SHARM EL-SHEIKH: Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe was welcomed by his peers Monday at an African summit, hoping for a boost of political legitimacy after a widely discredited re-election. His fellow African leaders appeared unlikely to strongly criticize him, despite Western calls for them to condemn the longtime leader.
The United States has vowed to bring the issue of Zimbabwe before the UN Security Council this week, and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown urged the AU to reject the result of Zimbabwe’s presidential runoff, in which Mugabe stood as the sole candidate.
The summit should “make it absolutely clear that there has got to be change in Zimbabwe, Brown said in London. “I think the message that is coming from the whole world is that the so-called elections will not be recognized.
African leaders were likely to take a softer line here, mindful that few of them can throw stones over election issues, though behind the scenes there were some differences on how much pressure to put on Mugabe.
At the summit opening, the 84-year-old Mugabe basked in the opportunity to show regional recognition of his victory, a day after he was sworn in as president for a sixth term following Friday’s voting. He entered the conference hall alongside his host, President Hosni Mubarak, a US ally who has also come under international criticism over unfair elections.
In meetings later, Mugabe hugged several heads of states and other diplomats, said one African delegate who was present. “He was hugging everyone, pretty much everyone he could get close to, said the delegate, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the meetings were closed to the media.
In his opening address to the gathering in this Red Sea resort, the African Union’s head, Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, danced around the crisis, congratulating the Zimbabwean people and AU mediators but not Mugabe himself. He called the elections “historic but also said there were challenges.
A draft resolution written by AU foreign ministers and due to be approved by leaders at the summit does not criticize the runoff election or Mugabe. The draft, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press, condemned violence in general terms and called for dialogue.
Most African governments – including regional powerhouse South Africa – have been reluctant to criticize Mugabe, whether because of long-standing ties to the Zimbabwean leader, because of his reputation as an anti-colonial liberator – or because they do not want to be seen as backing the West against a fellow African. Also, Mugabe has threatened to point fingers at African leaders and their own suspect elections if they speak out against him.
Instead of condemnations, the union’s leaders were expected to gently urge Mugabe to engage in some sort of power-sharing agreement with the country’s opposition, along the lines of a deal that ended violence in Kenya earlier this year.
Africa should “do everything in its power to help the Zimbabwe parties to work together in the supreme interests in their country so as to overcome its current challenges, African Union Commission chairman Jean Ping told delegates.
But some countries were taking a stronger line. In Nairobi, Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga said the African Union should bar Mugabe from the summit.
“They should suspend him and send peace forces to Zimbabwe to ensure free and fair elections, Odinga said.
Senegal’s foreign minister, Cheikh Tidiane Gadio, complained of the hesitancy to openly pressure Mugabe.
He noted that some Africans argue the West should “leave us alone and we be left to decide our own destiny – but then when the crisis occurs, “we don’t want to talk about it. That doesn’t make any sense.
One of the few African leaders openly critical of Mugabe, Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa, was not in attendance at the summit after he was rushed to Sharm El-Sheik’s hospital on Sunday. His vice president, Rupiah Banda, said Monday that the 59-year-old Mwanawasa suffered a stroke and was in stable condition.
“That is really bad luck for us, said Gadio, because the Zambian leader’s absence could hurt attempts to put more pressure on Mugabe.
The African Union’s own observers said Monday that the Zimbabwe runoff fell short of the continental body’s standards, citing violence and noting that the opposition was denied equal access to the media during the campaign.
Mugabe’s main rival, Morgan Tsvangirai, dropped out of the run-off after a campaign of state-sponsored violence against his supporters.
Tsvangirai on Monday said Mugabe should have no place at the summit. “Robert Mugabe is not the legitimate leader of Zimbabwe, Tsvangirai told The Associated Press. “He is usurping the power of the people. He has brutalized his own people.
He said the AU now had a responsibility to deal with the crisis.
UN deputy secretary-general, Asha-Rose Migiro, echoed that call for action in an address to the delegates, saying the Zimbabwe crisis is “the single greatest challenge … in southern Africa, not only because its terrible humanitarian consequences but also because of the dangerous political precedent it sets.
In a speech Sunday after his inauguration, Mugabe, who has been Zimbabwe’s leader since independence in 1980, sounded a conciliatory note. “Sooner or later, as diverse political parties, we shall start serious talks, he said.
On Monday, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said his country considers Mugabe’s government “illegitimate and called his re-election a “farce .
US President George W. Bush has said the US was working on ways to further punish Mugabe. That could mean steps against his government as well as additional restrictions on the travel and financial activities of Mugabe supporters.
Bush also wants the UN Security Council to impose an arms embargo on Zimbabwe as well as travel bans on Zimbabwe government officials.