WikiLeaks’ gift to Robert Mugabe

The political and media establishment’s assault on WikiLeaks has had the unfortunate effect of creating two camps — one for which WikiLeaks is a band of cyber-terrorists and the other in which WikiLeaks’ embattled status fosters a sense that all challenges are unwarranted.

At this point, I still believe that WikiLeaks’ actions pose a legitimate challenge to the cancerous growth of secrecy in the West’s nominal democracies. If however I was living under the oppressive rule of the Mugabe regime in Zimbabwe, I don’t think I’d have a favorable view of Julian Assange and his cohorts. Indeed, in this instance, I’d say WikiLeaks fucked up — perhaps catastrophically.

Christopher R. Albon writes:

Last year, early on Christmas Eve morning, representatives from the U.S., United Kingdom, Netherlands, and the European Union arrived for a meeting with Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai. Appointed prime minister earlier that year as part of a power-sharing agreement after the fraud- and violence-ridden 2008 presidential election, Tsvangirai and his political party, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), are considered Zimbabwe’s greatest hopes for unseating the country’s long-time de facto dictator Robert Mugabe and bringing democratic reforms to the country.

The topic of the meeting was the sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe by a collection of western countries, including the U.S. and E.U. Tsvangirai told the western officials that, while there had been some progress in the last year, Mugabe and his supporters were dragging their feet on delivering political reforms. To overcome this, he said that the sanctions on Zimbabwe “must be kept in place” to induce Mugabe into giving up some political power. The prime minister openly admitted the incongruity between his private support for the sanctions and his public statements in opposition. If his political adversaries knew Tsvangirai secretly supported the sanctions, deeply unpopular with Zimbabweans, they would have a powerful weapon to attack and discredit the democratic reformer.

Later that day, the U.S. embassy in Zimbabwe dutifully reported the details of the meeting to Washington in a confidential U.S. State Department diplomatic cable. And slightly less than one year later, WikiLeaks released it to the world.

In Zimbabwe’s The Standard, Nqaba Matshazi writes:

The recent WikiLeaks cable releases could have afforded President Robert Mugabe ammunition to call for elections next year, with his main argument that his coalition partner, Morgan Tsvangirai was in bed with the West.

For years now, Mugabe has claimed that Tsvangirai was a pliant tool for Britain and America and revelations that the Prime Minister called for the West to maintain sanctions against Zimbabwe will only strengthen the veteran leader’s resolve to hold elections.

The removal of sanctions is listed as one of the priority issues in the Global Political Agreement (GPA) and hawks in Mugabe’s Zanu PF party are already screaming treason and are using the cables as an excuse to call for the end of the inclusive government.

Political analysts last week told The Standard that the leaked cables were fitting well into Zanu PF’s agenda and they would use them to confront the government.

Trevor Maisiri said Zanu PF would now use the cables as an excuse to call for the end of the inclusive government charging that they were getting rid of imperialist influences in the government.

“Zanu PF will obviously see these leaks as a bonus to their already rubber-stamped position of early elections,” he said.

“What Zanu PF may then do is craft their message upon the urgency of having election so as to retire the MDC-T out of government and thereby ensure that there is a blockade of the USA influence in Zimbabwean affairs.”

South Africa’s Business Day reports:

Zimbabwean government’s threat to investigate treason charges against Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai over his confidential talks with US diplomats disclosed by WikiLeaks was Zanu (PF)’s opening salvo ahead of proposed elections next year, analysts said yesterday.

The South African government yesterday refused to speculate on how new treason charges, if instituted against Mr Tsvangirai, would affect President Jacob Zuma ’s mediation efforts.

Siphamandla Zondi, executive director at the Institute for Global Dialogue, said the WikiLeaks revelations would hurt Mr Tsvangirai’s political stature, and were likely to be exploited by President Robert Mugabe to discredit him and reinforce negative perceptions spread by Zanu (PF) that the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) was “the political surrogates and puppets” of western powers.

The attorney-general, Johannes Tomana, reportedly said he intended appointing a commission of five lawyers to examine whether recent disclosures amounted to a breach of the constitution.

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13 thoughts on “WikiLeaks’ gift to Robert Mugabe

  1. b

    Why say that Wikileaks fucked up in this case?

    A “democratic” politician turns out to be a liar and is rightly exposed. The sanctions, like usual, hurt the people of Zimbabwe, not Mugabe. To support them is treason on the people.

  2. Ian Arbuckle

    Sometimes half a loaf is NOT better than none. I don’t think this leak will surprise anyone, inside or outside Zimbabwe and Zanu PF would make hay even in the pouring rain. I think this is good for Mr. Tsvangirai. It doesn’t show that he is a western puppet. It rather shows that he has the power to lift the sanctions imposed by the west, when he gets what he wants from Mr. Mugabe and the electorate. But that is never going to happen any more than a fair election or a snow ball in hell.

  3. Paul Woodward

    There’s a meta-question here (one which I’ve raised before but seen no answer to) which is: what is WikiLeaks’ editorial process?

    How are they deciding on the sequence with which they are releasing cables? Beyond accepting the use of redactions provided by newspaper editors, are they doing redactions of their own? Have they decided that there are any cables whose release would not serve the public interest?

    I realize they have their own security needs, but when it comes to how they operate as editors, I see no legitimate reason for their lack of transparency. More likely is it that their own lack of transparency in this regard is similar to that occurring elsewhere — that the veils which must not be pulled back tend to conceal potential sources of embarrassment.

  4. Coldtype

    You’re completely off base here and nowhere more egregiously than in the unwarranted assumption that west has any interest whatsoever in democracy in Zimbabwe (or anywhere). The issue is not Wikileaks (i.e transparency and the truth) but the unbroken legacy of US aggression and meddling throughout the developing world.

    How on earth do make this an issue about Wikileaks?

  5. Norman

    Mr Woodward, you read like the Government. Are you one of them? I don’t read your take as being one of freedom, but it does read like a script. So, does this mean that all who don’t buy both the printed & unprinted script of the Government, those who might disagree with those actions, are then being subject to censorship or perhaps even rendition? I think you own the readership an explanation as to just who you stand for? It’s the media, press, editorial process that you say others -Wikileaks’- should follow. Perhaps the bigger question is: should all those that have commented especially those who are against these secret acts, be weary of getting a knock on the door and being wisked away never to be seen again?

  6. rick

    Modern Westerners seem to be shallow Products of ideological factories.
    Instead of exercising cognitive and emotional strength and discipline,
    they prefer to exercise their knee-jerks and their unthinking mouths.

    Thus, these poor sheep are easily herded/manipulated (or “socially-nudged”) into imposing simplistic “Conflict Frame” interpretations on any strange or complex new situation.
    George W. Bush was a master of nuance, compared to the simplistic partisans loudly emoting FOR or AGAINST wikileaks.

    The Zimbabwe cable — and the issue of sanctions — ought to provoke some thought by Commenters:

    Do sanctions hurt the people in the short term? Always.
    Do the people (who survive) benefit long term from sanctions? Sometimes.
    Do sanctions hurt the dictator more than the people? It depends.

    Sanctions actually helped Saddam solidify his hold on power.
    What complex effects do the Zimbabwe sanctions have?
    How do those effects depend on *perceptions*?
    How have the Wikileaked cables on Zimbabwe changed *perceptions*?

    Difficult questions. Fortunately, Comments #1 and #2 offer
    (contrasting) perspectives that help illuminate the situation.
    Unfortunately, Comments #4 and #5 seem to be fast-twitch knee-jerk emoting.

    Coldtype — Does the legacy of “US aggression and meddling” mean
    that a Mugabe dictatorship is better for the people than a
    pretend-democracy run by an American puppet?

    Norman — You seem to posit a *monolithic* “Government”.
    But everybody who paid taxes is a part of that “Government”.
    Do you recall how many low-level CIA personnel (with the notable
    exception of George “Slam-dunk” Tenet) strongly opposed the
    conclusion that Saddam’s non-existent WMD were a justification
    for invading Iraq? Government is *not* monolithic!

    Do you, instead, want a Government and a blogosphere where
    everybody is a simplistic worshiper of the God of Transparency?
    How much evidence do you need, to prove that “Free Info” cannot
    guarantee “Democracy?” (E.g, Newt Gingrich divorcing his wife
    for his mistress, while his wife was in the hospital with cancer,
    was common knowledge. Has that impeded Gingrich’s political career?)

    And to Norman and others — If you are not willing to take the risk
    of being blacklisted, imprisoned, or tortured, for speaking out
    or writing, then why have you been commenting? Did it *only* now
    occur to you that everything we write, every word we speak on a phone,
    becomes a permanent record?

    We are forever vulnerable — to the assassins of numerous public
    and private interests — and to the Info Brokers — such as Wikileaks,
    or Adrian Lamo — who might expose our identities and our thoughts to opponents.

    So grow some courage, take some calculated risks, and dare to say “Yes” to nuances, to tradeoffs, and to ugly real-world complexity.

    To all who insist on 100% Transparency:
    Why not state your full name and address?
    Or is it only “politicians” who are to be held accountable —
    at risk of their lives — for what they say and write?

    Finally, Paul Woodward asks:
    “What is WikiLeaks’ editorial process?”
    He seems to want a Written Policy — in advance — stating
    what Wikileaks will *select* as suitable for publication.

    Whereupon, commenter Norman demands the same of Mr. Woodward:
    “you ow[e] the readership an explanation as to just who you stand for.”
    Presumably this would be a Written Policy — stating exactly what
    are Mr. Woodward’s interests. (Obviously the “ABOUT” Tab of this
    website was not sufficiently detailed.)

    Well folks, only a robot can state an algorithmic publication policy.
    For us humans, it’s a complex mix of interests, biases, ethics, and
    what we hope will “influence and inform” readers. We learn and grow
    by trial and error, and by feedback from others. Sometimes, our errors
    kill other people. We try to learn from those too — rather than
    deny our responsibility.

    Julian Assange is neither my hero nor my demon. But I give him credit
    (so far) for being able to learn and take advice from others this past year.

  7. Christopher Hoare

    I find it to be an impossible stretch of logic to treat the failure of the US State Department to protect the confidential remarks of their interlocutors as a matter for the censure of Wikileaks. The issue here is whether a non-state organisation has a greater responsibility than a state one.

    The whole raison d’etre of Wikileaks is to unveil the underhand world of officialdom in all its dirty bargaining. Tsvangirai was no better, and no worse, than any other political leader in his decision to back continued sanctions that hurt the people more than the officials. If the world we and Wikileaks hope for is ever to come about, an honest statement of culpability and regret would serve to involve the judgement of the people on his indiscretion. But — this being today — I’d suggest the best course is for the world to become more attentive to the expected election — with physical support, not more platitudes.

  8. Coldtype

    “Coldtype — Does the legacy of “US aggression and meddling” mean
    that a Mugabe dictatorship is better for the people than a
    pretend-democracy run by an American puppet?”-rick

    You appear to completely miss the point. As a US citizen with a discernible conscience and thus some sense of shame, I would not presume that a country with the blood-drenched record of my own is remotely qualified to determine how much suffering Zimbabweans should undergo before they submit to the will of our masters. So fuck you.

  9. Ian Arbuckle

    Truth and transparency has a different effect depending on the underlying condition to which it is applied. Where the environment is a monumental construction of deceit and self delusion (as per the US government and administration) even the clear light of day has the power to disintegrate. The more lies told, the more are needed to support them, until the liars believes their own lies. So it is for ordinary people and the most complex administrations I’m afraid.

    Truth is also totally neutral as of itself and has no preference to aid or damage Peter or Paul. It falls where it may. The truth is just a reflection of what has occurred. If a circumstance cannot continue with the truth of it being revealed, the participants should have thought of that when they conspired.

    Secrets are meant to be kept, and in this case the US has failed. Investigative journalists are meant to try and discover secrets and in this case Wikileaks (WL) succeeded. With less secrets of dastardly conspiracy, there is less need for leakers or for WL. It is healthy to live in a balanced and multifaceted system of powers and counterweights to reign in excesses. A 100% either way is unrealistic.

    And yes Paul, I agree it does become a problem when WL or their publishing partners cherry pick and decides upon “selective transparency” for political ends supporting one or the other side; the New World Order, or western interests, right or left. I agree that Assange should go further to enlighten us about WL policy and philosophy (other than redacting to protect the innocent, anyway innocence is relative and by degrees for all but saints) of how they will release the totality of the entirety of this present 250,000 document trove or the next they receive, (do I send them my 9-11 smoking gun? Will the bury it?) or are they leaving all editorial decision to the 5 MSM outlets, for them to be the gate keepers? In which case we get back to where we started. Is it not all just asking, what is the length of a piece of string, more or less “truth”?

    And Clodtype, thanks. “Getting it” or not, we are all just trying to grasp the point, and fortunately there are many different ways of seeing it, otherwise any discussion as well as your opinion would be pointless, as pointless as the expletives and disrespect for others that you feel you need to express.

  10. Paul Woodward

    Oy veh! (Dang, I shouldn’t use an expression like that. Someone’s going to think I’m a secret Zionist as well as a secret agent for the US government.)

    But seriously, I’ve been running this site since January 2002 during which time most readers, on the basis of my editorial judgment and commentary, would get a fairly accurate sense of my political leanings. But now I’m being asked who I “stand for”?

    If I stood for anyone other than myself, what would be the point of me making a statement? That statement would have to be assumed to be coming from the secret entity I supposedly represent and thus inevitably be a misrepresentation of who/what I stand for.

    The ability to trust someone else’s integrity should never rest on what kind of allegiances they profess. On the other hand, if as one engages with the world one finds it impossible to trust anything and anyone, this probably says more about the condition of ones own mind that it says about the world. The fact that we live in a world filled with danger does not mean that we have to live lives filled with fear.

    When I did this post, I was to an extent throwing down the gauntlet to WikiLeaks’ most staunch defenders by presenting the possibility that WikiLeaks could make a mistake. Whether or not the Tsvangirai cable turns out to be such an instance remains to be seen. If he ends up being convicted of treason and executed, it would certainly be harder to argue that WikiLeaks had not played a part in someone’s life being lost.

    I choose my words carefully and when I suggested that it would be in everyone’s interest that WikiLeaks reveal their editorial process, I said “process” — not policy. If they actually have a detailed written policy then maybe this can be disclosed or leaked, but at this point all I’m asking for is a description of what they have been doing.

    They clearly have some sort of sorting process. Were all 250,000 cables read and sorted in some way before any decisions were made about the order in which they would be released? Is the intention to ultimately release all the cables or is there some sort of winnowing process going on? Is there a political strategy in the editorial process? Is there a media strategy?

    These all seem like legitimate questions to be asking. Otherwise WikiLeaks ends up being treated like the Vatican and Julian Assange like the Pope.

  11. Norman

    Rick, against my feelings to do so, I wonder just where you sit in order to write what you did? Your questions towards my being what ever it was you thought you were making an item about, are purely in your own realm of mindset. If you read this blog regularly, then you already know where each of us stand, but for you to “nuance” as you like to put upon others, then it is you who are what you term others to be.

    As for my “Q” to Mr Woodward, he answered it in ways that perhaps you should copy. This is a free expression country at the present time, but as I and others express our thoughts, they are not shallow as you put them, they are what we feel from reading the story. Because I chose to ask Mr Woodward what I did, makes your comments seeming to read as if you are defending him, but from a point of view that the “Q” was directed at you. I wonder, are you really just another troll? The way you write appears to make it so.

  12. rick

    Coldtype writes: “You appear to completely miss the point.”

    Norman writes: “Your questions towards my being what ever it was you thought you were making an item about, are purely in your own realm of mindset. If you read this blog regularly, then you already know where each of us stand, but for you to “nuance” as you like to put upon others …”

    At this point, I’ll give up on trying to communicate about the Topic
    of this thread, and instead apologize to Coldtype and to Norman for
    pissing them off, and for failing to communicate ideas they found useful.

    Coldtype — Ok. Obviously we misunderstand each others’ points.

    Norman — I’m an occasional reader of this blog, and
    (aside from Paul Woodward), I do *not* know where others stand.
    I seem to recall comments from a “Norman” on other Topics here,
    that seemed useful and nuanced. Your comment above did not seem
    that way to me, and so I tried to communicate some ideas that I hoped
    yo would find useful. Obviously I failed.

    Hopefully we can learn from one another more productively
    on other Topics in the future.

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