THE diplomatic row between President Robert Mugabe and United Nations (UN) secretary-general Kofi Annan over a doubtful meeting to resolve the Zimba
bwe crisis escalated this week with the world body recalling its envoy in Harare for consultations.
The quarrel over the Annan visit has left the government in disarray as officials issue contradictory statements.
Mugabe’s spokesman George Charamba last week said Annan’s invitation had expired and was now “stale” although he seemed to be backtracking in remarks in the press yesterday.
Charamba’s boss, Information minister Tichaona Jokonya, said yesterday on the Voice of America that Annan was still welcome to come. His position is similar to that of deputy Foreign minister Obert Matshalaga who said in parliament on Wednesday that Annan’s invitation still stands.
Jokonya and Matshalaga’s remarks were consistent with those of deputy Information minister Bright Matonga last week, showing that Charamba reflected Mugabe’s isolationist thinking.
Sources said the popular view in government was for engagement, not digging in heels and burying heads in the sand.
Annan — who indicated this week he was still coming to Harare despite attempts to block him — called United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) country resident representative Agostinho Zacarias to the UN headquarters in New York for talks over the Zimbabwe situation.
The UNDP, a UN development agency, has five areas covering its mandate in Zimbabwe, namely democratic governance, poverty alleviation, crisis prevention, energy and environment, and HIV/Aids.
Diplomatic sources said Zacarias left on Monday for discussions on how to move forward in view of rising tensions over the Mugabe/Annan meeting.
The move came as Tanzania, whose former president Benjamin Mkapa is trying to arrange a meeting between Mugabe and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, also summoned its ambassador to Harare, Retired Brigadier-General Hashim Mbita, for consultations as well.
Jokonya confirmed Mkapa was mediating between Harare and London, as first revealed by the Zimbabwe Independent last week. Mugabe has said he wants to “build bridges” with Blair. It is understood that Mugabe believes a meeting with Blair might open the way for Zimbabwe to climb out of international isolation and start economic reconstruction.
Sources said the church leaders who recently met with Mugabe were also helping Harare to “build bridges” with the European Union. The church leaders met EU and Tanzanian officials on Tuesday to discuss ways of resolving the local crisis. The clergymen also had a meeting yesterday at a local hotel over the same issue. Regional church leaders are part of the process.
Mbita, who left the country on Sunday, is expected to be replaced by a new ambassador as Dar-es-Salaam seeks to push for a resolution of the current situation.
Sources said Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete was getting impatient with the Zimbabwe situation which has been on the regional agenda for six years.
Sources said Mugabe, who initially invited Annan last September to assess the impact of Operation Murambatsvina, now wants Annan to persuade the United States and EU to drop targeted sanctions against him and his ministers as one of the conditions for talks.
The sources said Mugabe has tasked Jokonya, who together with Mbita got the Mkapa mediation underway, to engage UN political affairs under-secretary Ibrahim Gambari on the sanctions issue before there can be any dialogue with Annan.
Jokonya told VOA he had been in touch with Gambari and suggested the removal of sanctions was key to a Mugabe/Annan summit.
Gambari met with Foreign minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi in South Africa in April in a bid to arrange an Annan visit. Gambari also met with South African President Thabo Mbeki who said Annan was now the main hope for the resolution of the Zimbabwean crisis.
Mbeki, who has been trying for the past six years to find a breakthrough on Zimbabwe, had talks with Blair last week over the crisis after similar discussions with Blair and Annan in South Africa recently. South African officials have of late been speaking openly about the Zimbabwe crisis, showing growing displeasure.
Mbeki’s deputy, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, said this week South Africa could do little to protect itself from the consequences of an economic collapse in Zimbabwe, suggesting the issue had to be resolved urgently. “I don’t even know if we can shield ourselves in that way because we cannot really close our border for instance,” she said.
“What South Africa can do is to give Zimbabwe the best support possible to be able to reconstruct if something like that were to happen. But I don’t think we can really shield ourselves. We cannot keep Zimbabweans out of South Africa.”
South African Foreign minister, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, said no one could force Zimbabwe to change its policies.
“There is a problem, there is a challenge, but I do not have all the answers about how to solve Zimbabwe. I think equally none of us has all the answers. The answers lie in the Zimbabweans’ hands,” she said.