African business, politics and lifestyle
Is Zimbabwe back to square one after AU summit?
Can President Robert Mugabe be trusted to implement the resolution of the African Union summit calling for dialogue and a government of national unity to end Zimbabwe’s long-running crisis? According to Mugabe’s camp, he can. “The AU resolution is in conformity to what President Mugabe said at his inauguration, when he said we are prepared to talk in order to resolve our problems,” his Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu told Reuters a day after the AU passed the resolution on July 1.
While opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai and his Movement for Demoratic Change (MDC) say they have kept the door open for negotiations, he says conditions are not yet right for talks. The MDC also makes clear its objective is a transitional arrangement leading to fresh elections rather than a unity government. The crisis could conceivably be stuck on that difference.
The summit followed Mugabe’s controversial re-election in a run-off poll in which he was the sole candidate. Tsvangirai defeated Mugabe in the first round but pulled out of the run-off amid violence and intimidation directed at the MDC and blamed on Mugabe’s camp. The AU resolution expressed concern about the violence.
The AU resolution clearly calls for a Government of National Unity (GNU) as opposed to demands by the MDC and Western governments for a Transitional Government. Political analyst Cheryl Hendricks of Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies makes a strong case for transitional government in Zimbabwe given the highly polarised situation in the country.
“We primarily have two polarised parties each asserting their legitimate right to rule without the prospect of settling the dispute amicably through elections in the near future,” Hendricks wrote in a paper posted on the ISS website on July 2. “The prospects of unity, given these conditions, are highly unlikley and a cobbled together GNU will be unstable.”
Here are further points to consider in relation to the AU’s resolution:
- The resolution upholds the mediation effort of the regional bloc SADC led by South African President Thabo Mbeki. The SADC formally appointed Mbeki to this role in March 2007 but he has been mediating in the Zimbabwe crisis since the country’s disputed 2002 presidential election. Mbeki has been widely condemned for his policy of quiet diplomacy with Mugabe.
- The resolution calls on the SADC to “establish a mechanism on the ground in order to seize the momentum for a negotiated solution” but it is not entirely clear what form this would take. In the case of the post-election mayhem in Kenya last December and January, the AU brought in former UN chief Kofi Annan to lead a high-powered mediation effort on the spot.
- The AU intervened more robustly in the Indian Ocean state of Comoros when it sent a military force to back the local army to expel renegade former gendarme Mohamed Bacar who seized power in 2001 and clung on after an illegal election last year.
- The AU has been cool to planned further sanctions by Western governments against Zimbabwe. Many analysts believe Zimbabwe’s economic meltdown, blamed on Mugabe, and the threat of further sanctions are the most potent means to bring down his government.
- Mbeki has openly dismissed a call by the European Union that Tsvangirai should head any transitional government, and has not disguised his dislike for solutions to the Zimbabwe crisis hatched from outside the region.
Given all the above, is the Zimbabwe crisis indeeed back to square one after the AU summit? Or has the summit produced a framework more conducive to negotiations between Mugabe and his opponents?