| February 25, 2002
British rumors: Mugabe ready to flee Zimbabwe
President Mugabe is said to
be planning secretly his escape route out of Zimbabwe after his private polling
predicted he could be defeated in next months elections.
ailing 78-year-old has been sounding out some of his African neighbours and his
dwindling number of friends abroad about providing him with a safe haven.
Fearing that his opponents might try to jail him before he had a chance to slip
into exile, Mr Mugabe reluctantly agreed that overtures should be made to
opposition rivals. He is said to have asked President Obasanjo of Nigeria to
arrange a deal about his future at an extraordinary late-night meeting in
Harare last month.
Much to his surprise, Morgan Tsvangirai, the
presidential candidate for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC),
was invited to Mr Mugabes official State House residence in the capital.
Mr Tsvangirai, who has survived several assassination attempts, agreed to go to
the meeting only after he was given guarantees for his own security by
At 2 am Mr Tsvangirai was ushered into its main
reception room. Only the Nigerian President was there: Mr Mugabe had refused to
be present. President Obasanjo moved closer to Morgan Tsvangirai and,
pointing to a portrait of Mr Mugabe on the wall, he asked: What are you
going to do about him if you win? a diplomatic source said.
Morgan Tsvangirai made it clear he does not want to put Mugabe on
trial, or jail him and said he would allow him to leave Zimbabwe with
dignity. President Obasanjo smiled, nodded his head and said: Good.
I think that is for the best. The deal also guarantees that Mr
Mugabes wife, Grace, and his three children can leave, but the MDC leader
insists he will ensure that Mr Mugabe does not take any looted money and
treasures with him.
Rumours circulate in Harare that Mr Mugabe has the
crew of his presidential helicopter on 24-hour standby and the aircraft is
parked on the lawn of State House should a swift getaway be needed.
question remains where Mr Mugabe, who is thought to have suffered a recent
stroke, will choose for his exile. Richard Cornwell, of the South Africa
Institute of Security Studies, believes that he will elect to stay in Africa,
even though he has cultivated government leaders in Malaysia, Thailand, Cuba
and North Korea, among others. African leaders are trying to persuade him
not to rig the elections on March 9 and 10, and to go peacefully if he
loses, Mr Cornwell said.
Nevertheless, it is by no means certain
that Mr Mugabe will bow out gracefully if the vote goes against him. There are
fears among diplomats in Harare that Mr Mugabe could blame international
interference for a flawed election and try to rule by martial law. (The