November 25, 2003

Mugabe not to attend Commonwealth summit

President Robert Mugabe will not attend the upcoming Commonwealth summit in Nigeria next month, after Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo announced that Zimbabwe was not invited due to a lack of sufficient progress in talks with the opposition. The country was suspended from the group of mainly former British colonies after charges that President Robert Mugabe had rigged his re-election last year. The two key members, Britain and Australia, have been determined to keep the President away from the meeting, while several African member states have tried to keep him in the group. Among the latter has been the host country Nigeria, the President of which had recently visited Zimbabwe as a last effort to avert a split of the 54 members. "I visited Zimbabwe to appraise myself of the current situation," Obasanjo stated. "I've seen the situation and I think the way they are going, it should be a short period before Zimbabwe can come into the mainstream."

Although Obasanjo is a long-time ally of Mugabe, he appears to have had little success in his bid to broker talks between Mugabe and his opponents, which is a key demand of the Commonwealth. Obasanjo testified that the two sides were talking to each other, but "probably not as much as one might hope". Alex Vines, head of the Africa programme at London's Royal Institute of International Affairs", comments the situation as follows: "A few months ago, Nigeria was hoping that there would have been some progress in Zimbabwe, but there has been no meaningful progress. In the end, Nigeria has had to be pragmatic." However, Obasanjo announced that he did not want Zimbabwe to become the main issue of the meeting. Instead he wanted it to focus on trade issues between rich and poor nations, which were left unresolved by the World Trade Organisation discussions in Mexico. (Rts/IRIN)

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