Despite his policy of silent diplomacy against Zimbabwe, President Festus Mogae once told American Ambassador to Botswana “half jokingly” that the only way to remove Robert Mugabe would be by using military force.
In an informal discussion with retired American Ambassador to Botswana, John Lange, during a dinner party at which Maurice Tempelsman and the Harvard IDS Institute bestowed their 2001 award to Mogae, the Botswana President is reported to have stated that there was no chance “to influence Robert Mugabe to hold free and fair elections by March”.
A secret report filed by Lange quotes Mogae saying that “Mugabe is acting like a wounded buffalo and it would be better to have the elections sooner rather than later to lessen the harm that is being done.”
Mogae allegedly further stated that Mugabe does not care what any outsiders think and will stay in power by hook or crook. In response to a question as to whether there would be further SADC engagement with Mugabe, Mogae said there probably would be meetings, but he saw no chance of success. He said (only half jokingly) that the only way to remove Mugabe from power would be to attack militarily and remove him forcefully.
The ambassador described a scenario in which Mugabe and ZANU-PF were so unpopular that they would actually lose the elections despite all the violence and intimidation in advance. Mogae responded that Mugabe is very smart and was already working to prevent that possibility, including through his latest effort to disenfranchise those Zimbabweans living abroad.
Mogae also dismissed former South African President, Thabo Mbeki’s NEPAD, which he viewed as broad rhetoric having little impact on the ground. He said Botswana was only going along with the program because it agrees with the goals but at the same time it has low expectations for it.
The ambassador asked Mogae if he foresaw strong measures by SADC, possibly even including expulsion should the election turn out as badly as many predict. Mogae said Zimbabwe’s “apologists” (unnamed) would argue that the situation in SADC member states like Angola and the DRC were such that Zimbabwe did not merit expulsion from SADC.
According to the report, Mogae bridled at the memory of being berated by war veterans during the SADC task force visit to Zimbabwe on September 9 2001.
Lange reported that, “despite our efforts to encourage continued engagement, Botswana now seems to have given up on the prospects of influencing Mugabe.