COMMONWEALTH secretary-general Don McKinnon says the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (Chogm) in Abuja, Nigeria, in December will confront the Zimbabwe crisis head-on.
McKinnon said this week during his visit to Uganda and South Africa that the Zimbabwe crisis would be tackled vigorously and decisively.
“We want to put the Zimbabwe issue as the first one on the agenda so that we can deal with it once and for all,” McKinnon said. “The only way forward is through constructive engagement and dialogue.”
The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group will hold a meeting on the eve of Chogm to discuss simmering flash points.
McKinnon said Chogm should ta-ckle Zimbabwe at its December 5/8 meeting as it did the issue of Rhodesia during the special Commonwealth summit – the first to be held outside London – in 1966 in Lagos, Nigeria. The Rhodesian question plagued the Commonwealth after Ian Smith’s Unilateral Declaration of Independence in November 1965.
“The Commonwealth was there at the Lancaster House negotiations (in 1979). It was there for the transitional elections in 1980 and cheered the loudest at the formation of an independent Zimbabwe. It has helped Zimbabwe steadfastly through the many challenges of nation-building in the years that followed,” he said.
“In 1991 the Commonwealth adopted its guiding principles on Zimbabwean soil, in the form of the Harare Commonwealth Declaration. Nothing pains me more, therefore, than to see the Commonwealth being deliberately misunderstood and even vilified over the question of Zimbabwe.”
McKinnon said the land issue was important and that is why the club had acknowledged it was at the core of the current crisis, together with other fundamental issues.
He said the Commonwealth was working hard, not to perpetually ban Zimbabwe from the group but to make sure it bounced back. Harare was suspended from the group last year in March over electoral fraud.
McKinnon said Zimbabwe had to address five key issues before its suspension could be lifted.
These include national reconciliation and dialogue; repealing of legislation prejudicial to fundamental civil and political liberties; ending harassment of opposition parties and civic groups; adopting recommendations of the Commonwealth election observer group on electoral reforms; and engaging the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) on land.
“These are the issues which touch on Zimbabwe’s own adherence to the Commonwealth principles famously named after its capital,” he said.
“This approach is no different to that adopted when dealing with Nigeria between 1995-1999. But no one can say that there has been any change of attitude in Zimbabwe in the past two years.”
McKinnon said although Zimbabweans should resolve their situation, the international community also has a role to play.
“We cannot remain silent when independent newspapers are shut down, or when demonstrating trade unionists are beaten up,” he said. “Sadly, our overtures have been spurned. President Robert Mugabe’s government has chosen to keep us at arm’s length.”
Citing South Africa as a Commonwealth success story, McKinnon said it was sad to see Zimbabwe, once a beacon of hope in Africa, deteriorating into an unmitigated tragedy.
He dismissed reports that the Commonwealth was divided over Zimbabwe.
“Zimbabwe is not, as is commonly perceived, an issue dividing Africa from the rest of the Commonwealth,” McKinnon said. “There’s not a single African leader I spoke to that isn’t deeply unhappy about Zimbabwe. No one wants this crisis to just carry on forever. All African leaders want to see reconciliation in Zimbabwe.”
McKinnon said African leaders were actually more concerned about the Zimbabwe crisis.
“I was talking to President Thabo Mbeki the other day and he told me he has three million Zimbabweans in South Africa, (Mozambique’s President Joaquim) Chissano has 400 000, while Botswana hosts up to 200 000 of them,” he said.