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Richard Dowden is Executive Director of the Royal African Society in London ( Richard worked for the Times until 1986 when he became Africa Editor of the Independent and in[…]

Richard Dowden says Mugabe will not bow from power if only to spite the West.

Question: What’s your outlook on Zimbabwe?


Richard Dowden: It’s very, very hard to be optimistic about Zimbabwe at the moment. I’ve always thought that [Robert] Mugabi would only leave office one way, and that was feet first. The more he feels embattled by the West, the longer he will stay on justice to snob them. And the longer he stays on, that means that the outside world won’t engage.

Africa’s failed this test. They would prefer to support him or at least leave him in office rather than pressurize him to leave. And he will, one way or another, continue to run and rule and ruin Zimbabwe. It’s a tragedy. It’s a sort of Shakespearian tragedy. Some people say he was always evil. But I don’t subscribe to that. You look at the early years, he did some very good things. He’s own reconciliation when he came to powers was quite remarkable. But he’s become like Macbeth. And as the play goes on, he becomes more and more self-centered and evil. I think, that’s really what has happened.

And I can’t see Morgan Tsvangirai at the MDC, even though they are in the camp now, being able to do very much about it. And here they are, trying to call; what would the Western countries going to do when he calls for them to reengage even though Mugabi is still in power? And so, he’s going to get caught out as well because, you know, there’s no way they’re going to reengage as long as Mugabi holds the ultimate power.

So he’s going to fail in that. And if he fails in that, he’s failure to turn Zimbabwe around now, economically, that’ll also happen.

So it seems to me; I don’t know where it’s going next. It’s already a humanitarian catastrophe. And the tragedy is, it was a great country and it was a rich country that exported food and, now, it’s completely wrecked.

I’m not sure what happens next. People say it’s going to hit the buffers. It’s going to go over the precipice. There are no buffers in Africa. There is no precipice. You just sink lower and lower and lower and people die in the dark, quietly. There’s going to be no great uprising. It’s… I don’t know what’ll happen. Maybe something will just suddenly trigger it and then it’ll all happen quite quickly. What that thing is? I don’t know. But it’ll have to mean the end of that regime before things can really turn around.


Recorded: March 16, 2009