African Union Summit Welcomes Mugabe, Shuns Zimbabwe CrisisBy Carole Gombakomba, Irwin Chifera & Patience Rusere
Washington & Harare
30 June 2008
Heads of state and government of the African Union disappointed hopes among international observers and Western governments that they would take President Robert Mugabe to task for his re-election in a ballot widely seen as illegitimate and his inauguration at top speed.
World attention was focused on the Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh as African leaders opened a two-day summit on Monday, but they gave little indication they would even criticize let alone censure Mr. Mugabe over his country's degraded electoral process.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said no one in the "whole world" would recognize Mr. Mugabe's re-election. He urged AU leaders to insist on a new government in Harare. The European Union called Mr. Mugabe's election an "exercise in power-grabbing." Earlier, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement calling Zimbabwe's election "deeply flawed," urging a negotiated solution.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in talks with Chinese leaders in Beijing, called on the U.N. Security Council to do more than issue "just another statement."
Despite international outrage over Friday's one-man run-off election and his inauguration in rapid sequence on Sunday, Mr. Mugabe got a warm welcome in Sharm El-Sheikh. He walked into the main conference hall side by side with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, summit host, and Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, who holds the rotating AU presidency.
A.U. avoided direct criticism of Mr. Mugabe. In the summit's opening session, Mr. Kikwete spoke only of "challenges" in Zimbabwe. Speaking in Swahili through a translator, Mr. Kikwete congratulated the Zimbabwean people for what he called their success and avoided any direct criticism of Mr. Mugabe for what many have described as a 'sham' election.
A.U. Commission Chairman Jean Ping in his remarks said only that Africa must do "everything in its power" to help Zimbabwe resolve its political crisis.
Some AU members were known to be lobbying for a strong statement on the election. But a potential supporter of such a statement, Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa, was taken out of play after he suffered a stroke at the summit. His vice president, Rupiah Banda, said Mr. Mwanawasa was in stable condition after being hospitalized locally.
The Zimbabwean opposition was lobbying African leaders at the summit.
Vice President Thokozani Khupe of the Movement for Democratic Change formation of Morgan Tsvangirai, who withdrew his presidential candidacy on June 22, told reporter Carole Gombakomba of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe that her delegation met with 36 foreign ministers to encourage the A.U. to send a mediator and peacekeepers.
Political commentator Chido Makunike said in an interview from Dakar, Senegal, that A.U. leaders were unlikely to move strongly against Mr. Mugabe, though a few of his African peers have been criticizing him on the summit sidelines. The A.U.'s election observer mission to Zimbabwe condemned the run-off election as neither free nor fair and marred by violence, as Harare correspondent Irwin Chifera reported.
Zimbabwean civic groups said they would step up lobbying and might launch street protests of Mr. Mugabe's power play. Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition spokesman MacDonald Lewanika told Patience Rusere that the international community must seek a more neutral mediator