Wikileaks, Democracy, and Diamonds in Zimbabwe

Christopher R. Albon has published a provocative piece on, arguing that democracy in Zimbabwe has suffered “a major setback” due to WikiLeaks’ activity, and that one of the leaked cables may have placed Zimbabwe’s Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai in serious political, if not legal jeopardy.

Without recourse to the silly fear-mongering we’ve heard from other quarters, Albon’s account serves to remind us just how disruptive WikiLeaks really is and will continue to be to the current world order and, perhaps more importantly, how disruptive it can be to a democracy movement like the one in Zimbabwe, where Robert Mugabe still runs the show, despite a 2008 power-sharing agreement between him and Tsvangirai.

Albon documents the immediate political fallout from a leaked cable reporting that in 2008 Tsvangirai privately urged the United States and other western nations to continue stiff economic sanctions against his country. Publicly, Tsvangirai had denounced them. First imposed in 2003, the sanctions had been — and still are — crippling. But according to the diplomatic report, Tsvangirai thought they were the best way to force Mugabe’s hand and bring much-needed political reforms.

Mugabe’s Attorney General Johannes Tomana has labeled Tsvangirai’s double-dealing on the sanctions “treason” and is preparing a case against him. “The WikiLeaks,” Tomana says, “appear to show a treasonous collusion between local Zimbabweans and the aggressive international world, particularly the United States.” The charge probably won’t stick. But now Mugabe can paint the democratic reformer Tsvangirai as a Western stooge, and, in Albon’s view, “Zimbabwe’s fragile coalition government could collapse completely. Whatever happens, democratic reforms in Zimbabwe are far less likely now than before the leak.”

This is indeed a grim outlook. Albon clearly sees Tsvangirai as Zimbabwe’s last best hope, its only hope, for democracy — not just the lesser of two evils.

But then others distrust Tsvangirai’s commitment to true democratic reform, or see him as a mere proxy for Western interests.

It’s also worth noting that the leaked cables are having other disruptive effects in Zimbabwe as well, and it strikes me as odd – or telling — that Albon fails to give them even the slightest nod in his piece.

There is, after all, another big Wikileaks story about Zimbabwe. This one came out just about a week before the Tsvangirai story broke.

The Prime Minister and his party, the Movement for Democratic Change, seized on another leaked cable and urged that “the government should investigate charges arising from WikiLeaks documents that senior officials close to Mugabe, including his wife Grace, have benefited from illicit diamond trading from the Chiadzwa Mine in the eastern part of the country”. In fact, Grace Mugabe has filed suit against The Weekly Standard for publishing diplomatic cables in which a British mining executive is quoted as saying Grace Mugabe and central bank governor Gideon Gono “have been extracting tremendous profits” – hundreds of thousands of dollars a month — from Chiadzwa’s blood diamonds.

You can imagine how this story, true or false, might play in a country with widespread poverty, 90 percent unemployment and cholera epidemic that kills young and old alike. Mrs. Mugabe and her lawyers understand this better than anyone. Grace Mugabe denounced the report in the Standard as “an imputation of criminality and association with violations of human rights. Whatever it prints,” she continued, “is regarded as gospel truth by those people in Zimbabwe and abroad.”

I suppose, then, that not everybody in Zimbabwe knows that U.S. diplomatic cables are full of imperialist lies and cannot be trusted.

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