By David Blair in Johannesburg and Hilary Clarke in Rome
President Robert Mugabe flew to Rome in defiance of a European Union travel
ban after the United Nations caused outrage by inviting him to address a
conference on world hunger today.
Zimbabwe, once the bread basket of southern Africa and a major exporter of
food, now depends on western aid to avoid starvation.
Four million Zimbabweans, a third of the population, need supplies from the
World Food Programme.
Critics of the Harare regime are appalled that the UN's Food and
Agricultural Organisation (FAO), whose mission statement is "helping to
build a world without hunger", invited Mr Mugabe to address a conference in
Rome marking its 60th anniversary.
Tony Hall, the US ambassador to the UN food organisations in Rome, said: "My
government is excited about the FAO event which is organised to remind
people about hunger.
"However my feeling is we shouldn't be inviting someone who has absolutely
turned his back on the poor in his own country. He has made a mockery about
the hungry and everyone should be upset about this."
Mr Hall said that since 2002 the US had donated almost $300 million [£169
million] in food aid to Zimbabwe.
He visited the country when the regime was engaged in bulldozing large areas
of the poorest black townships.
This campaign, personally ordered by Mr Mugabe, destroyed the homes or
livelihoods of 700,000 people and harmed another 2.4 million, according to a
A spokesman for the Foreign Office said: "Going to Rome to celebrate World
Food Day whilst millions of ordinary Zimbabweans face food shortages as a
direct result of his flawed policies simply emphasise Mugabe's skewed sense
Zimbabwe's transformation from self-sufficiency to dependency coincided with
Mr Mugabe's seizure of white-owned farms.
He blames food shortages on drought. But critics say hunger is the direct
and predictable result of his policies.
Tendai Biti, from the leadership of Zimbabwe's opposition Movement for
Democratic Change, also criticised the UN invitation.
"It's a tragedy," he said. "Inviting Mugabe sends exactly the wrong signal.
He has completely destroyed the economic and agricultural fabric of this
"The UN shouldn't play ping-pong with the suffering of the Zimbabwean
people." An FAO spokesman said that as a member "in good standing" with the
agency Mr Mugabe was invited to attend.
"The UN does things sometimes," said Mr Hall. "They roll over backwards to
try to be fair but someone like this really makes a mockery of what we are
Mugabe, a Roman Catholic, last travelled to Rome for Pope John Paul II's
funeral when he embarrassed the Prince of Wales, reaching across to shake
the royal hand during the service.
Mr Mugabe accepted the FAO's invitation on Friday and will speak at the
He seizes any opportunity to visit the western world and defy a travel ban
imposed on him by the EU.
This measure, introduced in 2002, supposedly prevents Mr Mugabe and 94 other
members of his regime from visiting any member state. A similar ban is in
force in America.
Yet Mr Mugabe repeatedly exploits a significant loophole.
The travel ban does not apply to UN functions because these are held to be
above the jurisdiction of any individual state. So Mr Mugabe has frequently
visited New York to address UN summits.
He uses these occasions to denounce his western critics and blame them for
Zimbabwe's food shortage.
In June, Zimbabwe's state press blamed Britain for Africa's dry weather and
claimed that Tony Blair was using "chemical weapons" to cause droughts and
famines across the continent.
Today he can be expected to seize the opportunity to make another attack on
the Prime Minister and the "western imperialists" who are, apparently,
obsessed with overthrowing his bankrupt regime.
ZIMBABWE President Robert Mugabe's arrival in Rome on Saturday for the
anniversary of the UN food agency has sparked criticism from the agency's US
ambassador and Italian officials, who say his policies have helped starve
Mugabe, who is exempt from an EU travel ban when on UN business, may address
the Food and Agriculture Organisation today (FAO), during its 60th
anniversary celebrations. .The FAO's US Ambassador Tony Hall was personally
"amazed" that Mugabe had been invited.
"The US government is disheartened that President Mugabe, who is responsible
for growing hunger in his own country, has decided to attend the event," a
spokeswoman for Mr Hall added.
Mugabe blames Zimbabwe's economic crisis on sanctions it says are organised
by former colonial power Britain in retribution for Harare's policy of
redistributing land to poor black farmers.
The EU imposed travel sanctions on Zimbabwean government officials after
accusations of vote rigging in parliamentary polls in 2000 and in Mugabe's
re-election two years later.
"The red carpet will be stained with the blood of the poor people who are
dying of hunger and thirst in Africa," Italian senator Sergio Agroni, a
leader of parliament's agriculture commission said.
The FAO's spokesman said Mugabe would have the opportunity to address FAO
Director-General Jacques Diouf and a news conference later today.
Mugabe, a Roman Catholic, made headlines on his last visit to Rome for Pope
John Paul II's funeral when he reached across to shake Britain's Prince
Charles hand during the service.
Please send any material for publication in the Open Letter Forum to
firstname.lastname@example.org with "For Open Letter Forum" in the subject line.
To the self-righteous Scot [GGG] - OLF no. 387
Your letter begs many questions:-
1. Have you ever been to Africa or lived in Zimbabwe?
2. Do you think the land has been given to `poor black landless peasants'?
3. Do you know for a fact that there were no land reform programmes after
Independence in 1980?
4. Is your `beef' with the Brits, Ian Smith, the white farmers or
Zimbabwean whites in general?
5. Do you think all white farmers were `given' or `stole' their land?
Maybe you could investigate how many farms were bought after 1980
Independence, with government approval.
6. Poverty and Aids are `real issues' in Zimbabwe at present, more than
7. Do you think Zimbabwe is a cluttered little island like the UK and there
is no land for everyone? You can drive from one end to the other and see
vast tracts of uninhabited land.
8. Do you think all white farmers have not acknowledged their past mistakes
and have not tried to make amends or reforms or changes?
9. You mention Charles I and his beheading but you say you are a `strong
supporter of non violence', who are you warning, we who are in danger of
`becoming extinct'? There's only one person on my guillotine wishlist!
10. Can you please get me a British passport, so that I can sit securely on
another continent and while away my time trying to solve problems of which
I know virtually nothing?
Dear Mr Chappell,
Please may I have the privilege of answering the very first question you
ask in your last letter? "Well what can I say," My advice would be, say
nothing. Your 25 year old naivety is a dead give-away, living on mud-island
and having been adequately brainwashed via the myriad, and sometimes
pathetic media renditions of the true nature of Zimbabwe/Rhodesia
realities, then and now. I get your point though, bootlicking and
ring-shining just might score you enough points to be given a farm instead
of having to "invest" in one. Throw in a few quid for the fat geysers to
prove you're politically correct.
I shouldn't warn you, but when the colour of your skin is deemed enough
reason to have your piece of land appropriated by some hierarchical thief
after you've slaved blood, sweat and tears, if you know what those are of
course, to make it productive, and without the sickly politics as a motive,
make sure that you've kept your mud-patch intact. By the way, haven't heard
from your Uncle Andy Capp lately. Please give him my regards.
I would like to know what Stuart Chappell`s thoughts are regarding the USA,
Australia, New Zealand etc.
Should he/we be starting our own serious reform on behalf of all the poor
displaced Native Americans, Aborigines and Moirés. Remember, these poor
peoples all had their land forcibly taken from them. Do we now campaign
for all the White land to be nationalised?
Where do we draw the line? Send a quarter of the current English settlers
in the UK back to France, Scandinavia, Germany etc, from whence they
A very good perspective of Southern Africa,(before the wheel) can be gained
from reading the books of the early hunters and explorers of Africa.
Africa has been introduced to the wheel, but chooses to discard it.
I am afraid I feel I have to respond to the white British citizen wishing
to purchase property in the Zimbabwe, Stuart Chappell. I really do think
you should stop looking down your nose at those white farmers. You are
just showing your British traits of thinking your knowledge is superior to
those people who actually live in a situation of which you have no
experience. Not all whites in Zimbabwe are or were farmers. I am not a
farmer, and although privately educated, I was not in a financial position
to buy my own property due to the cost of living. My father was a white
lawyer (God forbid for being white) and practised in Mutare and Harare.
He did pro bono work to the detriment of his family to assist the poor
black brethren and represented terrorists during the war as he believed
every human being has a right to a defence. Stop criticising and judging
those white farmers. Some of them have done incredibly good works which
include providing free education, free clinics and medical health and
provided them homes. The alternate for them was to starve, which they are
doing now as they are displaced. There are no social benefits in Zimbabwe
from the government. Africa has done nothing for my family although we are
white. My parents are 'retired' penniless due to inflation and because
they are honest and won't wheel and deal which is what people have to do to
now to survive. They have always paid their taxes which many Zimbabweans
of all colours avoid. My parents are well educated and fine people, a
credit to Zimbabwe - Zimbabwe had done nothing for them; it has not
provided them with opulent wealth of which you talk. Zimbabwe needs
supporting and caring people in its time of terror and not your overbearing
anti colonial snobbery.
White Skin African Soul
Future successful agricultural exploitation in Zimbabwe will depend upon
sound education and training of farmers and agronomists. The current and
recurrent political and economic situation in the country is a serious
antidote to educational development. Why is it that, so far, very little is
being discussed about the health of higher education in Zimbabwe in the
media? What is happening to thousands of high school graduates who are
unable to go to college because they cannot afford multimillion dollars in
Could someone please share the research on this subject and, if none
exists, I suggest that one is warranted. Only through valid information can
help be found for them.
MANAMA - USA
Dear Stuart Campbell,
I do so hope that you come to Zimbabwe soon, and buy some land for farming
(lease is a better word). Bring all your pounds and invest in the farm, and
when it is up and running, I hope that your farm will be taken away from
you, as mine was. This will be very generous of you, and I can't wait for
you to come and help Zimbabwe this way.
sarcastic ex-farmer, now destitute
Please pass this on to Stuart Chappell.....
I have a property he is welcome to purchase, as long as he will pay the
equivalent of a same size property in the UK and in "pounds" Feel free,
walk in walk out!!!! He will be assured of a truly Zimbabwean experience
and a wonderful learning curve in the reality of life in Zimbabwe.
Whilst we are all concerned about the food security situation at the
present, what should be of even greater concern is the situation regarding
the 2005/2006 agricultural season.
I have just been on 2 separate trips, one by air and another by road
through different areas on private business. I travelled through some of
the Chinhoyi, Banket, Mutorashanga, Raffingora, Mvurwi, Guruve, Mazowe
Valley, Kadoma, Chakari & Karoi farming areas. The devastation is
heartbreaking, and plain to see by anyone who travels these roads. The
tiny and scattered wheat crop is probably not worth the costs of combining.
There has been, at a guess, 5% of the land Preparation done for the coming
season. There was One irrigated tobacco crop seen. (This should have been
in at the beginning of September!!)
Coming home on Sunday there were scores of obviously weekend farmers going
home to Harare after spending the weekend "Farming" in their fancy VX
wagons or Double Cabs.
Is there anyone out there in a position of authority who is aware that we
have missed the boat (again) for the coming season?
The international press and the donor community should be inundated with a
mass of information telling them of the impending train smash!!
Are the donor community aware that they are going to be feeding double the
number Zimbabweans through to April/May 2007?
There are scores of small chicken and piggery projects being started,
obviously some bureaucrat has recently had a bright idea and the ministry
is lending money for these projects to the said weekend farmers? What are
these poor animals going to eat? There will not be enough food to feed the
people, never mind the animals, and where are these weekenders going to get
the fuel to visit their "Musha" every weekend to take the requisite feed?
It does not matter how much money Gideon Gono is prepared to throw at the
New Settlers, the coming season will be a complete failure, and it is
imperative that the donors are made aware of this fact. South Africa will
need to grow another huge crop and donate all the food if starvation is to
be averted this time next year.
I am in absolute awe and wonder at the total incompetence being displayed
to anyone who drives down the roads of the formerly productive farming
areas of Zimbabwe.
The political parties are going to be focused on the coming Senate
elections and this will cause even more disruptions and divert even more of
the scant resources from the agricultural sector at a vital time.
In the coming months even more of the people who are already starving are
going to have to prove their party loyalty before being given food.
The situation that all of us still in Zimbabwe who are economically able to
withstand the coming crisis is going to be very interesting.
The effect on the vast majority of our people who are unable to cope with
the impending devastation is going to be catastrophic.
All letters published on the open Letter Forum are the views and opinions
of the submitters, and do not represent the official viewpoint of Justice
By Staff Reporter
Last updated: 10/17/2005 13:09:56
PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe was last night branded "heartless" after he
commandeered a London-bound Air Zimbabwe plane to the Italian capital Rome,
sparking a four-hour wait for hundreds of passengers after the plane ran out
Air Zimbabwe has been forced to cancel several domestic, regional and
international flights due to a crippling fuel shortage and the company's
terrible track record of failing to pay for refueling and landing fees at
airports around the world.
Mugabe and his entourage flew into a political storm in Rome Saturday where
he was invited by the United Nations. The United States said it was "amazed"
by the UN agencies' decision to invite the 81-year-old leader who is banned
from travel throughout the European Union, although he can attend UN events.
Furious passengers told New Zimbabwe.com how Mugabe and his group forced a
deviation in the plane's route, a decision which led to a four-hour
grounding of the plane after Air Zimbabwe failed to pay soon after a
refueling had been done.
"It seems Air Zimbabwe were afraid to tell Mugabe that the fuel would not
complete the journey," said a passenger on the plane. "Frankly, I was pissed
off that our journey was altered to suite Mugabe only to see him dump us on
an airport tarmac."
Another passenger confirmed seeing refueling trucks approaching the plane.
He described dramatic scenes of seeing the plane's captain angrily
remonstrating with one of the men who did the refueling.
"For long periods, we were just being told there was a problem. The nature
of the problem was not revealed to us," said the passenger who cannot be
"Many people thought Mugabe had caused the problem, if not politically, at
least by having diverted the plane and the fuel question was never far from
people's lips. Watching the captain arguing with the airport guy, we were
pretty much convinced at that point that Air Zimbabwe had not paid for
"I got the sense that the plane's captain was just a pawn in a grand game.
It was heartless for Mugabe and the Air Zimbabwe people to expose him the
way they did."
It was not the first time an Air Zimbabwe flight had been grounded after Air
Zimbabwe failed to settle its bill. Last month, we exclusively revealed how
flights to Harare from London were temporarily suspended after a plane was
grounded by airport authorities over non-payment landing fees.
Aviation experts have expressed fears that the severe foreign currency
shortages in Zimbabwe have forced Air Zimbabwe to "cut corners" after
failing to buy spares and properly service their planes thereby threatening
The airliner has also come under fire for running unproductive routes
tailored to reflect Mugabe's 'Look East' policy. Early last month, the
airliner embarrassingly admitted flying only three passengers on its
The Air Zimbabwe spokesman was unavailable to comment last night.
Posted to the web on: 17 October 2005
LEADER of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) Morgan
Tsvangirai insisted at the weekend he was still firmly in charge, despite
clear signs a split in the party was deepening.
The rift in the MDC became clear after a vote last Wednesday on whether to
participate in the November 26 senate election, seen widely as yet another
institution set up by President Robert Mugabe to entrench his power.
The vote went 33 to 31 in favour of joining the senate elections, with two
spoilt votes, while the party's provinces earlier voted six to four in
favour of participation.
After Wednesday's count, Tsvangirai said he would use his authority as party
leader to push through the boycott vote.
However, MDC deputy secretary-general Gift Chimanikire sent a memo on
Thursday to party structures to start selecting candidates for the senate
election. Tsvangirai wrote to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission on Friday,
asking the body to reject nomination papers for MDC candidates. He said his
party had decided to boycott the poll.
Meanwhile, the ruling Zanu (PF) was celebrating the MDC infighting between
Tsvangiria against party secretary-general Welshman Ncube which may mark the
end of the opposition party.
The MDC almost defeated Zanu (PF) in the crucial 2000 parliamentary and 2002
presidential elections. It has challenged the results of elections since
then, claiming the ruling party rigged successive polls.
Mugabe welcomed the MDC decision to boycott the poll. He said his party was
not worried about MDC's decision. "They are an irrelevant party."
The other beneficiary of the MDC internal strife could be the proposed
United People's Movement, which wants to recruit senior members from both
Zanu (PF) and the MDC.
Like the MDC, Zanu (PF) is also reeling from a protracted power struggle
that almost split the party last year. A break up in Zanu (PF) is still
looming due to efforts by the party's faction led by luminary Emmerson
Mnangagwa to leave and fight Zanu (PF) from outside.
Mnangagwa's camp almost seized power in the run-up to the party's congress
last December, but the palace coup was foiled at the 11th hour by President
Tsvangirai said his main reason for boycotting the poll was that elections
in the current Zimbabwean environment "breed illegitimate outcomes".
But MDC legal affairs secretary David Coltart said the majority of the party's
grassroots support wanted participation in the election because they are
saying "if we don't participate we yield ground in areas where Zanu (PF) has
no chance of winning votes".
Posted to the web on: 17 October 2005
International Affairs Editor
PRESIDENT Thabo Mbeki's successor will face the task of smoothing over the
holes created by Mbeki's policies on Zimbabwe and HIV/AIDS, says an article
in the next edition of a US foreign policy journal.
An article to be published in November-December issue of Foreign Affairs
says the next president, to take power in 2009, will have to "repair the
damage that Mbeki has done through his misguided approach to black
empowerment and through his policies on Zimbabwe and AIDS".
Jeffrey Herbst, provost of Miami University in Ohio, writes in the quarterly
journal that Mbeki's successor will need to develop "a political approach
that goes beyond racial solidarity", to fix up the problems as well as build
on the successes of Mbeki's administration.
If the ruling African National Congress (ANC) is to remain relevant, it must
put aside its role as a struggle organisation. The party must replace "its
primary focus on resistance to apartheid with greater emphasis on the
development of nonracial politics and socioeconomic equality".
Herbst, previously at Princeton University, has often visited SA and
specialises in African affairs. While the article is critical of the ANC and
the president, it does have strong words of praise for SA for its
macro-economic stability and democracy.
He justifies Mbeki's strategy that has seen the creation of a few
"BEE-llionaries". This tactic, Herbst says, aims "to create an iconic black
business elite in the hope this will improve the relationship between his
government and the corporate world, extend the ANC's influence outside
politics, and help win more investment for SA".
Empowerment has not spread wealth widely, or encouraged the black population
into the formal economy. He also criticises a tendency of Mbeki and the ANC
to lash out at critics by labelling them racist.
By Chejerai Hove
Last updated: 10/17/2005 13:10:01
THE scene is a country called Zimbabwe, and the audience, thirteen million
anxious Zimbabweans. The actors: Zanu-PF and the MDC. The Stage Director,
Robert Gabriel Mugabe. The title of the play: The Senate Bandwagon.
The Zimbabwean political audience is once again faced with an ever more
confused political situation.
A few elections later, the people are rather puzzled as to what exactly is
happening. President Robert Mugabe has dangled a new carrot, the Senate. And
one already knows why this carrot is there, in front of the two political
parties and their faithful. I always wondered why this causes confusion
because the Senate is supposed to last only a short time. After all, it was
abolished in 1987 on the pretext that it unnecessarily delayed urgent
legislation which the government wanted passed the fast-track way.
With the current series of endless crises, it would seem the need for urgent
passing of legislation has not died. The land issue is still fresh and
causing havoc to the economy, the economic mess fraught with so many other
problems, the decline of services like health, education, transport. So many
In the midst of all this, the president wants to introduce a Senate, an
expensive undertaking which a shrinking economy can hardly afford.
It is well known now that Mugabe wouldn't care less if the country was broke
or not, as long as he keeps power till he dies. So, in order to accommodate
his 'fellows' who had fallen by the wayside, he decides to introduce a
senate which practically serves no useful purpose except to give terminal
benefits to his old and sickly friends he had forgotten to take along on his
gravy train of economic plunder and electoral fraud.
Then comes the side show: the MDC jumping onto this worthless project on the
assumption that it might be possible to contain Zanu-PF in its own game. To
play or not to play the Zanu-PF game? That was the question facing the
national council of the MDC. Surprisingly, the outcome was half-half kusenga
The meaning of it all is that to play the game means the MDC accepts the
rules and procedures which created the game. It also means an endorsement of
the political manoeuvres which have created the senate, and also an
acceptance of the recent constitutional amendments as valid. That is what
President Mugabe wants to happen, realizing that he created this game in
order to dangle a few crumps and left-overs in order cause a splits in the
MDC and possibly civil society. Mugabe's project seems to be advancing
without any hitches, so far.
As far as I can see, the problem of the MDC started when they participated
in the parliamentary elections whose results were already predicted and
known. Now, members of the opposition are in parliament, but not all who
wanted to be there. Those who could not make it to parliament would argue
that the current MDC members of the august house are enjoying the benefits
of the gravy train while denying others the opportunity to do so in the new
Senate. That is the problem facing the MDC. They have allowed themselves to
taste of the niceties offered by the devil, and everyone wants their piece
of the carrot. Exactly what Mugabe and Zanu-PF wants, especially in these
hard times of economic collapse and struggles for survival!
Everyone wants to put bread and butter on the table, never mind the source!
As far as I can see, wrapped inside the carrot, Mr Mugabe and his party
gurus have thrown a live snake in the house of the opposition. Some from the
opposition camp only see the skin of the carrot, while others have the
vision to see the snake within. Thus, the opposition party begins its own
demise fired by the energies and skills of Mr Mugabe's camp. The audience,
we ordinary Zimbabweans, can only look and wonder whether the opposition is
serious about participating in a Senate whose introduction it strongly
opposed not so long ago.
Having participated in the formation and running of several national
organisations, I have come to accept that the Zimbabwean disease is one and
only one in terms of organisational management. Once an institution is
formed, the next crucial task for some Zimbabweans is to find as many
reasons and ways as possible to tear it apart. Some people call it
factionalism. Others call it 'splinterism'. What I know is that both are
usually not based on any basic principle or vision. They are usually based
on some flimsy excuse and rampant opportunism, a national malaise in the
affairs of our country. All the noble reasons underlying the formation of
the organisation are soon forgotten. Every one for himself, and God for none
of us! It is sad that the MDC is split and probably destroyed over a
worthless carrot (Senate) dangled in front of them.
Every citizen can see clearly that the Senate serves no useful purpose
except to function as some kind of old-age pension and gratuity for Mugabe's
loyalists and friends. Everyone knows who the new senators will be: old men
and women discarded by either design or mistake by the Mugabe gravy train.
Why anyone with a national vision and some kind of realization of where the
country is going should join, I have no clue. In the end it also becomes a
question of personal integrity and dignity. Zimbabweans are used to national
abuse, especially by the ruining party, Zanu-PF.
Sadly, it seems the MDC, having raised people's hopes, has also now embarked
on this national malaise of thinking that they can earn good salaries from a
national purse which does not exist. They can join the dance of Zanu-PF
pensioners and then wake up in the morning to call themselves the
opposition. In Shona it is called 'kudziya moto wembavha'.(Warming
themselves from the fireplace of a thief).
As the Zimbabwean disease of splits and factions engulfs the political realm
of the country, the decay continues, and more political parties will be
formed in order to split again and again while Mugabe continues to destroy
the country. The national vision dies, only to be replaced by financial
greed and illusions of boundless power. In the end, national political
fatigue creeps in, and no one wants to vote for anyone, knowing only too
well that there is no Zimbabwean politician interested in shaping a genuine
national vision devoid of greed for power and money.
Chenjerai Hove is a Zimbabwean writer and poet
October 17, 2005
By Peter Fabricius
President Thabo Mbeki apparently intends to snub the Commonwealth by
not attending its heads of government summit in Malta next month. He is
sending his new deputy in his place.
He still seems to be in a high sulk over his defeats at the last
summit in Abuja two years ago. Zimbabwe had been suspended from the
Commonwealth after it deemed President Robert Mugabe had cheated his victory
in presidential elections in March 2002.
Mbeki believed that the suspension was only for a year and that
Zimbabwe should be re-admitted to the club at Abuja. He fought a running
battle with then Commonwealth chairman John Howard, the Australian prime
minister, and Commonwealth secretary-general Don McKinnon in the run-up to
But he lost. The Commonwealth leaders remained adamant that Mugabe had
done nothing to deserve re-admission and Zimbabwe pulled out of the club in
a huff when it realised it would remain suspended. To add insult to Mbeki's
injury, the Sri Lankan foreign minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, whom Mbeki had
put up to oust McKinnon from the top executive post, was resoundingly
defeated in the summit elections for that post.
What made it all worse for Mbeki is that he apparently misjudged the
racial dynamics of the Commonwealth. Most of its members are "black" and the
anti-Mugabe sentiment mostly emanated from the few "white" members. So Mbeki
seemed to think the voting on both issues would go with race. But it didn't.
In the Pacific and Caribbean, where most Commonwealth members inhabit
specks in the ocean, the argument was not persuasive. Even in Africa, it
didn't play quite as expected. The summit host, Nigerian President Olusegun
Obasanjo, in particular, didn't play ball, not least because he did not want
Zimbabwe to spoil his summit.
The unfortunate Kadirgamar, who was apparently very resentful that he
had been persuaded to stand for the secretary-generalship on grounds of
exaggerated support, was incidentally assassinated, apparently by Tamil
Tigers, in his capital Colombo earlier this year.
Mbeki went on his worst internet rant ever after Abuja, coming within
a whisker of supporting Mugabe's land grab and accusing the British of
opposing Mugabe only because he had kicked their "kith and kin" off their
Commonwealth officials have pointed out that it is quite unusual for a
head of government not to attend a summit. These are supposed to be quite
intimate affairs where the leaders go off on a weekend retreat to solve the
problems of the world in frank and confidential conversation.
Mbeki's absence will surely be interpreted in many quarters as undue
support for Mugabe - and that will act as an antidote to the good local and
international publicity he has gained by trying to impose some economic and
political discipline on him, as a condition for receiving a bail-out loan
from South Africa.
This was a good move. But Mbeki pins way too much hope on such quiet,
behind-the-scenes diplomacy. There are no signs that Mugabe will accept such
a conditional loan. Yet Mbeki's strategy seems to be that everyone must
stand back while he personally tries to reason with the man.
That's a big gamble. There may be some use for the "good cop" in
dealing with Mugabe, but there is also clearly a place for the "bad cop".
And by boycotting the Commonwealth, Mbeki is surely going a little too far
to convince Mugabe that he is the good cop.
Incidentally, you could make a case for missing the summit because the
Commonwealth is an irrelevant anachronism. But not if you fought tooth and
nail two years ago to get Mugabe re-admitted to it.