Magazine article New African

Zimbabwe/Commonwealth: Africa Reacts

Magazine article New African

Zimbabwe/Commonwealth: Africa Reacts

Article excerpt

The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) held in Abuja, Nigeria, from 5-8 December did not want the Zimbabwean issue to dominate the agenda, but it did. Zimbabwe's suspension was extended indefinitely, forcing President Mugabe's government to pull the country out of the Commonwealth altogether. Reactions to these events have been passionate and nobody is happy. We present here the views of the key players in the drama and outside observers.

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The Zimbabwean government statement:

"President Robert Mugabe received three telephone calls, one after another, from Presidents Obasanjo and Mbeki and from Prime Minister Patterson of Jamaica, who chaired the six-country committee comprising Australia, Canada, India, Jamaica, Mozambique and South Africa set up by CHOGM in Abuja to consult and recommend the way forward regarding the contested suspension of Zimbabwe from the councils of the Commonwealth ... The leaders sought to brief President Mugabe on the outcome of the consultations of the six-country committee.

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"In essence, the three leaders told President Mugabe that the committee had recommended the continued suspension of Zimbabwe for an indefinite period, and that President Obasanjo as the chairman of CHOGM would join the six countries on the committee and work with them to achieve national reconciliation in Zimbabwe on behalf of the Commonwealth.

"The three leaders further indicated that once the seven-country committee was satisfied that Zimbabwe was in compliance with the expectation of the Commonwealth, the committee would reinstate Zimbabwe into the Commonwealth after the necessary consultations with all member countries.

"In response, President Mugabe indicated to each of the three leaders that the decision was unacceptable as the Republic of Zimbabwe would settle for nothing short of its removal from the Commonwealth suspension and agenda. 'Anything that you agree to on Zimbabwe which is short of this position, no matter how sweetly worded, means Zimbabwe is still a subject of the Commonwealth. This is unacceptable. This is it--it quits and quits it will be,' emphasised President Mugabe after the three leaders tried to persuade him to keep Zimbabwe within the Commonwealth.

"President Mugabe added: 'We have the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union (AU) as our mentors, not the Commonwealth.'

"On the suggested visit to Zimbabwe by leaders of the CHOGM committee, President Mugabe emphasised that Zimbabwe would receive and welcome them in a brotherly and friendly way as leaders of their respective nations but not as representatives of the Commonwealth. Accordingly, Zimbabwe has withdrawn its membership from the Commonwealth with immediate effect."

President Joaquim Chissano, president of Mozambique, chairman of the African Union, and chairman of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC):

"Now there is no consensus. This organisation did not reach this decision by consensus. It is all undemocratically done. That is why I feel it is unfair. The process of isolation does not bring resolution ... We are unhappy because we cannot accept these undemocratic procedures. We [the SADC members] are going to express this as a group ... Britain, Australia and Don McKinnon [the Commonwealth secretary general] showed little understanding of the struggle by African countries to build democracy after having emerged only recently from the rule of abject racist states."

President Obasanjo, Nigeria (and chair of CHOGM):

"In a situation like this, consensus means you may not always get your own way ... But Mr Mugabe, rightly or wrongly, felt that there were no grounds for extending [Zimbabwe's] suspension. That's how he felt. I tried to let him know that whatever he feels, which I understand, he should try to let the Commonwealth assist him. …

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