7 September 2001

ZIMBABWE: All heads turn to SADC Indaba in Harare

An historic agreement between the Zimbabwean and British governments over land reform has created the ideal conditions for southern African leaders meeting in Harare on 10th Sept to hammer out the "fine print", according to analysts.

The agreement announced in the early hours of Friday, 7th Sept in Abuja, the Nigerian capital, binds the Zimbabwean government to stopping violence and restoring the rule of law, ending farm occupations and removing invaders from white-owned farms not listed for compulsory acquisition, and to transparency. It says that the British government and other donors will fund the land reform programme. It also says that the United Nations Development Programme will work with Zimbabwe's government to pursue "effective and sustainable land reform".

There was mixed reaction to the agreement brokered by Nigerian President Olusegan Obasanjo and signed by several Commonwealth foreign ministers. Some senior diplomats were cautiously optimistic, saying it remained to be seen whether President Robert Mugabe would abide by the deal because he had reneged on agreements in the past. Others said the pact had created a favourable environment for Southern African leaders meeting in Harare to consolidate the agreement and to set time frames for action.

The leaders gathering in Harare were directed by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) summit in Blantyre last month to meet various stakeholders in Zimbabwe with the aim of resolving its economic, political and social crises. South African President Thabo Mbeki is expected to be joined by the presidents of Botswana, Malawi, Angola and Namibia. Senior officials from their governments were in Harare last week paving the way for the meeting. "The SADC meeting will have to be a practical one. It will have to be about cementing the agreement in Abuja and emerging with a programme satisfactory to all," Sisulu said. There was hope that the leaders would leave Harare "with a concrete plan", said a South African representative.

Sanusha Naidu, senior Africa researcher at the South African Institute of International Affairs, told IRIN: "There is going to be pressure for SADC leaders to get something more tangible than just a verbal agreement to what has been decided at Abuja this morning. Now their challenge is to set time frames because there is an acknowledgment that this is no longer just a SADC problem. The fact that Obasanjo came up with a task team shows it has become a continental one. If they (SADC) drag their feet now, they have lost the battle."

After almost two years of inaction, the SADC summit in Blantyre made it clear that the walls were closing in on Mugabe. With the European Union and Commonwealth considering action against Zimbabwe that could further affect the region's economy, the bloc decided to take action. Now with the Harare meeting looming, the question is whether SADC can rise to the challenge. "The question is really should we dare to hope that the Blantyre summit set a precedent for summits to come?" Naidu wondered. (IRIN)

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