Time to confront Mugabe

A man determined to cling to power, writes the former Cabinet Minister

Did anyone seriously imagine that Robert Mugabe would tolerate a democratic Presidential election on 27 June? Having lost the last election, he and his party were never going to risk another defeat.

In March, no amount of poll rigging, intimidation or brutality against opponents could stifle the bravery of Zimbabweans voting against him. For the first time, local election results were posted up in public. For the first time people were able to safeguard the ballot by sending these results to independent monitoring centres - a process that revealed a clear win for the opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai.

Now Zanu-PF is determined not to get caught a second time, and they are leaving nothing to chance. Hence the double arrest of Tsvangirai on patently spurious grounds; the banning of NGOs; the harassment of British and US diplomats on observer work; and the torture and extra-judicial killings of those suspected of being Mugabe's opponents.

Diplomats question whether the army and the security services would countenance a Tsvangirai victory, since the state is indistinguishable from Zanu-PF.

So it will not surprise anyone if Mugabe wins this month's run-off, despite the resounding call of his long-suffering people for an end to their nightmare of widespread starvation, economic collapse and tyranny. Mugabe is determined to cling on to power regardless: he always was.

What diplomats and southern African leaders have been unwilling to acknowledge is that Mugabe is not open to conventional diplomacy. The truth is that Zimbabwe represents an epic failure of policy: for Britain, for South Africa, the African Union, EU, UN, Commonwealth - indeed, for everyone concerned.

What has long been needed is an African solution to this African crisis, and an end to the prevarication and complicity of African leaders.

Though embarrassed by Mugabe, African leaders have deferred to him as the heroic liberation leader of the 1970s, rather than condemning him for the corrupt tyrant he has become. It is true that Archbishop Desmond Tutu has denounced Mugabe for betraying the freedom struggle he once so bravely led against racist white-minority rule. But Tutu has been a lone voice.

This has been a tragedy not just for Zimbabweans but for Thabo Mbeki, and his noble vision of an "African renaissance". The ultimate irony is that millions of refugees have escaped across the Limpopo river into South Africa - only to become victims of xenophobic violence, perpetrated by South Africa's own poor and dispossessed.

Meanwhile, southern Africa's discourse on Zimbabwe evokes memories of attacks on the anti-apartheid movement: Zimbabwe's "problems" are an "internal matter" and there should be no "outside interference". European criticism of Mugabe is tantamount to "colonialism" or even "racism".

The UN assistant secretary general, Haile Menkerios, has tried to facilitate a solution (possibly a government of national unity).

So, what is the solution?

International observers must be allowed to monitor the election, and must be given full access to the country. If Mugabe loses, there must be both an internationally managed exit plan, and an orderly transfer of power. This will require global engagement: from the UN, EU and, above all, from Zimbabwe's neighbours in the Southern African Development Community.

Mugabe must be left with no alternative but to respect the democratic will of the people.

Peter Hain is MP for Neath and a former Africa minister