Libyan envoy’s defection sparks discord in Zimbabwe’s GNU

By Nqaba Matshazi

ZANU-PF spokesman Rugare Gumbo: Taher el-Megrahi can only return to Harare if African Union recognises Libyan rebels.

Zimbabwe’s ruling coalition is in a tailspin on how to handle the defection of the Libyan ambassador to the country, with President Mugabe’s Zanu PF party ordering he should leave. Libya, for a while was a long-time benefactor for Zimbabwe and Mugabe, in an apparent act of loyalty, says the flying of the National Transition Council’s (NTC) flag in Zimbabwe is illegal, ordering that the ambassador, Taher el Megrahi be on the next flight to the strife-torn North African country.

In the event that Gaddafi, popularly referred to as Brother Leader, is finally ousted, there are suggestions that Zimbabwe could be one of the countries to offer him refuge. Zanu PF spokesman, Rugare Gumbo argues that El Megrahi would only be accepted in Zimbabwe when the African Union recognised the NTC and he is reappointed ambassador again. “So that means he must go back, and if he is reappointed by the new government, which is recognised by the African Union, then Zimbabwe will not have any problem with that ambassador,” Gumbo said.

On Friday the AU fell short of recognising the rebels and instead urged dialogue between the NTC and emissaries of Gaddafi, something which both sides have refused to do since the outset of the rebellion in February. But Zanu PF’s coalition partners were singing from a different page, arguing that El Megrahi be allowed to remain in Zimbabwe as he was only following the will of the Libyan people. “As much as we don’t want interference in our own country, we can’t also interfere in the decisions and politics of other countries,” Nhlanhla Dube, spokesman of the MDC said.

MDC-T spokesman, Douglas Mwonzora concurred saying what Zimbabwe was doing was akin to interfering in the internal dynamics of Libya. El Megrahi, like many Libyan envoys across the world, defected to the rebels when the NTC rolled into the Tripoli, the country’s North African capital city. Scores of Libyans also celebrated outside the country’s offices in Harare leading to the hoisting of the new flag, a great act of transgression, according to Zimbabwe authorities.

Political analyst, Trevor Maisiri said Zimbabwe was being cautious in its diplomacy and might not want to be seen to be jumping the gun, but should respect the Libyans’ right to self-determination. “African nations, including Zimbabwe, have not come out in support of the NTC, mainly because they are being cautious and protective in their diplomacy,” Maisiri argued. “But because the Libyans seem to be unanimous in removing Gaddafi, then that position must be respected by other African nations. That is the whole essence of the respect for sovereignty.”

Gabriel Shumba, of the Exiles Forum, based in South Africa, says Mugabe and Zanu PF may have benefitted from Gaddafi’s benevolence and were caught between a rock and a hard place — either to dump their long-time ally or to ignore the events in Libya and pretend they were not happening. “It is inevitable that Zimbabwe’s government, which largely comprises Zanu PF elements that have benefitted from Gaddafi’s largesse, would refuse to accept what is staring it in the face, the imminent departure of a fellow dictator,” he said. Shumba said parallels between the Gaddafi regime and the Zimbabwe government could be drawn, as both Mugabe and Gaddafi shouted pan-Africanism yet they allegedly oppressed people in their countries.

“The most glaring parallel is the peoples’ cry for leadership change when a former revolutionary turns into a monster and starts committing crimes against humanity while labelling those agitating for change, instruments of the West,” he continued. “What is also true of the Libyan dictator and our own president is the fact that they shout pan-African slogans to garner support from fellow African leaders while they commit heinous crimes.”

Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition regional coordinator, Dewa Mavhinga on the other hand, argued that Zanu PF did not want to recognise the NTC as they feared the same situation may be replicated in Zimbabwe. “It signifies an underlying fear by Zimbabwe that events that have ended Gaddafi’s dictatorship may be replicated in Zimbabwe, where the people are struggling under the yoke of oppression,” he opined.

While observers have pointed out that Mugabe and his government may be swimming against the tide in not recognising the NTC, he might be protecting the investment that embattled leader Muammar Gaddafi poured into Zimbabwe when the country was literally on its knees. It has emerged that the Libyans have a stake of more than 14%, worth about US$12,6 million, in CBZ Bank, an institution that the government also has shares in. The North Africans also have huge investments in tourism and agriculture — deals which the ambassador says he wants to have a re-look at, as Gaddafi and not Libya were benefitting from the bilateral agreements. Gaddafi reportedly bailed out Mugabe with a US$360 million fuel deal when the country had literally run dry and Mugabe might loathe having to turn his back on an ally whom he feels is being persecuted by the West.

Nqaba Matshazi writes for The Standard in Harare. This story first appeared in the paper’s weekend edition last Sunday and can be read at: http://www.thestandard.co.zw/local/31302-libya-envoys-defection-sparks-discord-in-gnu.html

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