30 November 2003

Zimbabwe: Chogm: Hiding Behind Sovereignty Futile


FOR President Robert Mugabe, the decision by the Commonwealth not to invite him for the Abuja summit must have come as a terrible blow, not only to his personal ego but more importantly, to his blazing political career which started in the late 50s culminating in the disputed Presidential elections of 2002.

There is no doubt President Mugabe was desperate to be in Abuja, Nigeria. His statements during last week's visit to Harare by summit host, President Olusegun Obasanjo attested to this. Counting on the support of fellow African leaders in his crusade against the 'racist' West, the President left no stone unturned in his desperate attempts to make a last ditch stand to continue being a member of the Commonwealth Club.

Now his ego was dealt a mortal blow when President Obasanjo, acting on behalf of the Commonwealth as a whole, informed him he could not travel to Abuja. He is a disappointed and angry man.

What angers President Mugabe the most must be that his attempt to divide the Commonwealth across racial lines has come unstuck. His pontificating about how Africans must stand together in defence of their sovereignty is a telling admission of his foiled agenda had he been allowed to attend Chogm in Abuja this week. He has been denied the chance to poison the atmosphere in Abuja and the opportunity to score an immense propaganda 'victory' over British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Australia's John Howard.

And piqued by the exclusion from Chogm, Mugabe's talk now is one of wanting to leave this Club of largely former British colonies. In an emotional piece of theatre to a captive audience of mourners at Heroes Acre during the burial of former deputy minister, Norman Zikhali, he had this to say: "If our sovereignty is what we have to lose to be readmitted into the Commonwealth, well, we will say goodbye to the Commonwealth and perhaps time has come to say so." Many must have wondered what the connection is between his exclusion from Chogm and Zimbabwe's sovereignty.

It is worth noting that whenever President Mugabe has been confronted with uncomfortable realities, his tendency has been to take refuge in the issue of the country's sovereignty. Over and over again he says it as if it is the panacea to the country's ills. In the absence of tangible economic benefits and democratic space for self realisation, sovereignty is nothing more than a nebulous concept.

It does nothing to improve the lives of the country's long suffering masses. For how long should Zimbabweans accept to be innocent victims of the President's fiery rhetoric and dynamic bombast which does nothing to bring relief to their country's mounting economic and political problems.

The truth of the matter is that President Mugabe"s pariah status is self-inflicted. He has brought upon himself the political humiliation that he is suffering. It is a dramatic irony that President Mugabe today stands accused of persistently breaching democratic principles drawn up during a Chogm summit in Harare in 1991. How times have changed - the same principles have returned to haunt him and he is now paying a high price for violating them consistently for the past three years or so.

The outcome of the Harare Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (Chogm) of 1991 gave the Club what is now called the Commonwealth Harare Declaration.

The Declaration effectively became the Commonwealth's 'Mission Statement' setting out the Commonwealth's commitment to such key principles as democracy, human rights, the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary, freedom of expression and association, the right of citizens to choose freely the men and women who would govern them and an undertaking to pursue sustainable economic development, among many other issues.

These basic democratic benchmarks and values are universal and have nothing to do with any one country's sovereignty.

Needless to say, the Zimbabwe government's score card in upholding these basic tenets of civilised governance is dismal. Instead, our leaders are noted for their arrogant, self-seeking obstinacy in refusing to listen to both friend and foe. In direct violation of the Commonwealth Harare Declaration , the Harare government has gone ahead and crafted obnoxious pieces of legislation notably the Public Order and Security Act (Posa), the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (Aippa)and the General Laws Amendment Act among others.

As a consequence of these repressive laws, an independent newspaper, The Daily News was shut down, to say nothing of the deteriorating human rights situation in the country: the growing lawlessness and the politically-motivated violence that has gripped a country that was once the envy of the world.

A country that was once the breadbasket of the region has been reduced to a basket case. The economy has crumbled. Food shortages are stalking the land compounding the deadly pandemic HIV/Aids on its deadly march. President Mugabe's inflexibility might appeal to his faithful as a sign of strength of character and purpose but the truth is that he is prolonging the suffering of Zimbabweans in his otherwise unwinnable war.

The political embarrassment that President Mugabe has suffered by not attending Chogm for the first time since Zimbabwe's independence is entirely of his own making. The litany of misdemeanours on the part of the Zimbabwe government has evoked a strong Commonwealth response -and rightly so.

An anguished President is threatening to pull Zimbabwe out of the Commonwealth at a time when countries are queuing to join it. The Commonwealth has undisputed moral authority and shared values and we are cock sure no country or leader in his right mind would want not to be associated with it.

Zimbabwe has benefited immensely from the Commonwealth and we believe no individual, not even the President has the right to hold a whole country like Zimbabwe to ransom.

If this were to happen, history will judge such a person harshly.

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