/ 23 June 2008

Pressure on UN to act against Mugabe

Zimbabwe’s crisis will move to the UN security council on Monday, as the international community contemplates fresh sanctions against Robert Mugabe’s government.

Britain, the United States and France will call on Russia and China to join the condemnation of Mugabe’s regime, while the European Union is expected to consider a raft of punitive measures aimed at Zanu-PF’s leaders, their finances, and their children’s European educations.

”If Mugabe thinks this finishes it, he’s in for a big surprise. He has united the world against him,” said Mark Malloch Brown, the British Foreign Office minister for Africa, Asia and the UN. ”Mugabe remains de facto president but he is not by any stretch of international law, or political imagination, a legitimate leader.”

Britain, America and France were the first to condemn Mugabe’s regime on Sunday for the collapse of the elections, and have agreed a joint approach which would emphasise the status of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change as the only legitimate power in Zimbabwe, on the grounds it won control of Parliament in March.

But observers say the reaction from other African governments could have more immediate impact. African leaders were reported to be consulting on what position to take. Several have condemned the election process as unfair.

Mugabe’s strongest protector in the region, South Africa’s President Thabo Mbeki, will be under internal and external pressure to negotiate a transition. He went to Zimbabwe last week to meet Mugabe and the MDC’s leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, and is reported to have tried to persuade them to abort the elections and form a national unity government. But the MDC no longer recognises Mbeki as a mediator, seeing him as too close to Mugabe.

On Sunday night, Mbeki called on Mugabe and Tsvangirai to meet. ”From our point of view it is still necessary that the political leadership of Zimbabwe should get together and find a solution to the challenges that face Zimbabwe,” he told the South African Broadcasting Corporation.

Gagging the people of Zimbabwe
But in Western capitals, and at the UN in New York, the tone was strident. Ban Ki-moon, the UN Secretary General, said the campaign of ”violence and intimidation that has marred this election has done a great disservice to the people of the country, and must end immediately”.

Carlton Carroll, the White House spokesperson, said: ”The government of Zimbabwe and its thugs must stop the violence now. All parties should be able to participate in a legitimate election and not be subject to the intimidation and unlawful actions of the government, armed militias and so-called war veterans.” Nicolas Sarkozy, the French President, accused Mugabe of using violence ”to gag the people of Zimbabwe”. He said France was ”ready to take, with its EU partners, all necessary measures against those responsible for this electoral masquerade”.

The EU is due to consider a raft of sanctions proposed by Britain: clamping down on financial transactions by the Zimbabwean leadership, freezing bank accounts, and closing businesses. They could involve forensic accounting to track down the ”bag carriers” and middlemen said to be used by leading Zanu-PF officials to avoid detection in their transactions. The measures could also be used to stop Zimbabwe’s elite sending their children to Europe for their education.

Some of the strongest criticism came from the British Foreign Office on Sunday. Malloch Brown described the crisis as a test of the international community’s commitment to the rule of law and human rights. ”This has turned into a complete thugs’ farce,” he said. ”This time there were 211 African observers. This time a whole range of African leaders have spoken out. This time, this is not about Mugabe against Britain.

”This is a challenge to all of us about the kind of world we want to live in, whether we are British, Russian, Chinese, or South African. To allow this kind of abuse to go on before our eyes and not to address it would be unacceptable.”

He said it was up to the UN, the EU, and the African Union (AU) to ”think of the best way of ending this farce”, but he added that the AU would take a leading role. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown discussed the crisis by phone with the AU’s chairperson, Jakaya Kikwete, President of Tanzania, whose government has denounced the pre-election violence in Zimbabwe.

The AU and its designated negotiator Kofi Annan, the former UN secretary general, were instrumental in resolving the post-election crisis in Kenya earlier this year. Diplomats said on Sunday the Annan mission in Kenya could be a model for Zimbabwe, finding a means for cohabitation of an incumbent president and an opposition-led government of national unity. The regional grouping, the Southern African Development Community (SADC), had sent more than 200 observers to Zimbabwe who had witnessed some of the worst of the violence.

On Thursday, Tanzania, Angola and Swaziland jointly condemned the intimidation of the MDC, adding their voices to those of Zambia, Botswana and Kenya, as well as a large group of former African leaders and luminaries. Yesterday, Levy Mwanawasa, president of neighbouring Zambia and current chair of the SADC, said the bloc could not remain silent and that Zimbabwe was a ”tremendous embarrassment to all of us”.

”There are a lot of unconstitutional things that have been done in this process,” he said. ”It will, therefore, not be out of fashion to postpone this election to avert a catastrophe in this region.

”The events in Zimbabwe are moving too fast. Tsvangirai has announced he is pulling out, and it will be scandalous for SADC to remain silent. What is happening in Zimbabwe is, of course, of tremendous embarrassment to all of us, and I hope sooner than later we can find a solution.”

The open question now is whether those governments will continue to recognise Mugabe as Zimbabwe’s leader. ”It would be astonishing if any African government recognised the legitimacy of Mugabe today,” Malloch Brown said.

”We are confronted with a regime in power solely by the barrel of the gun and the club. It has no legitimacy and no one can pretend it has.” – guardian.co.uk