Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Direct Damage Done By Wikileaks; The Case of Zimbabwe's Cables

For those who think that the leaks of hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables did not result in damage - the situation in Zimbabwe deserves far closer scrutiny.

Wikileaks, including its cofounder and anarchist at large, Julian Assange, must be held accountable for this:
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.
There's a good reason that those diplomatic cables are confidential and classified. The information contained therein can result in instability and unpredictable responses from those who are mentioned or are the focus of those documents.

Here, Robert Mugabe has been fighting with Morgan Tsvangirai's opposition party for the past several years as Mugabe has held on to power for far longer than he should have and a recent power-sharing agreement has not eliminated Mugabe's tight grip. Tsvangirai's support for sanctions puts him in direct conflict with Mugabe, and it is little wonder that Mugabe has sent his attorney general after Tsvangirai on treason charges.

It's what dictators do.

Given Mugabe's body count as a result of destroying the Zimbabwean economy (7 digit inflation during 2008-2009), ongoing food shortages and rampant unemployment, how much blood is on the hands of those who played a role in the release of those Zimbabwe-related cables?

Quite a bit.

Yet, the leakers and their supporters wont care one bit. They'll have moved on to the next release while Zimbabweans backing Mugabe move against Tsavingerai, who is considered the best chance for restoring some measure of stability in Zimbabwe and loosening the iron grip of Mugabe.

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