Wikileaks and the Case of the Zimbabwean Opposition Leader

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One of the diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks described a meeting between US representatives and Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, considered one of Zimbabwe’s brightest hopes for democratic reforms.

Well, he was considered one of Zimbabwe’s hopes for democracy, until Wikileaks destroyed that hope. Chris Albon reports at the Atlantic: How WikiLeaks Just Set Back Democracy in Zimbabwe.

Later that day, the U.S. embassy in Zimbabwe dutifully reported the details of the meeting to Washington in a confidential U.S. State Department diplomatic cable. And slightly less than one year later, WikiLeaks released it to the world.

The reaction in Zimbabwe was swift. Zimbabwe’s Mugabe-appointed attorney general announced he was investigating the Prime Minister on treason charges based exclusively on the contents of the leaked cable. While it’s unlikely Tsvangirai could be convicted on the contents of the cable alone, the political damage has already been done. The cable provides Mugabe the opportunity to portray Tsvangirai as an agent of foreign governments working against the people of Zimbabwe. Furthermore, it could provide Mugabe with the pretense to abandon the coalition government that allowed Tsvangirai to become prime minister in 2009.

It’s difficult to see this as anything but a major setback for democracy in Zimbabwe. Even if Tsvangirai is not charged with treason, the opponents to democratic reforms have won a significant victory. First, popular support for Tsvangirai and the MDC will suffer due to Mugabe’s inevitable smear campaign, including the attorney general’s “investigation.” Second, the Prime Minister might be forced to take positions in opposition to the international community to avoid accusation of being a foreign corroborator. Third, Zimbabwe’s fragile coalition government could collapse completely. Whatever happens, democratic reforms in Zimbabwe are far less likely now than before the leak.

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