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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.
“If the AU does not recognise his presidency Mugabe simply retuns to Harare and goes on with his life,” analyst John Makumbe told Johannesburg’s City Press. “Life for Zimbabweans remains the same, if not worse. So the AU has to make a difficult choice: going for Mugabe or going with Mugabe.”
The decision has been met by a storm of international condemnation of the violence, with increasingly powerful voices speaking out from Africa. On Tuesday President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal and ANC leader Jacob Zuma joined the condemnation and called for the vote to be postponed.
Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai’s decision to abandon a controversial run-off ballot against Zimbabwe’s strongman President Robert Mugabe would surprise few. Western governments and aid agencies have for weeks voiced the same accusations of violence and intimidation against the Mugabe camp which Tsvangirai cited in concluding that a run-off election stood no chance of being free or fair.
Hours before Tsvangirai’s decision, his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) reported that its rally in the capital Harare had been broken up by pro-Mugabe youth militia, something Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF party denied.