Obama strips Mugabe of Key argument

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Official Harare, for a long time at odds with the United States over human rights abuses, was Wednesday mum about the historic presidential victory of Barack Obama in the race for the White House, but analysts said they expected increased US fury with President Robert Mugabe.

Obama, the first African American to be elected president of the United States, has inspired a massive following in official and non-official circles in Africa, but Harare has been unmoved throughout his march to the White House.

After his victory became official Wednesday, the closest to official comment Obama drew from Zimbabwe was a cartoon in the government-controlled Herald newspaper which depicted him and his losing rival John McCain preparing to wear a Yankee-style jacket inscribed: The Presidency Straight-Jacket.

Tougher relationship

But political analysts in the country said President Mugabe’s government might be in for a tougher relationship with the US under Obama’s presidency, than it was under President George Bush and President Bill Clinton before that.

Accusing his government of human rights abuses, both the Clinton and Bush administrations imposed sanctions on Zimbabwe, and banned Mugabe from traveling to the US.

The penalties were tightened further this year after controversial polls which retained the Zimbabwean leader in power.

No more excuse

Analysts said while Mugabe was able to hide under the banner of racism when attacked by both Bush and Clinton over human rights in the past, it would not be possible this time around because he shared the same colour with Obama.

Mugabe has over the years craftily blunted US and European attacks on his government by claiming they were racially motivated in part, a charge which has resonated in much of Africa.

But this time around, analysts said, Obama’s victory has stripped the Zimbabwean leader of this powerful race weapon, leaving his message open to doubt in Africa, a constituency Mugabe values so much.

Not Mugabe’s friend

On the other hand, they said Obama would want to make his presidency less vulnerable to criticism on racial grounds by taking a hardline against despotic regimes in Africa, of which the US ranks Mugabe’s among the top ones on the continent.

“Barrack Obama has made critical statements (about Zimbabwe) in the past. I don’t see any change at all because this is US policy whether you are Republican or Democrat, black or white,” Bornwell Chakaodza, a political commentator, said.

“The likelihood of Barrack Obama becoming tougher to Zimbabwe and other similar countries in Africa is higher because he will not want to be accused of racial affinity in his political judgments,” he added.

The sentiments were echoed by Dr Obadia Mazombwe who said Obama, like any other American leader, will follow national interests irrespective of political or racial considerations.

Message of hope

But Chakaodza said Obama’s victory sent a powerful message of hope and change around the world, particularly in Africa, a continent steeped in hopelessness with little prospect of change on the horizon.

“This is a very astounding achievement by Barrack Obama. The historic nature of the victory is a powerful message it sends to us in Zimbabwe and Africa in general,” he said.

“It has also shown that the US is a land of opportunity. You can be what you want to be,” he added.

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