Africa News blog
African business, politics and lifestyle
Where once African officials might have viewed infrastructure projects solely as a good source of kickbacks, these days there is pressure from electorates, at least in some countries, to deliver on promises of improvements.
The growth that many African states have enjoyed in recent years has exposed the failure of the continent’s infrastructure still more starkly – with even South Africa suffering the kind of power outages that much of the rest of Africa has grown far too used to.
The global financial crisis is an even bigger threat to hopes of strengthening Africa’s infrastructure.
President Robert Mugabe, MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai and a smaller MDC faction signed a framework for the talks in South Africa on Monday — a deal that South African leader Thabo Mbeki said committed Zimbabwe’s political rivals to an intense timetable.
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.
Although Zimbabwe got all the headlines, the official theme of the African Union summit in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh was water.
That made it all the more surprising for thirsty delegates that there was none for them to drink.
Journalists covering the summit had other complaints.
Usually, these meetings are a glorious chance for reporters to grab quotes from normally elusive heads of state as they glide through the plush halls, flanked by aides and bodyguards.
But the Egyptians had other ideas at this summit. Maybe it was a sign of the sensitivity of the discussions, with Zimbabwe’s election crisis overshadowing all other topics. Or perhaps it was an indication of the immensely tight security around Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak — who escaped an assassination attempt at an African summit in Ethiopia in 1995.
Local security officials banned reporters from entering areas even two halls away from where the leaders were meeting.
A few news crews still got through, but some scuffled with President Robert Mugabe’s security men late on Sunday — the 84-year-old leader was himself knocked about. After that, security became even tighter, with journalists confined only to a smoky, overcrowded press centre.
Reporters like me and Reuters colleagues Opheera McDoom and Cynthia Johnston were banned from going to interview leaders even after their aides came to escort us to see them.
At least one official was advised not to enter the press room — to avoid provoking a crush. Egyptian security said they couldn’t guarantee the safety of officials.
Meanwhile, journalists were barricaded in one end of the building, with no food provided apart from two coffee breaks during the 12-hour days. Those offerings were devoured in seconds by a ravenous pack, depriving those who weren’t quick enough for even a dry piece of cake.
AU officials griped about the lack of hospitality too.
“This is the worst summit ever,” said one experienced AU official.
Mugabe’s victory in Friday’s one-candidate poll was condemned in the West and by all three African monitoring groups who said the vote was deeply flawed.
It would be out of character for the African Union (AU) to order any tough sanctions against Zimbabwe’s strongman President Robert Mugabe at its summit in Egypt on Monday. But has his swearing-in on Sunday for a new five-year term after a widely condemned election further narrowed the AU’s latitude for action? Mugabe defied international calls to cancel a presidential election run-off and negotiate with opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai who defeated Mugabe in the first-round ballot on March 29 but fell short of an outright majority. Mugabe was the only candidate in the second round after Tsvangirai and his Movement for Democratic change pulled out because of widely reported government-backed violence and intimidation.
Mugabe was heading for the AU summit after Zimbabwe’s electoral commission declared him the winner as expected. He was immediately inaugurated in Harare, extending his 28-year rule. This could force the AU to deal with him as the legitimate head of state of Zimbabwe, in the face of calls from the likes of South Africa’s Bishop Desmond Tutu for the pan-African body not to recognise his election. A defiant Mugabe vowed to confront his critics at the summit. The wily Mugabe invited Tsvangirai to the inauguration ceremony and pledged at the event to talk to the opposition to solve the country’s political crisis. Tsvangirai rejected the invitation.
Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai detained twice in a week, U.S. and British diplomats forced from their cars by police, rallies banned, aid workers stopped from working, reports of violence from across the countryside. The campaign for Zimbabwe’s presidential election run-off on June 27 is being hard fought, literally.
The opposition accuses President Robert Mugabe of responsibility for violence and says 65 people have been killed. The ruling party blames Tsvangirai’s followers and says Mugabe’s Western foes and some aid agencies have been campaigning for the opposition.
The news from Somalia seems to be relentlessly negative, writes Reuters Somalia correspondent Guled Mohamed. So it has been for the best part of 17 years since warlords overran the country in 1991 to usher in the modern period of chaos in this part of the Horn of Africa.