLeaks for disclosing this to the global public.

He did not however refute the leak’s veracity and therefore anyone would be forgiven for not thinking that Ambassador Ray’s statement has put an end to the matter. Because our country’s politics has remained largely the same both in terms of players and recurrent political issues, the WikiLeaks disclosure cannot be wished away as an unusual or peculiarly “entertaining” story.

In fact, this leaked briefing will have a serious bearing on the conduct of all the major political players that are signatory to the GPA primarily because of its confirmation and refutation of various perceptions that the three political principals have expressed over and about each other since the formation of the inclusive government.

More so, given the fact that the country is bracing for another electoral contest similar to that of 2008. Former Ambassador Dell, in his leaked brief, evidently suggests that his government’s policy should remain that of supporting democratic change in Zimbabwe and that the major partner for this is the MDC-T. This is not unusual to Zimbabwean politics. Various foreign governments have assisted many political parties before and after our national independence.

Even Zanu PF was considered a “partner” not only by past American governments, but also by American-related organisations. The only different factor around the newly leaked brief by Ambassador Dell is timing and context. And Zanu PF’s false sense of entitlement to the country will be made apparent for a number of reasons in the immediate aftermath of it.

This statement fits snugly into the Zanu PF narrative that the MDCs are working closely with the West, in this instance, the Americans, and therefore undermining the country’s sovereignty.

The former ambassador’s brief will therefore be used by Zanu PF propagandists as evidence that points to the latter political allegation as though it were an absolute truth. It will be quoted ad nauseum in the state media, at that party’s political rallies and at their national conference scheduled for mid-December.

Zanu PF will also use this brief to attempt at a regional and continental campaign to undermine the authenticity of the MDCs both with Sadc and the African Union. But there are limits to which Zanu PF can use this brief since there are more diplomatic leaks that are anticipated from WikiLeaks. Some of which will be harmful to Zanu PF.

The MDC-T, on the other hand, will be smarting from this particular briefing. Where and if they knew how the then ambassador viewed the character of their party’s national leadership, this leaked document may not be domestically significant but may cause Sadc and the AU to approach the party with greater caution.

But this is also dependent on how other leaked secret diplomatic documents are either damaging or supportive to the same said AU and Sadc governments. It may also cause the MDC-T leaders mentioned in the brief to reassess what exactly Dell meant by his character judgment of them, and whether or not successor US ambassadors have been clandestinely sending the same sort of briefs on their party.

When all is said and done however, Dell’s statement is a storm that the MDC-T can ride, especially if it focuses on maintaining its linkages with its own grassroots structures and the people of Zimbabwe in preparation for what is now an almost certain to be held general election next year.

The MDC-M, on the other hand, has less to lose from the whole issue of the briefing. It is a smaller party and its president as well as its secretary-general can only benefit from whatever publicity they will receive as a result of the largely disparaging remarks made about them by Dell. They would however have to be cautious of speaking the same language as Zanu PF over and about the leaked briefing.

As a final point, there is nothing wrong with the leaking of diplomatic briefings as done by WikiLeaks. What this has done is accentuate access to and freedom of information that makes governments accountable for their actions to their citizens. And that even countries that invented the Internet have to brace for a new form of a public accountability framework or else shut the Worldwide Web down.

But as for us, we should take advantage of the leaks to make our own government, our political parties, inclusive or otherwise, accountable for their statements and actions, in principle and in practice. E-mail: [email protected]

Article originally published by Newsday