Africa News blog
African business, politics and lifestyle
Is it just me, or is Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe starting to look more confident again? At the start of power sharing talks a few weeks back he appeared distinctly grim when he and opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai had their historic handshake.
In the past few days he has been much more his old self, lambasting the West at a speech to commemorate the dead in the liberation war, giving a national honour to George Chiweshe, who organised elections that were condemned by much of the world, and generally upbeat during three days of talks that in the end delivered no result.
Exactly what’s going on behind the closed doors is hard to fathom.
A top official from Mugabe’s ZANU-PF told Reuters a deal had already been done between Mugabe and Arthur Mutambara, leader of a breakaway opposition faction. “Deal sealed” read the headline from the state-owned Herald. Mutambara has come out to say that no such deal has been signed but tellingly noted that “should talks fail” any party was entitled to enter bilateral negotiations.
What a deal with Mutambara might give Mugabe is the parliamentary majority that ZANU-PF lost in the elections. What it is very unlikely to give him is hope of resolving the crisis that is destroying Zimbabwe or of persuading the rest of the world that change is underway.
Zimbabwe may lose its status as the country with the world’s highest proportion of billionaires after the central bank’s decision to lop 10 zeroes from its dollar.
What it means for the currency is that 10,000,000,000 dollars will become just one - although it will still take 25 of the new dollars to buy a loaf of bread.
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.
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.
Eton-educated British mercenary Simon Mann has gone on trial in Equatorial Guinea for his role in a 2004 coup plot to overthrow President Teodoro Obiang Nguema.
The state prosecutor is seeking a jail term of nearly 32 years for Mann, who has admitted in a British TV interview this year that he plotted to topple Obiang.
Mann’s defence lawyer has argued that his client was a “mere instrument” in the plot, but not one of the main organisers. The prosecution has named Mark Thatcher, son of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, as one of the businessmen conspirators who invested in the coup plot. Mark Thatcher denies knowing about the coup and is not on trial in Malabo.
So, with Mann’s trial and the death of notorious French mercenary Bob Denard last year, is the era of the “dogs of war” over in Africa? Or will Equatorial Guinea’s huge oil riches soon tempt others to hire foreign guns for a violent takeover of power?
Is justice being done in the case of Mann, or should others be with him there in the dock?
The rule of President Obiang, who overthrew his dictatorial uncle Francisco Macias Nguema in a 1979 coup, has been sharply criticised by international human rights groups who accuse him of abuses and restricting political freedoms. Some might argue that a “regime change” such as the one plotted by Mann might have been good for Equatorial Guinea. What do you think?