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Did Kofi Annan try to buy off Mugabe in 2000?

You thought you’d heard about every attempt to get Robert Mugabe to step down from office: sanctions, suspension from the commonwealth, economic isolation, and even free and fair elections in 2008 that Mugabe actually lost. Apparently, however, there may have been one attempt that we all missed a decade ago. According to a September 2000 ...

By , International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Colombia.

You thought you'd heard about every attempt to get Robert Mugabe to step down from office: sanctions, suspension from the commonwealth, economic isolation, and even free and fair elections in 2008 that Mugabe actually lost. Apparently, however, there may have been one attempt that we all missed a decade ago. According to a September 2000 cable, an opposition source believed that then-United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan approached Mugabe with a financial retirement package abroad:

KOFI ANNAN, IN THE RECENT MEETING IN NEW YORK DURING THE MILLENIUM SUMMIT, OFFERED MUGABE A DEAL TO STEP DOWN. ALTHOUGH XXXXXXXXXXXX SAID THE MDC WAS NOT PRIVY TO THE DETAILS, HE SURMISED THAT ANNAN’S SUPPOSED DEAL PROBABLY INCLUDED PROVISION OF SAFEHAVEN AND A FINANCIAL PACKAGE FROM LIBYAN PRESIDENT QADHAFI. THE OPPOSITION PARTY HEARD THAT MUGABE TURNED DOWN THE OFFER THE FOLLOWING DAY, AFTER DISCUSSING IT WITH THE FIRST LADY. ANNAN, XXXXXXXXXXXX CONTINUED, IS NOT THE ONLY ONE TRYING TO FACILITATE MUGABE’S DEPARTURE.

It's not clear how reliable the U.S. Embassy source is, given that he admitted to the Americans that his information was hearsay. (And as the Guardian notes, some of the other information the same source told the U.S. embassy has been churning in the rumor mill for decades -- and was scoffed at by the British High Commission when it attempted to verify the reports.) But what's more interesting about the cable is the potential splits that it indicates within the ruling party, Mugabe's ZANU-PF. Certain members of his circle were growing concerned that the the country's economic woes would suffocate their business interests. And they were apparently willing to make a deal. Meanwhile, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) -- the party that won the 2008 elections and has been in a coalition government with Mugabe since February -- was also willing to let the old man step down gracefully. The cable reads,

You thought you’d heard about every attempt to get Robert Mugabe to step down from office: sanctions, suspension from the commonwealth, economic isolation, and even free and fair elections in 2008 that Mugabe actually lost. Apparently, however, there may have been one attempt that we all missed a decade ago. According to a September 2000 cable, an opposition source believed that then-United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan approached Mugabe with a financial retirement package abroad:

KOFI ANNAN, IN THE RECENT MEETING IN NEW YORK DURING THE MILLENIUM SUMMIT, OFFERED MUGABE A DEAL TO STEP DOWN. ALTHOUGH XXXXXXXXXXXX SAID THE MDC WAS NOT PRIVY TO THE DETAILS, HE SURMISED THAT ANNAN’S SUPPOSED DEAL PROBABLY INCLUDED PROVISION OF SAFEHAVEN AND A FINANCIAL PACKAGE FROM LIBYAN PRESIDENT QADHAFI. THE OPPOSITION PARTY HEARD THAT MUGABE TURNED DOWN THE OFFER THE FOLLOWING DAY, AFTER DISCUSSING IT WITH THE FIRST LADY. ANNAN, XXXXXXXXXXXX CONTINUED, IS NOT THE ONLY ONE TRYING TO FACILITATE MUGABE’S DEPARTURE.

It’s not clear how reliable the U.S. Embassy source is, given that he admitted to the Americans that his information was hearsay. (And as the Guardian notes, some of the other information the same source told the U.S. embassy has been churning in the rumor mill for decades — and was scoffed at by the British High Commission when it attempted to verify the reports.) But what’s more interesting about the cable is the potential splits that it indicates within the ruling party, Mugabe’s ZANU-PF. Certain members of his circle were growing concerned that the the country’s economic woes would suffocate their business interests. And they were apparently willing to make a deal. Meanwhile, the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) — the party that won the 2008 elections and has been in a coalition government with Mugabe since February — was also willing to let the old man step down gracefully. The cable reads,

ALTHOUGH HE IS NOT ENTHUSIASTIC ABOUT IT, MDC PRESIDENT MORGAN TSVANGIRAI HAS AGREED THAT IT IS IN ZIMBABWE’S BEST … INTERESTS FOR THE MDC TO DO ALL IT CAN TO SECURE A GRACEFUL EXIT STRATEGY THAT PRESERVES SOMEWHAT OF A POSITIVE LEGACY FOR MUGABE. OTHERWISE, THE PRESIDENT WOULD HAVE LITTLE INCENTIVE TO GO.

Aside from financial incentives, the source believed that a conference could be convened joining the ruling ZANU-PF party with Tsvangirai’s MDC to essentially set up the strongman’s legacy and secure certain parameters for a successor government. 

One can imagine why this failed. In addition to the massive distrust between the two parties, it became clear as Mugabe got closer to the 2002 presidential election that he could win it (if not fairly) — which he did.  And the rest, as they say, is history.

Elizabeth Dickinson is International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Colombia.

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