What a difference a week makes.

Last week the news about Zimbabwe was about superduper inflation, violence against MDC party members, and a UN resolution for sanctions was turned down by Russia and China.

Talks were started between the Mugabe government and the MDC/Tsvangerai faction to discuss “sharing power”. This was felt by many to be a “last ditch” effort to stop the spiraling violence that was leading to anarchy or civil war in that country. But given the long history of South African apathy and even support for Mugabe, few had any hope that Mugabe would give in.

But this week, there are hints that a settlement might be reached. And the real reason for the change of heart?

China doesn’t want protesters at their Olympics.

Here in Asia, the TV is full of China’s plans for the Olympics. It is a major breakthrough for that country, and they don’t want anything spoiling the party, especially protests. They are trying to prevent Western protests about Tibet and Dafur, and they don’t need a new set of protesters pointing out that they are to blame for propping up Mugabe despite western sanctions: ignoring human rights problems simply because they want to make a buck.

China not only has many business dealings with Zimbabwe, but has helped Mugabe by training and supplying arms to that country. Chinese soldiers have been seen in the streets, for example (although one security page noted they are probably guarding Chinese businesses, not helping Mugabe) and there are rumors of Chinese MIGS flying around in the skies.

But with the Olympics coming, China doesn’t want the situation to blow up in it’s face, with them being touted on CNN and the BBC as the bad guy. protest

photo from the African Executive.

So the rumor (according to the UKTelegraph) is that China told Mugabe: Behave!

But China’s position is only one of many other countries pressuring the Mugabe government to accede power to the real winners of the election.

Bush’s new sanctions have targeted companies helping politicians to steal money for doing business with Zimabwe probably helped, but the real sting was that the list of “no visa” travel was expanded to 168 people. Darn, there goes the shopping sprees….

Quiet and peaceful Botswana started putting their two cents in, pressuring a clueless South African president Mbeki to stop pretending there were no problems in Zimbabwe.

Botswana, like Beitbridge in South Africa, is a common “shopping” excursion destination for those in Zimbabwe who have foreign currency to buy food, soap and other simple staples that are getting hard to come by in a bankrupt Zimbabwe. It is also a destination for those fleeing the country. But what really impressed the government was the reports from election observers of the voter intimidation and post election violence.

African countries such as Kenya and Zambia have also put pressure on Mugabe and Mbeki to solve the problem.

A “failed state” that descends into civil war is not good for any nearby country, yet the alternative, intervention by the west, is also undesirable for most African leaders. Hence the consensus for a negotiated settlement that would allow Mugabe to remain as a token leader while the opposition takes over the Parliament and other government posts.

The sticking point may not be allowing Mugabe a “token” presidency, but what will happen to those behind the violence and financial corruption in Zimbabwe. There are rumors that after Mugabe lost the first round of elections that the Army took over, leaving him a token president. Unless these leaders are neutralized, one worries that a coup against the proposed “unity government” will be the ultimate result.

The European Union meeting with African leaders this week probably helped too: France’s Sarkozy has praised South Africa’s Mbeki for his “bold and courageous” intervention in sponsoring the peacetalks.

Since Mbeki has been a major co enabler of Mugabe, essentially stopping any other country from intervening there, one has to figure this means Mbeki has either felt enough heat to actually start pressuring Mugabe himself, or that the EU thinks if they praise him enough he might actually do something to help.

There is pressure from South African trade unions (COSTUA), who vow to make Mugabe’s life “difficult” by having their brother unions in other lands refuse to  load goods destined for Zimbabwe, and who vow to march at the next SADC summit in Johannesburg next month. And activists are reminding Mbeki that protests and boycotts could easily endanger the much heralded World Cup that is due to be held in South Africa in 2010.

So there is hope for a negotiated settlement, but only hope, not results.

In the meanwhile, SWRadioAfrica reports that violence against civilians continues, and that the media is being prevented from reporting what is going on:

Radio stations are still being jammed using jamming equipment supplied by China, and websites are being hacked. The latest casualty is ZWNEWS, one of the leading websites on Zimbabwe.

The editor Alan Doyle was forced to put up a notice on his website on Friday saying: ‘Visitors to ZWNEWS.com over recent days will have noticed disruption to normal service. This is because hackers, based in, or at least routed through, China have damaged the site.’

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Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her blog is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket, and she has a blog on Zimbabwe at Makaipablog.

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