Annan heading to Zim ‘soon’

Annan made the statements in Cape Town on Tuesday while conducting a three-day visit to South Africa, his first since his appointment in January 1997. The UN chief, whose term ends this year, said he still intended to visit Zimbabwe to see for himself the situation prevailing in the country following its contentious city clean-up Operation Murambatsvina that the UN claims left over 700 000 people homeless last June. The visit was at the invitation of Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, who urged Annan to make the trip to Harare to see for himself the results of the clean-up operation and subsequent efforts to resettle those affected under a new programme code-named Operation Garikayi/Hlalani Kuhle. The UN secretary general has postponed two initial visits to the country in September and November last year, and hopes are high that he will make it this time around. At a press conference following talks with President Thabo Mbeki, Annan brushed aside questions regarding South Africa’s quiet diplomacy approach to the challenges being faced by its neighbour, saying Zimbabwe had “great potential” and that its problems need to be urgently solved. The UN secretary general commended President Mbeki for South Africa’s efforts in resolving the troubles in Zimbabwe, and called on the rest of the countries in the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) to assist the nation. He said crises had a tendency of not remaining internal and could affect neighbouring countries. Zimbabwe has for the past eight years been in the clutches of a crippling economic crisis that has seen macro-economic fundamentals falling to all time lows and agricultural production and foreign and domestic investment levels also falling.. Inflation, which monetary authorities in the county have described as its economic “enemy number one” and which had mellowed to slightly over 200 percent has again resumed an upward surge, peaking at 613 percent last month. Government officials said last week they expected maize production to be about 700 000 tonnes this year, despite the country requiring at least 1.8 million tonnes a year. While Annan has several times expressed his optimism at Zimbabwe’s potential to emerge from its challenges, his failure to actually visit the country and get an informed view of the status quo has raised eye-brows. Since the conclusion of the clean-up operation, Annan has sent two envoys to Zimbabwe, UN Habitat and special envoy Anna Kajumulo Tibaijuka and Jan Egeland who visited the country in December last year. The reports submitted by both envoys have been critical of the clean-up operation and the subsequent restoration exercise, Operation Garikayi/Hlalani Kuhle and have courted the ire of the Zimbabwe government. Critics both within and outside of Zimbabwe have censured the country’s government for failing to admit their own part in its problems, with Annan apparently taking a swipe at African countries for failing to admit their hand in their challenges. Addressing the special joint sitting of the South African parliament, Annan stressed that while there had been legitimate struggles against slavery and colonial oppression, Africans also had to accept responsibility for their problems. “It is easy to blame these ills on the past and on outsiders. The depredations of imperialism and the slave trade, the imbalance of power and wealth in a flagrantly unjust world. “But that cannot absolve us, the Africans of today, from our own responsibility to ourselves,” he said.

March 2006
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