Robert Mugabe and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sing the National Anthems of their respective countries (top) and in conversation (probably about the "satanic imperialists" (above).
Harare, Zimbabwe, 26 April 2010
Robert "The Solution" Mugabe is reportedly "livid but overjoyed" at Morgan Tsvangirai and the MDC after the opposition party boycotted all events associated with the visiting Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Tsvangirai, who had been invited to the airport by Mugabe to meet the Iranian president, decided not to show up. He and ministers from his party also boycotted the dinner held at State House, where Ahmadinejad referred to the West and America as "Satanists" and "Satanic".
Although Tsvangirai and most ministers boycotted the ceremonies around the visit, the MDC-T co-Minister of Home Affairs and Tsvangirai confidant Eliphas Mukonoweshuro turned up at State House in order to sign cooperation agreements with the Iranian delegation.
Again, at the Trade Fair itself, which was opened by the Iranian President, Tsvangirai and his crew were a no-show.
The state media, as well as ZANU PF officials have already slammed Tsvangirai, with a ZANU PF official saying it was no coincidence that Western diplomats and the MDC failed to show up for the State Dinner and the welcoming ceremony at the airport. Quite nakedly, the ruling party is accusing the MDC of playing to the tune of "their paymasters", meaning the West.
It would be easy to dismiss the State media as simply amplifiers for their masters'voice, but the implications of the action by the MDC are far reaching and will, as sure as night follows day, complicate matters for the Prime Minister's party after the next elections (which, as can be expected, are going to be disputed by the MDC as well because they will go the way of previous elections and campaigns).
If the Prime Minister and his party had simply stayed away and not at all commented, it would perhaps have been defensible on grounds of motive. But they let that particular cat out of the bag by issuing what the BBC called a "hard-hitting statement".
The statement was indeed harsh.
"Warmonger"was mentioned. "Trampler of human rights"as well. And a host of other insults.
Without at all defending the Iranian President's politics, we have to accept that the statement and the boycott were blunders by the MDC on a massive scale.
Most, if not all, African leaders, have a soft spot for the Iranians and their leadership. Nelson Mandela defied Western opinion at the height of his popularity to embrace Iran's leadership and Gaddafi of Libya precisely because he was trying to balance his Western popularity with African acceptance.
Mugabe's most repeated insult against the MDC is that it is not a "home-grown opposition". He has told every African leader who will care to listen that the opposition in Zimbabwe was formed by the British and the Americans in the wake of his land reform program.
By acting in the manner that they have done, the MDC have given succor to this accusation.
African leaders, whom the Zimbabwe opposition expect to fight in their corner next time they are in trouble with Mugabe at home, will almost certainly have looked at this as confirmation of Mugabe's stance against the MDC.
What possible motive could there have been for so publicly denouncing a visiting Head of State. As the Americans say, nations have no permanent friends and no permanent enemies, only permanent interests.
Of course, you also must know that the motivation behind the statement from the MDC-Tsvangirai had nothing to do with concern for human rights or even the way politics is conducted in Iran.
In fact the MDC-T was sore that the invitation to Ahmadinejad was made "unilaterally" - Tsvangirai was not consulted, nor was the Minister of International Trade, an MDC minister.
The Prime Minister is still labouring under the illusion that his coalition with Mugabe is a coalition of equals. Mugabe, on the other hand, considers himself to have no equal anywhere in the world, let alone within ranks of the MDC.
The reaction from Tsvangirai and his party to the Iranian president's visit, therefore, was designed to spite Mugabe after a disagreement during a Monday meeting when Mugabe simply said that it was his prerogative whom to invite to open the Trade Fair (and the Agricultural Show, to which Sudan Omar Al Bashir will probably be asked to come this year!!)
But the way the MDC-T went about it was all wrong and effectively became a case of that party cutting off its nose in order to spite its own face.
Mugabe's case against the oppositionwith other African leaders has now been strengthened.
The MDC-T should have sat down to think through this approach and this strategy before opening their mouths. This is a case of power play and there are other fights that they could have picked to make their point, not one such as this, with all its continental implications.
African leaders now have one more reason to sit on the fence (at the very least).