Africa: Zim On AU Agenda

THE unending Zimbabwe crisis is likely to be on the agenda of the week-long African Union (AU) summit scheduled for Addis Ababa, Ethiopia from Monday  January 28.

African diplomats accredited to Harare this week said the continental body could use the indaba to endorse a proposal to dispatch its Council of Elders to gauge Zimbabwe's preparedness to hold peaceful, free and fair polls.

The Council is made up of retired presidents among them former Zambian leader Kenneth Kaunda and former Ghanaian head Jerry Rawlings.

It is being hoped that these elders could be in a position to nudge the Global Political Agreement (GPA) signatories to prioritise reforms before the polls.

Zimbabwe will hold elections this year to end the coalition government formed between President Robert Mugabe, Prime Minister (PM) Morgan Tsvangirai and Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara.

There are, however, fears that the country could plunge into chaos once more reminiscent of the unrest that characterised the 2008 presidential election run-off unless something is done to depolarise the political environment.

Outgoing AU chairman, Benin President Thomas Boni Yayi on Tuesday made a brief stopover in Harare where he met President Mugabe.

The visit came barely a week before the AU summit at which Zimbabwe along with other troubled African states are expected to top the agenda.

Zimbabwe is also classified a conflict zone after a disputed presidential election run-off in June 2008 in which PM Tsvangirai's party pulled out citing widespread State-sponsored violence.

The visit also came hard on the heels of last weeks' Southern African Development Community (SADC) Troika where regional leaders commended South Africa's facilitation in the Zimbabwe crisis and called for the full implementation of the GPA.

Yayi said he was in Zimbabwe to discuss challenges Africa was facing as a continent and to get advice on ways to end conflicts in countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali and the Central African Republic.

Diplomats said Yayi's visit was part of efforts by the AU to assist SADC conclude its mediation in Zimbabwe.

Together with SADC, the AU is a guarantor of the GPA.

After meeting with Yayi, President Mugabe bemoaned divisions among African countries and called for the integration of African regional groups into one.

There is a growing chorus for the country to delay holding harmonised elections further than June to allow for the full implementation of the GPA, particularly the adoption of a new constitution and other requisite reforms needed for the staging of free and fair polls.

Critics are adamant the country is far from ready to hold a free and fair plebiscite, citing the stagnation of the constitution- making process, the arrest of civil society leaders, the general lack of requisite electoral and legislative reforms as well as the continued polarisation of society.

They say rushing polls could further destabilise the economy, which had shown signs of recovery following the consummation of the coalition government in early 2009.

The secretary general of the Movement for Democratic Change, Tendai Biti told a London Investment Confere-nce last Friday that Zimbabwe was poised to hold elections by October 29 adding that after the polls the country would be a safe and lucrative place and "unambiguously the place to be by 2015."

Constitutional experts, among them Lovemore Madhuku, concur that President Mugabe has up to October to call for polls under the current Constit-ution.

Trevor Maisiri, a regional political analyst, however, said the deferment of the polls may not be the answer as this may merely sustain the reform gridlock.

What is necessary is to ensure that SADC and the AU come up with stringent sign posts of what must be achieved during that time of deferment, he said.

"They also need to highlight the possible actions they will take should those sign posts not be fulfilled and the possible consequences for intentional resistance to AU and SADC guidelines," he said.

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