Mugabe sinks Obasanjo’s diplomacy

THE visit on Monday of Nigeria&#

8217;s Olusegun Obasanjo has raised hopes in government circles that even at this late hour President Mugabe may be invited to the Commonwealth heads of government meeting in Abuja next month.

The visit followed sustained pressure by Zimbabwe’s diminishing number of friends to get Obasanjo to relent on Nigeria’s earlier decision not to issue an invitation to Mugabe on the well-established grounds that suspended states cannot attend. Fiji and Pakistan have both been excluded in the past for democratic deficits.

Mugabe told Obasanjo that Zimbabwe had no case to answer and was entitled to attend, a refrain taken up by Stan Mudenge in his ministerial statement to parliament on Wednesday. Zimbabwe’s suspension had lapsed on March 19, one year after its imposition, he claimed.

Given these distortions, it is necessary to review the record. The Troika of “club” leaders, John Howard (current chair), Thabo Mbeki and Obasanjo, was asked at the Coolum summit in February 2002 to base their recommendations for dealing with the Zimbabwe crisis squarely on the findings of the Commonwealth election observer mission covering the presidential poll. This they did in their Marlborough House Statement of March last year. Zimbabwe would need to address the problems raised by the monitoring team with regard to electoral procedures and governance, they said, in order to bring the country into conformity with the Harare Declaration of Commonwealth principles. Secretary-general Don McKinnon was tasked to engage with the Harare authorities to ensure compliance.

Instead of following this advice, the Zimbabwe government proceeded to denounce the observer mission, making all sorts of allegations about its composition and its head, which in the most part turned out to be false. At no stage did it address the central issue of electoral misconduct. Indeed, the army remains a key player in electoral supervision, the Electoral Supervisory Commission continues to be an instrument of the incumbent, and as recent events in Chinhoyi show, the opposition is prevented by force from contesting elections. Freedom of choice has also been diminished by the closure of the Daily News.

In a serious breach of protocol, McKinnon has been prevented from visiting Harare to consult with Mugabe, being told to liaise with Mudenge instead.

It is therefore hardly surprising that when the Troika members consulted in March they could not find sufficient grounds to warrant lifting the suspension. There has developed in official Zimbabwean circles a myth that a minority of one on the Troika (Howard) overruled a majority of two. In fact the decision by the Troika not to lift the suspension was based on an extensive programme of consultation with Commonwealth leaders undertaken by McKinnon in February. It was this wide consensus — including African, Caribbean and Pacific states — that buttressed the Troika, two of whose members were admittedly trying to prevaricate.

However, despite Obasanjo bearing the impression of the last person to have sat on him and no doubt anxious not to have a diplomatic disaster on his hands at Abuja, he did muster sufficient resolve in recent months to exclude Mugabe from the forthcoming meeting.

Now, in response to exhortations from Malaysia’s foreign minister, prodded into action by Mudenge, and regional leaders, Obasanjo has gone the extra mile for Mugabe. And what did he find on Monday? The Zimbabwean president claiming that he was the victim of a racist plot and that although there had been “a change of attitude” by Morgan Tsvangirai, his electoral petition remained an obstacle to further talks.

It is not Tsvangirai who needed to change his attitude. It is a stubborn incumbent in State House who has refused point blank to adhere to Commonwealth principles. Unless Obasanjo is blind he will have understood that clearly enough. After all, he and Mbeki assumed they had cleared the petition obstacle when they were here in May. In a democracy aggrieved parties are perfectly entitled to appeal to the courts for justice.

Obasanjo will now consult with other Commonwealth leaders who, we must assume, will see no reason to bend the rules for a rogue state that only this week used unwarranted brutality to crush a legitimate protest against its ruinous economic policies. Sam Nujoma’s brief to put Zimbabwe’s case at Abuja now looks problematic. If anything, Obasanjo’s hand has been strengthened in his dealings with Mugabe’s apologists. Despite an anxiety to please, let’s hope he remains steadfast in upholding the values for which the Commonwealth stands.

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