|2. July 2008
African Union calls for national unity government
The African Union last night called for a national unity government in Zimbabwe, but stopped short of directly criticising Robert Mugabe or assigning mediators to help with the crisis. After two days of angry exchanges at an AU summit in Egypt that revealed deep rifts over democratisation, African leaders put together a joint statement that ignored appeals to get directly involved in Zimbabwe's political conflict, leaving the task of mediation to Zimbabwe's neighbours. It appeared to put Mugabe under little pressure to step down.
In contrast to this approach, the European Union said it would not accept a Zimbabwean government if it was not led by the opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai. The French foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, made the statement on Europe's behalf, as France has just taken over the rotating EU presidency. European diplomats acting as observers in Sharm el-Sheikh expressed disappointment at the AU's conclusions.
The final AU resolution made no criticism of Mugabe or his government, falling well short of the demands of some African states for his government to be barred from the AU. It only recognised "the complexity of the situation in Zimbabwe" and simply "noted" reports by African monitors of widespread intimidation in the run-up to Friday's single-candidate election. The summit gave no guidance on how negotiations for unity government should proceed: whether Mugabe should be treated as head of state despite the election debacle, or the recognition to be given to the victory of Tsvangirai in the first round of elections in March. Egyptian officials said that the decision had been accepted by all the African leaders at the summit, including Mugabe. "It's a shame for Africa," said a diplomat at the summit who had favoured taking tougher action.
Kenya, Nigeria, Zambia, Senegal and Botswana all questioned Mugabe's legitimacy in the wake of a government-backed campaign of violence that forced Tsvangirai to withdraw from the election. They argued that the AU should live up to its charter that aspires towards democratic government. They had called for AU mediators to help broker reconciliation talks as the current mediator designated by the Southern African Development Community (SADC), Thabo Mbeki, the South African president, is distrusted by Tsvangirai. The statement also appealed to "states and all parties concerned to refrain from any actions that may negatively impact on the climate of dialogue", an apparent criticism of UN sanctions being promoted by the US and Britain. The resolution emerged as the lowest common denominator between leaders at the summit who wanted to challenge Mugabe's legitimacy and others who wanted to acclaim him. The Zimbabwean crisis has brought to the surface simmering tensions among African leaders over whether legitimacy can only be achieved through the ballot box. Those tensions came to a head yesterday evening with an extraordinary call from Zimbabwe's neighbour, Botswana, for Mugabe to be thrown out of African institutions. Botswana's vice-president, Lieutenant General Mompati Merafhe, declared that the outcome of last Friday's elections, in which Mugabe was the sole candidate, "does not confer legitimacy on the government of President Mugabe. "In our considered view, it therefore follows that the representatives of the current "government" in Zimbabwe should be excluded from attending SADC and African Union meetings".
Taking the floor in a closed session, Mugabe spoke at length and delivered a blistering counter-attack on his accusers, according to diplomats at the summit. The tone was summed up by his spokesman, who said his critics could "go and hang. They can go to hang a million times. They have no claim on Zimbabwean politics". After his address to the summit, Mugabe flew home to a country still in ferment. It was unclear last night how a dialogue would be orchestrated between two sides who yesterday showed few signs of compromise. George Charamba, the Zimbabwean government spokesman, rejected proposals of a Kenyan-style unity government and accused the Kenyan prime minister, Raila Odinga, of having hands "dripping with blood". Zimbabwe's opposition party yesterday also played down the prospects of a deal with the Mugabe government. South Africa's president, Thabo Mbeki, was reported in the Business Day newspaper yesterday as being close to brokering an agreement between Mugabe and Tsvangirai that would lead to a unity government. But a spokesman for Tsvangirai's party, the Movement for Democratic Change, George Sibotshiwe, told the Guardian this morning: "There is no truth in that. There is no deal. Unless the African Union can identify Mugabe as illegitimate there is no deal."