Mugabe coup plot

bobHARARE -- A group of exiled Zimbabwean businessmen hatched a plan to ease veteran President Robert Mugabe (pictured) from power in a bloodless coup by letting a technocrat Prime Minister run the country to save its faltering economy, United States cables released by whistleblower site WikiLeaks have revealed.

The unnamed businessmen believed that under the plan, which was mooted in 2007, the octogenarian Mugabe would be allowed to name ministers of defence, security and home affairs while the new prime minister would name the other cabinet members.

Moeletsi Mbeki, brother to then South African President Thabo Mbeki suggested that United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir could sell the idea to Mugabe, who would be allowed to extend his term by two years to 2010, before bowing out from the political stage to allow the countrys hemorrhaging economy to recover.

To get Mugabe to accept the deal, Mugabe would remain President until 2010 with some power over the security apparatus, but the Prime Minister would run the economy and get the country back on its feet, according to the U.S. cables.

Mugabe has always maintained that the West is behind a plot to remove him from power for his often violent land reforms that have left white commercial farmers without their land after the farms were handed over to blacks.

Although the plan did not materialise, it is similar to the current power-sharing deal between Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai whose Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) members are in charge of economic ministries.

The international community, mostly Western countries who have imposed sanctions on Mugabe and his allies, would have, in return for various reforms, agreed on a phased lifting of sanctions, and economic assistance to Zimbabwe.

For the plot to succeed, it would have required the parliamentary support of Tsvangirais MDC, which according to the U.S. Harare embassy endorsed the idea.

Tsvangirai has previously said Zimbabwes political and economic crisis needed soft landing, where progressive members from Mugabes ZANU-PF would be allowed to remain in government in a transitional period until fresh elections were held under a new constitution.

Not wanting to be seen to be part of the plot, the U.S. embassy said it did not endorse the plan but was encouraged that Zimbabweans were planning to resolve their political problems.

A previous U.S. cable released last week showed Washington was leading Western efforts to nudge Mugabe from power and suggested it was working with the MDC.

“The four businessmen agreed that there is a ‘window of opportunity’ to bring positive change to Zimbabwe, opened by the deteriorating economic situation and Mugabe’s advancing age and declining health,” the leaked cables said.

“He fears for his future if he steps down citing the Charles Taylor example (the former Liberian president now on trial for war crimes) and perhaps even more importantly fears for the future of his wife and young children.

The cables also repeat plans by the MDC to push Mugabe out through street protests after Tsvangirai famously threatened to remove Mugabe through violent protests in 2000 and an aborted final push protest that led to his two-week detention in June 2003.

Mugabe has accused Tsvangirai of always seeking foreign assistance to remove him from office.

In 2000, the MDC leader failed to get a firm commitment from former South African President Nelson Mandela to intervene in Zimbabwe.

Meanwhile, a leaked U.S. cable of a June 2008 meeting between Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and former U.S. assistant secretary for Africa Jendayi Frazer, showed the Ugandan leader saying Mugabe was embarrassing African liberation leaders by mismanaging the economy.

“Museveni thought Zimbabwe’s faltering economy and Mugabe’s poor understanding of the private sector were at the root of Zimbabwe’s political problems. He said a discussion of the economy would provide an entry point to tell Mugabe that he has failed and is embarrassing

liberation leaders, the U.S. cable said.

He noted that Mugabe is unwilling to take calls from most African leaders saying they are not his age-mates.”

Mugabe, who turns 87 in February, is expected to be endorsed as ZANU-PF presidential candidate for election planned next year at the partys annual congress next week.

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