African leaders look to discredit Mugabe

Pressure is mounting on African leaders gathering this weekend at Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, to repudiate President Robert Mugabe publicly by not acknowledging him as a head of state.

It is unclear whether Mugabe has been invited to the African Union summit scheduled for Saturday and whether he will be lionised, as he usually is.

Meanwhile, Kenya took the first step on Thursday, declaring that it will not recognise Mugabe’s ‘illegitimate presidency” and declaring the presidential run-off scheduled for Friday ‘illegal, illegitimate and inconsequential”.

In a joint statement Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga and civil society organisations asked the Southern African Development Community to replace President Thabo Mbeki as chief mediator between Zanu-PF and the MDC because of Mbeki’s ‘overt bias towards Mugabe and dismal failure to oversee a credible mediation process”.

Kenya will use the AU summit to lobby other countries to follow suit by isolating Mugabe’s government.

Most African countries have publicly denounced the election violence in Zimbabwe and declared that a free and fair election is impossible. They have urged Mugabe to postpone elections and enter talks with the opposition parties.
Mugabe insists he will talk only after the election.

Western diplomats say they are hoping that African heads of state at the AU summit will snub Mugabe.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband has suggested sending a peacekeeping force to Zimbabwe, but insists this process must be led by Africans. The idea is that it would be sanctioned by the AU and either form part of the African Standby Force or be constituted from scratch.

But MDC president Morgan Tsvangirai said at a media conference in Harare on Wednesday that he does not favour this option.

The international community hopes that the statement by the United Nations, endorsed by the South African government this week, will heighten the pressure. The statement condemns the violence in Zimbabwe and asks for the poll to be postponed.

The MDC appealed to the AU to decide on a mediation team at its Egypt meeting, which could include President Thabo Mbeki but would have to be a team effort.

‘In our view Mbeki as an individual has failed, but we will accommodate him if [the team] includes other African leaders or former heads of state,” MDC spokesperson George Sibotshiwe told the Mail & Guardian.

Sibotshiwe will represent the MDC at the Sharm El Sheikh meeting.

The MDC wants the postponement of elections and a transitional arrangement whereby Mugabe will remain the caretaker president while negotiations take place. It foresees that the transitional process could take as long as two years.

But the MDC has set the release of political prisoners as a non-negotiable condition for talks. MDC secretary general Tendai Biti is in jail facing treason charges, while Tsvangirai has taken refuge at the Dutch embassy in Harare.

He tried to go to the Botswana high commission on Sunday evening to escape an attack by Zanu-PF militia but because of roadblocks he could not get there and opted to go to the Dutch embassy.

Tsvangirai cannot leave the country because the Zimbabwean authorities have refused him a new passport.

Since the March 29 election Mugabe has reinstated himself as president and has represented Zimbabwe at a UN summit in Rome.

A SADC meeting in Swaziland on Thursday called on the AU to ‘get involved” and do everything possible to postpone the elections so that inter-party talks can take place.

The European Union is also looking at ways of ratcheting up the pressure on the Zimbabwean ruling elite. At a meeting in July it is expected to slap heavier travel bans on more people in Mugabe’s inner circle and institute forensic procedures to track down their accounts in Europe and freeze them.

England’s Queen Elizabeth yesterday revoked Mugabe’s honorary knighthood ‘as a mark of revulsion” at the political intimidation and human rights abuses in Zimbabwe, The Guardian reports.

The decision was announced by the UK Foreign Office, which said it had been taken on advice from Miliband.

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