Summit tries to overcome Zim divisions

An African Union summit on Tuesday tried to overcome divisions on how to deal with the re-election of President Robert Mugabe in a poll condemned around the world.

Summit sources said the leaders were divided between those who wanted a strong statement about Zimbabwe and others who were reluctant to publicly censure the veteran leader, who extended his 28-year rule in a one-candidate election last Friday.

Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma, a member of the West and East African group most critical of Mugabe told BBC radio: “The people of Zimbabwe have been denied their democratic rights. We should, in no uncertain terms, condemn what has happened.”

Koroma said the Southern African group must engage Mugabe and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who withdrew from the ballot because of attacks on his supporters, in talks leading to a transitional government and fresh elections.

But Mugabe spokesperson George Charamba rejected the idea of a Kenya-style power-sharing solution floated by several summit leaders to end a crisis that has saddled Zimbabwe with the world’s worst hyper-inflation and strained neighbouring states with millions of refugees.

“Kenya is Kenya. Zimbabwe is Zimbabwe.
We have our own history of evolving dialogue and resolving political impasses the Zimbabwean way. The Zimbabwean way, not the Kenyan way. Not at all,” Charamba said.

Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change dismissed a South African press report that regional mediator President Thabo Mbeki was close to brokering a deal for Mugabe and Tsvangirai to negotiate a unity government.

MDC secretary general Tendai Biti said in a statement that there was no chance of a negotiated settlement after Mugabe went ahead with the June 27 election.

“Whilst the MDC pursued dialogue in a bid to establish a government of national healing before the 12th June 2008, the sham ... election on 27 June 2008 totally and completely exterminated any prospects of a negotiated settlement,” Biti said.

Biti added that no talks were taking place between the opposition and ruling Zanu-PF party.

Mugabe threatened before the summit to confront his critics and suggested he would point back at leaders who themselves were in power undemocratically.

Deep divisions
In a mark of the depth of divisions, Charamba accused Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga—who has called for Mugabe to be expelled from the AU—of having bloodstained hands from the crisis in his country, in which 1 500 people died.

“Odinga’s hands drip with blood, raw African blood. And that blood is not going to be cleansed by any amount of abuse of Zimbabwe. Not at all,” he told reporters.

Odinga joined a power-sharing government with President Mwai Kibaki under an AU-backed deal to end the Kenya crisis.

The AU traditionally favours consensus and analysts said the divisions might be overcome with a statement that called for negotiations but stopped short of condemning the election or refusing to recognise Mugabe (84).

“They will dodge the bullet. They won’t expressly recognise him but they won’t kick him out of the session,” a senior delegate told Reuters.

Tsvangirai, who defeated Mugabe in the first round in March, withdrew from the poll after saying government-backed violence had killed nearly 90 supporters. He has called on the summit not to recognise the election.

MDC spokesperson Nelson Chamisa said: “We remain optimistic that the summit will not declare Mugabe legitimate, because he doesn’t have the mandate of the people.”

He said the MDC would be disappointed if the summit asked Mbeki to continue mediation, saying they wanted an expanded team. Mbeki has been mediating since last year but has failed to solve the crisis and is accused of being soft on Mugabe.

Mugabe was sworn in for a new five-year term on Sunday after election authorities announced he had won more than 85% of a vote which three African monitoring groups said was unfair.

Tsvangirai left the Dutch embassy in Harare on Tuesday after taking refuge for more than a week, the Dutch government said.

Tesco, Britain’s biggest supermarket chain, said it would stop buying produce from Zimbabwe to support pressure for an end to its escalating political crisis.

African leaders, deeply reluctant to criticise each other publicly, have previously appeared over-awed by Mugabe’s status as a hero of the anti-colonial struggle. But the conduct of the election provoked unprecedented criticism from within Africa.

The summit is unlikely to back a United States push at the United Nations for sanctions against Mugabe, including an arms embargo.

So far only Western powers have imposed financial and travel sanctions against the Zimbabwean leader and his top officials.

China, which has long opposed UN sanctions, said on Tuesday Zimbabwe must solve its own problems and showed no eagerness to endorse the US moves.

The United Nations said Africa’s credibility was at stake over Zimbabwe. UN deputy secretary general Asha-Rose Migiro told reporters at the summit, the AU must get its act together.

Charamba attacked Western nations who say Mugabe is an illegitimate leader. “They can go and hang. They can go to hang a million times. They have no claim on Zimbabwean politics.” - Reuters

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