Rolling out the red carpet

Before I left for DRC last week, I traveled to Jo’burg for a meeting set up by the organization I’ve been doing some work with in South Africa. They bring together members of the regional and international community to dialogue about the challenges in Zimbabwe and raise awareness of the South African government and general population about the current situation in Zimbabwe.

I knew they were well connected, but I was still surprised when they told me that Morgan Tsvangirai, the Prime Minister of Zimbabwe, would be addressing this session of their ‘Building International Consensus’ dialogues. For those of you who don’t follow Zim politics much, Tsvangirai is the founder and leader of the MDC, the party that has provided the main opposition to Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF. After a disastrous election in 2008 (lots of corruption, violence and vote stealing), they joined together to form the Government of National Unity (GNU) to try and move the country towards a new constitution and elections. I won’t go into too much detail since I’m far from an expert in Zim politics, but you can find more info from the BBC here.

The event was all very dramatic. After a morning session of the usual diplomats, academics and civil society activists (which uncharacteristically started AND finished on time), all 150+ people there were hushed and seated We were coached that protocol indicated that we must all rise as the Prime Minister entered the room. When the doors were flung open a mass of about 10 men in black strode quickly into the room – the Prime Minster isn’t the tallest man, so he was swallowed up in the sea of suits. He was an incredibly charismatic speaker – most notably he announced that both he and Mugabe are committed to having elections next year, something that has been widely debated. He took questions for nearly as long as he’d spoken, addressing and answering even the most difficult questions in a very un-politician-like manner.

Afterward I was sitting with the team who had put on the meeting doing a post-mortem, and everyone got up and went outside rather abruptly. I followed them outside, and wondered why they were all standing in a line. Then I noticed that there was a fancy car parked at the curb of the hotel, and a red carpet rolled out – I still didn’t put two and two together. Finally I realized that the team was lining up to say goodbye to the PM, and that where I was standing put me in line to be first to shake his hand! Not exactly what I’d been expecting when I woke up that morning.

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