Real damage from Wikileaks

Stephen Stratford sent me this story at The Atlantic. It looks at how has damaged the pro-democracy movement in and helped prop up Mugabe. It is a great example of why secrecy does not always mean bad. When dealing with evil dictators, a lack of secrecy will often help the dictator only.

Last year, early on Christmas Eve morning, representatives from the U.S., United Kingdom, Netherlands, and the European Union arrived for a meeting with Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai. …

The topic of the meeting was the sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe by a collection of western countries, including the U.S. and E.U. Tsvangirai told the western officials that, while there had been some progress in the last year, Mugabe and his supporters were dragging their feet on delivering political reforms. To overcome this, he said that the sanctions on Zimbabwe “must be kept in place” to induce Mugabe into giving up some political power. The prime minister openly admitted the incongruity between his private support for the sanctions and his public statements in opposition. If his political adversaries knew Tsvangirai secretly supported the sanctions, deeply unpopular with Zimbabweans, they would have a powerful weapon to attack and discredit the democratic reformer.

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.

The consequences may be servere:

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 collaborator. Third, Zimbabwe’s fragile coalition government could collapse completely. Whatever happens, democratic reforms in Zimbabwe are far less likely now than before the leak.

To their supporters, WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange are heroes of the democratic cause. Assange himself has claimed that his organization promotes democracy by strengthening the media. But in Zimbabwe, Assange’s pursuit of this noble goal has provided a tyrant with the ammunition to wound, and perhaps kill, any chance for multiparty democracy. Earlier this month, Assange claimed that “not a single person, as far as anyone is aware, has been harmed” by Wikileaks’ practices. This is no longer true, if it ever was.

I am surprised the mainstream media have not covered the Zimbabwe angle more.

I’m all for less secrecy, but that is not the same as no secrecy. And in terms of who decides what remains secret – I prefer those I elect to Parliament to do so, rather than Julian Assange who is accountable to no one at all.

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