Zimbabwe: Joyce Banda Falls for Mugabe's Charm

She came, she saw and she was conquered. This probably describes Malawian President Joyce Banda's five day official visit to Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe's relations with Malawi had hit an all-time low when Banda took over the presidency of that country. Too close to the West, Zimbabwe thought of Banda.

With President Robert Mugabe in a war of contrition with the West, it was unthinkable that the Zimbabwean President could sup with Banda.

Upon assumption of power after the death of Bingu Wa Mutharika last year, Banda seemed to be cozy with Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai. There were even reports that Zimbabwe's intelligence services had written to Banda inviting her on a non-existent state visit.

At this point, relations between the two countries had reached a nadir and there was seemingly no way they could be mended. But Mugabe pulled a rabbit out of the hat, inviting Banda to officially open the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair and soon he had the Malawian leader eating out of his hand, literally.

The smitten Banda was soon singing praises of Mugabe and singing the Zimbabwe leader's much chanted ode; that sanctions must be removed. With the frosty relations between the two presidents seemingly forgotten, Banda said Mugabe had the interests of Zimbabwe at heart, something she may not have said a few months or weeks ago.

"We will march with you and the rest of us shall blow the trumpet: 'lift sanctions, they are hurting the ordinary people'," Banda said in her speech during the official opening of the trade showpiece.

"It's going to happen and some of us will stand with you. Zimbabwe is fine, lift the sanctions."

Despite being in Zimbabwe for only five days, the Malawian president said she had seen enough to be convinced that Zimbabwe was a free country and sanctions were unjust.

Often labeled as a brutal dictator, Mugabe often compounds critics and enemies with, what one British envoy described as his charm.

Deborah Bronnert, after presenting her documents to the veteran leader, said Mugabe was "engaged on the issues very well and was friendly and courteous".

Former opposition figures, like Education Minister David Coltart also have said they have seen a different side to Mugabe, saying he was compassionate.

"In that instance, (when Coltart's daughter had been attacked by a lion) Mugabe called me aside, wanted to know what medical treatment she was receiving and showed incredible compassion," he said. "When my mother died, he expressed sympathy and was supportive. I could tell it was not put on."

'MUGABE IS CHARISMATIC'

At the official opening of the late Vice President John Nkomo's school last year, Deputy Prime Minister Thokozani Khupe was omitted from the protocol, but Mugabe described her as beautiful, asking how the omission could have been possible.

Mugabe also showered praises on Information Communications and Technology Minister, Nelson Chamisa, describing him as young but having the wisdom of elders.

And it seems Mugabe's charm might also have worked on the Malawian president. With Sadc summits planned to discuss Zimbabwe's forthcoming elections, the winning over of Banda might just prove crucial to Mugabe, as he hopes to get regional support for his plans on the polls.

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