British Prime Minister Tony Blair headed to a summit of Britain and its former colonies on Thursday with a message that Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe has yet to earn reinstatement to the bloc -- while two African leaders pledged to campaign for Mugabe's return. Zim won't 'dominate' Abuja meeting
British Prime Minister Tony Blair headed to a summit of Britain and its former colonies on Thursday with a message that Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe has yet to earn reinstatement to the bloc—while two African leaders pledged to campaign for Mugabe’s return.
Commonwealth leaders are working to keep differences over Zimbabwe’s continued suspension from dividing the Commonwealth summit when it opens on Friday, fearing a split between richer Western nations, including Britain, and developing countries.
Mugabe himself is to be absent from the debate—summit host Nigeria made clear last week he isn’t welcome at the summit.
Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and some other Pacific nations threatened to boycott if Mugabe showed up.
The 54-nation bloc wields its prestige, and the threat of suspension, as the main instruments for change in its member nations.
It suspended Zimbabwe in 2002, following Mugabe’s disputed re-election and amid growing rights charges against his government.
Blair contends Zimbabwe has yet to meet demands that it respect human rights and those of opposition parties and the media, Blair’s spokesperson said on Thursday, ahead of the British leader’s departure.
Rather than easing measures against Zimbabwe, Britain expects to discuss toughening them, the spokesperson said, speaking on customary condition of anonymity.
“The British government hopes that Zimbabwe will comply with the benchmarks laid down by the Commonwealth,” Blair’s spokesperson said.
Britain “hopes that it will move back into the Commonwealth on the terms laid down by the Commonwealth”, the spokesperson said.
“It will be good for the people of Zimbabwe who are facing a crisis which is not a result of any outside interference,” he said. “It is purely a government-made crisis, and the answer to it lies with the government observing the benchmarks laid down by the Commonwealth.”
In the Southern African nation of Malawi, President Bakili Muluzi took off for the summit with a promise to intercede on Zimbabwe’s behalf.
Zimbabwe’s continued exclusion will hurt only its people—not Mugabe, Muluzi said.
“The position of Malawi is to encourage the international community to create a window of assistance to Zimbabwe so that the people do not suffer,” Muluzi told reporters. “The issue of isolating Zimbabwe cannot resolve the problems in Zimbabwe.”
Muluzi said, however, that some of Zimbabwe’s laws, which “are not meant to benefit the people”, should be repealed.
Mugabe’s government has used sweeping new security and media legislation to crack down on the political opposition and shut down the country’s only independent daily newspaper.
Zambia’s president, Levy Mwanawasa, declared earlier this week he would lead the campaign to have Zimbabwe reinstated.
Internationally, Mugabe’s alleged abuses already have produced a marked divide—with African nations largely keeping silent last year as rights groups and Western nations condemned his allegedly rigged re-election.
With leaders converging on Abuja for Friday’s start of the summit, Queen Elizabeth II pursued the only full day of her two-day state visit—the queen’s first trip there since 1956, four years before Nigeria’s independence.
The 77-year-old monarch toured a mock market 30km east of the capital, Abuja. The market was constructed by the BBC as a set for a radio soap opera.
Owing to time constraints and security concerns, the market, and its actors playing Nigerian market people, was likely to be the closest the queen comes to ordinary Nigerians.
A 10m television screen outside broadcast her walkabout to those barred from the set.
“They say I am very dirty. I have no ID so I cannot enter,” said James Abur, a 40-year-old truck driver who was among those watching the queen on screen.
“I understand why she doesn’t come out. The queen would probably not be used to seeing our village. It is too dusty,” said Elizabeth Ukadike (27) as trucks sprinkled water on orange dirt tracks.
“Anyway, this is a wonderful moment that the queen of England is even here.”—Sapa-AP