Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1
TUESDAY 30 APRIL 2002
KEANE OBE AND
1. Order, order. Gentlemen, we welcome you,
two very distinguished commentators on the African scene, part
indeed of an all too small band in our country. We welcome you
in your different ways. Mr Keane is a special correspondent for
BBC News. In February this year during the election camapign,
you operated under cover in Zimbabwe for the Panorama programme
and we know your background in southern Africa. Mr Dowden, a long-term
writer and commentator on southern African affairs, previous Africa
Editor of the Economist and Independent and Diplomatic Editor
of The Independent and now writing for several newspapers. The
election in March of this year and subsequent political developments.
Have you been surprised at the ease with which President Mugabe,
after all the turmoil before and during the election has apparently
been able to impose his will on the local scene?
(Mr Dowden) The short answer is no. But
the question is: how much has he succeeded in doing this? I think
everybody is exhausted. You cannot help but notice that he has
not yet produced an economic revival plan which he promised. He
has not even produced a cabinet reshuffle which everybody expected.
What he has been talking about recently is Congo and things like
that. He feels he won but he does not know really what to do next.
2. How secure is he?
(Mr Dowden) There is no sign, that I have seen, of
a great popular uprising. The people in the towns who have suffered
most through price rises and so on have tried demonstrations and
they turn quite nasty. The poorer people get the less likely they
are to cause that sort of trouble. In that sense he is very secure
and he must also be secure in the knowledge that he has the support
of several other African presidents. By my count only Senegal
and Ghana have publicly criticised him directly.
3. We shall be coming on later to the regional
(Mr Keane) As somebody who has been there relatively
recently, the critical factor to bear in mind is the state of
fear which exists. Richard quite rightly points out that people
who are hungry, who need to worry about where their next meal
is coming fromand everybody we spoke to at the level of
peasant or country person spoke to us about the difficulty in
getting food and queuing for maize, in having to walk miles to
get maizeare not people who, in blunt terms, have the physical
energy, but moreover when confronted with the apparatus of what
amounts to police state powers, are going to come out on the streets
in their thousands. I have been in many countries where one could,
in times like this, where a regime has been under threat, feel
a groundswell from the public, from people on the street, One
did not feel that in Zimbabwe.
4. They are cowed.
(Mr Keane) Indeed. I was not one of those who believed
the opposition was going to sweep to victory on the basis of a
great popular mass movement because people were frightened.
5. A number of African leaders have tried to
broker some sort of inter-party dialogue between ZANU-PF and the
MDC. Is this a diversionary tactic? Is it a serious runner or
will it marginalise or make the MDC less legitimate?
(Mr Dowden) It is purely imposed from the outside.
I would have thought Mr Mugabe would be happy to accept that,
if that is the price he has to pay, if as a consequence of outside
pressure he has to delegate someone to talk to the MDC. Neither
the MDC nor ZANU has any interest in these talks whatever. There
is no internal dynamic which should bring them together, the MDC
sticks to its line that it wants the election re-run under international
supervision and it will not join a government of national unity.
6. Would it lose credibility if it did?
(Mr Dowden) Yes, I think so. From what I hear there
is a lot of grass-roots support for not joining the government.
What they are afraid of is that Mr Mugabe will buy off the leadership
either with places in government or financially. There is not
much danger of that, but that is a worry and that would be Mr
Mugabe's aim. The fact that it is imposed from the outside and
there is no real interest in it makes me think they are going
(Mr Keane) It has to be seen in the context of southern
African leaders wishing to be seen to do something, but in effect
knowing that they are doing nothing of any great import or anything
that is going to have an effect. From the point of view of people
I spoke to in the opposition, one heard repeatedly the phrase,
"We're not going to become like Joshua Nkomo. We're not going
to be bought off with cabinet seats like ZAPU". I support
what Richard has said: I doubt that will happen.
7. Do either of you think there is any real
prospect of the violence stopping so long as Robert Mugabe remains
(Mr Keane) As long as there is political opposition
which threatens Robert Mugabe's power, there will be political
violence in response to that. It goes back to the last question.
Clearly the people in power have no interest in serious negotiations
about a democratic accommodation. Let us not use the word "transition"
but "accommodation". As long as they persist in that
position, then violence will be used.
(Mr Dowden) I would add to that the slightly complicating
thought that if he were to start losing, the violence would get
worse. I have a very strong sense of that government, and it is
not just Mugabe, which is "We have never been a one-party
stateat one time we wanted to be, but we are notwe
allowed democracy, we allow people to form parties and speak out,
as long as they don't ever dream that they might actually become
the government, because we, ZANU, fought for this country and
it is ours". That is why I think that if they were in real
danger of losing it all, even lost it, then you might see violence.
That is the core of it.
(Mr Keane) That is correct. There has been too much
of a willingness here to concentrate on them staying in power
simply because they want to hold onto the trappings of power.
There is a deep-rooted sense in ZANU-PF that nobody else can be
the legitimate rulers of Zimbabwe because they did not fight for
the country. That is not some sort of propagandising statement:
people like Mugabe and those close to him really do believe that.
8. Do you think Morgan Tsvangirai is a genuine
democrat or is he a creation of the Western media? Does he have
the people's interests at heart genuinely or is it just that he
wants power instead of Mugabe?
(Mr Dowden) In discussions that I have had with him,
I do not find him a particularly power-seeking man. If you have
stayed at the top of a trade union movement in Africa, you are
a pretty tough politician and with some popular support. The fact
is that he rules an extraordinarily diverse coalition and he has
to duck and weave a bit to hold it together.
(Mr Keane) It is the question one asks of all politicians.
9. We are not going to answer it.
(Mr Keane) Perhaps the question I would ask as a journalist
is: is he an effective leader of the opposition? Has he shown
himself at crucial junctions to be capable of wise judgement.
One has to say that when defeated he did the right thing by not
calling his people onto the streets. That did show a degree of
political maturity. If you ask me to take it a step further and
say whether I feel fully convinced that he would prove to be a
democratic leader of a new Zimbabwe, unhappily the evidence in
much of the rest of Africa, not South Africa, in the wake of electionsone
looks at Zambia as a particular case in point, even looking at
Ugandadoes not lead one to believe that because people
led democratic movements during an election campaign they will
automatically prove to be democrats. We should be circumspect
and not, as we repeatedly unfortunately do in terms of our foreign
policy in Africa, engage in wishful thinking, believing that because
people use the rhetoric of democracy, of supporting a free press,
the institutions of civil society, they are automatically going
to be good democrats when they are elected.
10. That is very interesting and I am grateful
for that qualification. How much of a role has the Western media
played in making him more of a figure than he actually is?
(Mr Keane) Let us be absolutely clear: he is a figure
because a huge number of people in Zimbabwe have voted for him.
That is why. He can attract huge numbers of people. The Western
media simply reflect that reality.
(Mr Dowden) There is a dichotomous way of looking
at African leaders as well: goodies and baddies, good countries
and bad countries. It is simply not like that. As they will say,
at least Zimbabwe is a democracy and they held an election. Your
friends in Uganda do not even allow multi-party democracy. There
is a great tendency to say, "This one is the bad guy therefore
that one must be the good guy".
(Mr Keane) It is as complicated as British politics,
but a little bit more lethal.
11. I just hope none of our parties ever uses
the tactics of Robert Mugabe. Has either of you found there to
be moderate elements within ZANU-PF? If so, is there any role
that Western democratic countries can play to help them moderate
the worst effects of Mugabe's regime?
(Mr Dowden) Before the election I said several times
that it is quite a divided party and there are big splits between
the military wingwho put Mugabe in power in the first place;
he owes his position to the militaryand some of the more
civilian elements. I expected those splits to begin to open up
after the election, if for no other reason than if you are 40-year-old
ZANU-PF MP in Zimbabwe, where are you going to be in ten years'
time? Do you want to nail your colours to Mugabe's mast absolutely
or are you beginning to look for someone else? It was also implicit
in much of what the South Africans were saying, "Wait until
the election. After the election. Let Mugabe win his election
and then he will move on". They implied that there would
be some movement after the election, but if you read Mugabe's
recent speeches you find a man who's mission is only half complete
and he is pursuing it very vigorously.
12. In talking about the belief in democracy
of Mr Tsvangirai you made comparisons with Zambia as an example
of the way you would not want to go. Where would you place the
MDC in relation to the success that President Wade has had in
Senegal and the way he has treated what was the ruling party?
Would you see this leaning that way or going the other way?
(Mr Keane) I would very much hope so. In a sense we
are jumping ahead of ourselves and not confronting the immediate
problem. There is potentially an enormous amount of tragedy and
bloodshed in the immediate future before one ever gets to a possibly
peaceful transition. That is the critical issue we need to address.
Sir Patrick Cormack
13. Do you believe that Mugabe did win the election?
(Mr Keane) I do not really know is the only honest
answer to that. I would suspect that there is enough reasonable
doubt about the issue strongly to support calls for a re-run of
14. If there were a re-run of the election,
do you think that he would then go down?
(Mr Keane) I think it is most likely that he would,
but that would crucially depend on the circumstances in which
the election was held. If you ran it under the kind of conditions
which existed under the last election, I suspect we would have
a repeat performance, if not worse. If you ran it under genuine
international supervision, then he might well be voted out of
(Mr Dowden) You could say that in terms of the number
of votes cast, it is possible that he won it. In terms of the
playing field, it was so skewed that if there were a re-run, then
he might not succeed.
15. One has been amazed at the way in which
ordinary citizens in Zimbabwe have been prepared to risk their
lives and one has also had a tremendous amount of sympathy for
those who have tried to give them objective news and had great
difficulty in doing so. How difficult is it for ordinary Zimbabweans
to know truly what is going on?
(Mr Dowden) I would say that the ones I have talked
to use the one source which is the most believed one, which is
the BBC's Focus on Africa programme. That is the source of news
in practically the whole of Africa. After that it is the pavement
radio, people just talking.
(Mr Keane) And the local papers.
(Mr Dowden) Yes, local papers, but by word of mouth.
16. Is there a real danger when people do listen
to the BBC?
(Mr Keane) It is not akin to listening to the BBC
in Germany during the war.
17. That is an extreme example.
(Mr Keane) Indeed; it is not a happy comparison. What
there is great danger in is being seen to show any support for
the democratic movement, any belief in speaking your mind. Bear
in mind that in the area I went to, Matabeleland, we are talking
about people in isolated villages where the eyes and ears of the
government are very, very powerful and can bring down on their
heads youth militias, secret policemen. It was a constant fear
of people we spoke to. I want publicly to pay tribute to the bravery
of people who assisted us in getting at the truth of what was
happening in the country.
18. You would describe this as a tyranny.
(Mr Keane) I would have no difficulty whatsoever in
describing the objective conditions to which the people in Zimbabwe
are subject as tyrannical.
19. Is there anything at all which can be done
by the European Union or by any people over here or other international
organisations to assist those who wish to maintain some form of
independent media in Zimbabwe? Is there anything we can usefully
(Mr Keane) We can usefully stay engaged. One of the
great disappointments is that if you look at our newspapers and
others since the election, there has been scant coverage and,
one has to say, on the part of our politicians scant reference
to what has been happening in Zimbabwe. I would ask you what kind
of message that sends. To be seen to act, in terms of our government
and our opposition, and to be seen to be concerned only in the
run-up to an election and then to fall silent afterwards sends
a rather dangerous message.