Mugabe snubs Mbeki
However, some people have viewed the latest development as a direct snub to South African President Thabo Mbeki who was quoted telling the British media a month ago that he would be pushing for an Annan mediation and who the United States had labeled the ‘point man on Zimbabwe’.
Prior to the recent African Union (AU) Summit in Banjul, The Gambia, President Mbeki told a joint press conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair in London that: “I welcome the fact that the United Nations secretary general has indicated that he wishes to be involved in this. He will provide, I know, a wholly independent assessment of the situation there.
“For the people in Zimbabwe, of course, I want to see progress made, but I think if you look back at these last few years the reasons why you’ve got those social and economic problems don’t rest here, but back there.”
However, President Mugabe appeared to turn the tables on these machinations when at the AU Summit, a meeting between himself, Annan and President Mbeki produced a totally different outcome from the one anticipated by the South African leader.
Annan announced after the meeting that he stood in support of Mkapa’s mediation between Zimbabwe and Britain with the UN only playing a facilitatory role in the issue.
Zimbabwe and Britain have not been seeing eye-to-eye since Zimbabwe embarked on a revolutionary Land Reform Programme in 2000 and the latter subsequently spearheaded a campaign – supported by the EU, the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand – to slap sanctions on Harare.
For the past few months, Britain had been pushing for Annan to go and assess the situation in Zimbabwe, a move diplomatic observers said was designed to place the country on the UN agenda for possible censure by the Security Council.
However, it was President Mbeki’s support for such an initiative that added spice to the saga and the world eagerly awaited the Zimbabwean leader’s response to the proposal.
Initially, President Mugabe had invited Annan to come to Zimbabwe to assess the aftermath of last year’s urban clean-up drive after the latter’s envoy Anna Kajumulo-Tibaijuka slammed the operation.
In what observers said was a face-saving move, South Africa’s Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Aziz Pahad added to this saying: “He (Annan) committed himself to help in Zimbabwe and he will assist the mediator, former President Mkapa, to carry out his work.”
Regardless of the apparent snub on President Mbeki, the latest developments do indicate an increased role for the SADC bloc in any process leading to the thawing in relations between Zimbabwe and Britain.
President Mugabe told the media that Annan had understood his desire to have Mkapa – a member of British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Africa Commission – mediate under the auspices of SADC.
President Mugabe said: “This is the right approach as far as we are concerned. SADC knows our position better than Europe and that is the position that we accept and we are looking forward to working with members of SADC.”
To this, Annan responded: “I told him (President Mugabe) I was committed to helping Zimbabwe and the people of Zimbabwe and would support the work of the mediator. We both agreed that he (Mkapa) should be given the time and space to do his work.”
Annan added: “Former President Mkapa has been working quietly with President Mugabe. You do not need two mediators.”
President Mugabe pointed out that he and Annan had agreed that the latter’s involvement in the issue could tarnish the UN chief’s image as he served out the last few month’s of his second and final tenure at the helm of the global body.
Annan is serving the last few months of his second and final tenure at the helm of the UN.
Expectedly, there were many people – most of them long-time critics of the Zimbabwe government – who were not amused by the latest twist Annan brought to the tale.
Brian Raftopolous, the executive chair at the Institute for Reconciliation said: “What we have seen in the past is that the Tanzanian government has been very close to President Mugabe. There has been solidarity with him and therefore it’s not quite clear what form this mediation will take, except that he will be a messenger for the Zimbabwean President.”
British Minister for Africa, Lord David Treisman – while expressing displeasure at the outcome of the President Mugabe-Annan talks – admitted that Mkapa was a good choice in mediator.
Lord Treisman, who attended the Summit, said the former Tanzanian leader was held in high regard by the British government.
University of Zimbabwe academic Nedson Pophiwa said the cooption of Mkapa in the equation boded well for Zimbabwe-Britain relations.
He said: “Mkapa worked with the current British government under the auspices of Prime Minister Blair’s Africa Commission. The report the members of that Commission produced bas the cornerstone of British policies on the continent and could form the nucleus of future UK Foreign Office policy.
“Furthermore, Mkapa has the capacity to rally most if not all SADC members around one cause. His good relations with SADC members and with the UK are good for Zimbabwe and Britain.”
Clement Masakure, a doctorate student in the United States said the Mkapa mediation would only succeed if both parties approached him in good faith and dealt openly with the former Tanzanian leader.
He said: “It is obvious that Zimbabwe is comfortable with a Mkapa mediation. This might cause some problems as the two sides have over the past few years failed to agree on less important things.
“London might have an inherent resistance to Mkapa’s proposed role for the simple reason that Zimbabwe is comfortable with him. In the same way, if Britain were to suggest a mediator, Harare might not trust that person because policy advisors there would tend to believe that the mediator is a Blair person.”
A Harare-based observer, Fortune Zishiri added to this saying Mkapa would do well to incorporate SADC as an institution in the negotiations.
“If they work as a regional body they will definitely have more clout. However, even then Mkapa must still be given sufficient room to manoeuvre using his personal and professional influence.
So far, there has been no word from both the Zimbabwe Foreign Ministry and the British Foreign Office as to the level of engagement between the two parties.
Regardless, the European Union has expressed concern at the manner in which both SADC and the AU have handled the Zimbabwe-Britain stand-off.
For their part, SADC and the AU have emphasised that Zimbabweans should be the prime actors in solving their problems and constructive re-engagement with countries like Britain should be approached within the context of the sovereign post-colonial State in the new millennium.
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe scored another diplomatic coup at the AU Banjul Summit when Foreign Ministers of Member States rejected a report by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights on Zimbabwe and the document was subsequently not presented to Heads of State for possible adoption.