25 October 2008

Zimbabwe: Brazilian Solution for African Problem?


Harare — SENEGALESE President Abdoulaye Wade did not leave in triumph after flying into Harare in November last year to present a proposal centering on engaging Britain, which he believed could have led to the resolution of the Zimbabwean crisis.

Wade proposed the appointment of a committee of five African leaders to serve as mediators to ease tensions between Zimbabwe and its former colonial masters.

Wade said at the time: "I come to Zimbabwe to meet my brother (President) Mugabe because I think that in Africa, we should help each other. You know that this country has some problems with the British and I think all African countries should help Zimbabwe. I think the problem should be an African problem and involve all African countries."

Wade, who stressed that he had not been sent by anyone and the initiative was his own idea, believed former South African president Thabo Mbeki could not tackle the mediation task alone.

In September last year, the Senegalese leader, who has led mediation missions in Madagascar, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast and Liberia, called on African countries to do more towards the resolution of Zimbabwe's problems.

"It is a big mistake to always say that Zimbabwe should be left to Mbeki... Mbeki is a man who has a huge amount of good will but this is a situation which just one person cannot resolve alone, that much is clear," he said.

Wade, who arrived in Zimbabwe about two weeks before the European Union-Africa summit that was to be held in Portugal in the second week of December last year, said he had already contacted British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and urged him to reverse his decision to boycott the summit on account of President Mugabe's presence.

However, despite his enthusiasm about his self-appointed mission, Wade left Harare empty-handed after both President Mugabe and Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leaders rejected his plan, albeit for different reasons. The MDC said it opposed Wade's plan because it would divert attention from serious issues that were being discussed at the time and allow ZANU-PF to focus on red herrings and tired mantras in its denunciation of Britain.

"We turned down his plan because it would distract our focus from serious issues we are currently dealing with," a spokesman said.

President Mugabe said there should be no parallel mediation initiatives to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) process headed by Mbeki. The former South African head of state had been expected to bring ZANU-PF and the MDC together ahead of the harmonised election in March this year but this did not happen.

And despite the power-sharing deal signed on September 15, a final resolution of the Zimbabwean crisis has continued to be elusive.

Now with the impasse over the apportionment of ministries between ZANU-PF and the MDC proving difficult to break, Mbeki and other African leaders seem ready to abandon their one-track mentality that the Zimbabwean crisis should continue to be nursed under the pretext that it is an African problem that cannot do with input from other quarters.

It has been reported in the press that the visit of Brazilian foreign minister Celso Amorim to Zimbabwe at the weekend was at the request of Mbeki, for Brazil to help with stalemated negotiations. The South American country is said to have helped resolve a number of conflicts in Latin America such as those in Venezuela and Colombia.

It is also said to have served as a mediator in disputes between countries in South America and the developed world.

Mbeki reportedly hopes to take advantage of his closeness to Brazilian President Lula da Silva, to harness the country's diplomatic wizardry to crack the political puzzle in Zimbabwe.

During his visit, Amorim was reported by the state media to have condemned the imposition of what the Zimbabwean government calls "illegal sanctions" against President Mugabe and his lieutenants, saying Brazil did not believe in isolation through sanctions but dialogue through regional mediation and facilitation.

He did not think sanctions were a positive way of dealing with situations such as the one in Zimbabwe. "We think they tend to affect, most of all, the people, even if you say they are targeted."

Whether or not Brazilian input will lead to a happy ending in Zimbabwe has yet to be seen but Mbeki's appeal for assistance underscores the loss in the past of many other opportunities that could have led to a breakthrough because of the rigid and expedient insistence that only Africans could find a solution to the Zimbabwean crisis.

But a chronology of events since the disputed 2002 Zimbabwean presidential elections when an African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR) delegation lead by Jainaba Johm of Gambia and including South African academic Barney Pityana, visited the country shows a definite pattern of evading confronting the problem. The report produced by the ACHPR delegation in 2002, condemning the government's human rights record has not been formally discussed up to now. Many other reports prepared by various stakeholders have been persistently "thrown out" from various regional and continental summits and conferences.

The Zimbabwean authorities have done everything under the sun to thwart any attempts to have the national crisis included on the agendas of international bodies like the United Nations and the Commonwealth.

It is ironic that some of the fiercest battles to protect the Zimbabwean government from censure regionally, continentally and internationally while the crisis escalated, were waged by Mbeki on the pretext that the crisis was a problem to be resolved by Zimbabweans themselves.

Now, after colluding in thwarting the Zimbabwean electorate from determining its destiny through elections, Mbeki ropes in the Brazilians instead of throwing the matter open to Zimbabwean stakeholders.

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