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Global Issue 15

see Mugabe. But, by the beginning of 2002, the Abuja process had got nowhere. The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), now sidelined from any active role and shunned by Mugabe, declared: global thi rd quar ter 2013 www.global -br ief ing.org l 73 commonwealth network The Long View a solid Commonwealth achievement. That convenient myth was shattered in Matabeleland three years later. The province, for years the stronghold of Nkomo’s ZAPU and once again at odds with its ZANU rivals, was laid waste by the North Koreantrained Fifth Brigade. Perhaps 20,000 may have died, including women and children. The world averted its eyes, as ZANU devoured ZAPU and the true nature of Mugabe’s rule began to emerge. Yet, in the eyes of many, land reform was the issue. Rhodesia had only begun to be settled by whites after 1890. After the Second World War, in particular, large numbers of demobilised British servicemen were allocated prime agricultural land. For them, it was an undreamed of path to property and wealth. But it only worsened a gross injustice where, by the time of the 1979 Lancaster House Agreement, the whites (never more than five per cent of the total) owned 80 per cent of the land (largely the most productive). Sonny Ramphal, then Commonwealth Secretary-General, insisted that the US and the UK provide undertakings for the purchase of land from white farmers, and this was agreed. Some progress was made in the decade that followed. But a decisive turning point came with the UK election of 1997, when the Labour Party under Tony Blair won a landslide victory. In reply to the Zimbabwe President’s request for greater UK impetus behind land reform, Clare Short, the international development minister, wrote an explosive letter. Citing her Irish extraction, Short said new Labour would not be bound by British colonial legacies. No more UK money would be provided to compensate white farmers. Angry and humiliated, and beset by war veterans demanding better pensions and land, Mugabe sought revenge. The slide into illegal farm seizures, bloodshed and chaos had begun. Zimbabwe was an issue that beset Don McKinnon from the outset. Within a month of taking office as Secretary-General, the former New Zealand foreign minister had travelled to Harare to meet Mugabe. Taking tea in the State House, they talked about the prospects for land reform and fair elections. But, with violence and farm invasions worsening, it was to be their last substantive tête-à-tête. The Commonwealth did what it could: foreign ministers met in Abuja in September 2001 to agree a process both to re-start ordered land reform and address the violence and human rights abuses that were fouling Zimbabwe’s democracy. Ministers also travelled to Harare, with McKinnon, to Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) 1999, Durban, South Africa, with Robert Mugabe (left) and Singapore’s Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong (second from right) Nigerian President Abdulsalami Abubakar, already in the field, they made contingency plans. A Troika would be formed, comprising the current Chairman-in-Office (the Australian, John Howard), the previous chair (South Africa’s Thabo Mbeki) and the next chair (Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria). In the event of an adverse COG report, the Troika was expected to take immediate action. Between 9 and 11 March 2002, Zimbabwe voted. Although Mugabe claimed victory with 56 per cent of the vote, his MDC challenger, Morgan Tsvangirai, pushed him to a tight finish. While the Organisation of African Unity declared the election “transparent, credible, free and fair”, strong condemnation came from the Commonwealth and other international and local observers. The European Union, having already clashed with Mugabe, had pulled its observer team out of Zimbabwe prior to the elections, and announced sanctions against the ruling elite. The COG, in contrast, reported that the campaign “was marred by a high level of politically motivated violence and intimidation”. This had created “a climate of fear and suspicion”, they said. Coupled with other notable failings, the COG concluded “that the conditions in Zimbabwe did not adequately allow for a free expression of will by the electors”. The response of the Troika was immediate, suspending Zimbabwe from the councils of the Commonwealth for one year. 80% of land owned by 5% white minority in 1979 20% of land now redistributed 13.7 million population (2012: World Bank) 24,411% inflation in the year 2007 “The situation in Zimbabwe constitutes a serious and persistent violation of the Commonwealth’s fundamental political values and the rule of law.” On the eve of the elections, Commonwealth leaders met in Coolum, Australia and addressed the Zimbabwe issue. Fearing the worst, and with a Commonwealth Observer Group (COG), headed by former 


Global Issue 15
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