Thursday, June 19, 2008

Some African governments (finally) begin to criticize Mugabe

Now here is what I would call a masterpiece of understatement:
Zimbabwe's run-off presidential election next week is very unlikely to be free and fair, a group of southern African ministers said on Thursday, in the strongest regional condemnation yet of pre-poll violence.
Aside from being understated, this recognition of reality also comes a bit late. But better late than never, perhaps.

So far, with very few exceptions, other African governments have supported Robert Mugabe and his regime, have run diplomatic interference for him, or--at best--have been reluctant to criticize his increasingly tyrannical rule as it has systematically destroyed Zimbabwe. Now the taboo seems to be breaking down.
"There is every sign that these elections will never be free nor fair," Tanzanian Foreign Minister Bernard Membe told a news conference. He was speaking on behalf of a peace and security troika of nations from the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

Tanzania is also current chairman of the African Union.

Membe said he and the foreign ministers of Swaziland and Angola would write to their presidents "so that they do something urgently so that we can save Zimbabwe."

SADC is sending monitors to Zimbabwe for the June 27 vote.

Membe said their judgement on the conduct of the poll was based on evidence from 211 observers already inside the country.

Some of the observers saw two people shot dead in front of them on June 17, Membe said.

President Robert Mugabe is accused by opponents, Western countries and human rights groups of orchestrating a campaign of killings and intimidation to keep his 28-year hold on power in the once prosperous country, its economy now in ruins.
There are even reports that Mugabe's most important foreign defender and enabler, South African President Thabo Mbkei--who made himself a laughingstock two months ago by claiming that there was "no crisis" in Zimbabwe--is finally starting to back away from Mugabe:
South African President Thabo Mbeki has urged Mugabe to cancel the run-off and negotiate a deal with the opposition, South Africa's Business Day newspaper said on Thursday. [....]

Mbeki, who has led SADC mediation efforts in Zimbabwe, has been criticised for a quiet diplomatic approach that has failed to end a political and economic crisis driving millions of people into neighbouring states.
All this would have been much more helpful if it had come a lot earlier--at any time since Zimbabwe's downward spiral began in 2000-2001. At this point it's hard to know whether even a united, determined, and constructive policy by a coalition of important regional governments, led by South Africa's government, could help avert further catastrophe in Zimbabwe ... and, at all events, so far these reports suggest only the faint glimmers of possibility that a coordinated policy of this sort might emerge. The run-off election in Zimbabwe remains scheduled for June 27, and we'll have to see what happens between now and then.

--Jeff Weintraub
==============================
Reuters
Thu Jun 19, 2008 6:20am EDT
Zimbabwe vote cannot be fair-regional ministers
By Cris Chinaka

* Regional ministers say election unlikely to be free
* Mbeki urges Mugabe to cancel run-off vote
* MDC goes to court to appeal media ban


HARARE, June 19 (Reuters) - Zimbabwe's run-off presidential election next week is very unlikely to be free and fair, a group of southern African ministers said on Thursday, in the strongest regional condemnation yet of pre-poll violence.

"There is every sign that these elections will never be free nor fair," Tanzanian Foreign Minister Bernard Membe told a news conference. He was speaking on behalf of a peace and security troika of nations from the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

Tanzania is also current chairman of the African Union.

Membe said he and the foreign ministers of Swaziland and Angola would write to their presidents "so that they do something urgently so that we can save Zimbabwe."

SADC is sending monitors to Zimbabwe for the June 27 vote.

Membe said their judgement on the conduct of the poll was based on evidence from 211 observers already inside the country.

Some of the observers saw two people shot dead in front of them on June 17, Membe said.

President Robert Mugabe is accused by opponents, Western countries and human rights groups of orchestrating a campaign of killings and intimidation to keep his 28-year hold on power in the once prosperous country, its economy now in ruins.

Mugabe lost the first round vote to Morgan Tsvangirai on March 29, but the opposition leader fell short of the outright majority needed to avoid a second round, according to official results.

South African President Thabo Mbeki has urged Mugabe to cancel the run-off and negotiate a deal with the opposition, South Africa's Business Day newspaper said on Thursday.

CRISIS

Mbeki met Mugabe and Tsvangirai separately in Zimbabwe on Wednesday to try to mediate an end to an increasingly violent crisis.

Business Day, a respected financial daily, quoted unnamed sources as saying that Mbeki tried to set up a meeting between Mugabe and Tsvangirai -- their first ever -- but did not receive a firm commitment from Zimbabwe's president.

It said Mbeki attempted to convince Mugabe and Tsvangirai to form a government of national unity.

Mbeki made no comment to reporters after the talks.

Business Day said that Movement for Democratic Change leader Tsvangirai agreed to meet Mugabe and told Mbeki that any run-off would be a farce.

The MDC said on Thursday it had launched an urgent court application to appeal against a state ban on media cover of its campaign. Spokesman George Sibotshiwe said the party had been told by the Zimbabwe Broadcast Corp. and Zimpapers that the state media organisations had been instructed not to accept opposition campaign advertisements or report on the party's campaign.

There was no immediate comment from ZBC or the Zimbabwe Newspapers group.

Mbeki, who has led SADC mediation efforts in Zimbabwe, has been criticised for a quiet diplomatic approach that has failed to end a political and economic crisis driving millions of people into neighbouring states.

The Tanzanian statement on Thursday indicated increasing impatience in the rest of SADC and a willingness to abandon the discreet stance of the past.

Mugabe blames his foes for the violence and has threatened to arrest opposition leaders over the troubles. Tsvangirai's party says at least 66 people have been killed by ZANU-PF supporters.

The United States and former colonial power Britain also accuse Mugabe of trying to intimidate opponents.

(Writing By Marius Bosch and Barry Moody; Editing by Matthew Tostevin)

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