ADDIS ABABA – President Robert Mugabe has received a warm welcome at the heads of state and government of the African Union (AU) where the Zimbabwean situation is off the agenda.
Civic society groups which had hoped the AU would use the summit to ratchet up pressure on Mugabe to implement reforms such as security sector alignment were left seething.
They say despite the completion of a draft constitution, the situation in Zimbabwe, where military generals routinely threaten to override electoral outcomes, is far from ideal for a credible poll.
“We are surprised by the absence of Zimbabwe on the AU agenda,” said Nixon Nyikadzino, Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition programmes manager who is here in Addis.
“We are still convinced that Zimbabwe is a high conflict zone which needs fostering and monitoring by both Sadc and the AU who are the guarantors of the Global Political Agreement.
Absence of civil war in Zimbabwe does not translate to peace since we all know that Zimbabwe is now gearing for a constitutional referendum and elections,” he said.
World attention is focused on the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, as African leaders open a two-day 20th ordinary summit today (Sunday), but they gave little indication they would criticise let alone censure Mugabe over outstanding issues from a political pact signed four years ago, which the veteran ruler still refuses to implement in full.
Mugabe got a warm welcome in Addis Ababa, where the AU is also marking its 50th golden jubilee.
He strutted into the main conference hall side by side with other heads of state on Friday for the 353rd session of the Peace and Security Council meeting chaired by Kenya President Mwai Kibaki ahead of the General Assembly today.
The AU Peace and Security Council meeting completely sidestepped criticism of Mugabe.
In the closed-door session, Kibaki reportedly said peace and security was under threat in Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea Bissau, Sudan and South Sudan and Mali.
The exploding Mali crisis has overshadowed even the AU summit’s official theme, which is “Pan Africanism and African Renaissance”, with the AU contemplating scaling-up African troop deployments to bolster the shaky Malian army, which recently got reinforcements from the recent French military intervention to repel Islamist insurgents, who seized swathes of Mali’s desert north following a coup last year.
Mugabe attended the meeting with Foreign Affairs minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi.
Critics and activists such as Nyikadzino say it is disheartening that Zimbabwe’s long-running and festering crisis was sliding off the AU agenda, overshadowed by the more recent and catastrophic Mali conflict, which is featuring prominently on the summit agenda.
Diplomats say the assembled leaders are under pressure to act — the latest being an attempt to mobilise funding for Mali in a donor conference scheduled just after the general assembly that will include European Union and UN Security Council representatives.
Other entrenched conflicts such as in the east of Democratic Republic of the Congo are also expected to dominate the summit, together with the push for a raft of stalled oil, security and border deals in Sudan and South Sudan.
However, Zimbabwe, facing a repeat of the sham 2008 poll amid economic stagnation and social collapse, was completely off the agenda for discussion.
A senior West African diplomat said: “As you can see from the agenda, Zimbabwe is not on it. It is not a subject that will consume their time.”
The diplomat accused the AU of being “a club of dictators” and expressed sadness Zimbabwe was sliding down the priority scale of crises in Africa.
He said Zimbabwe remains a divisive issue and consensus is one of the building blocks of the new AU.
Meanwhile, Sadc heads of state were said to be planning a meeting on the sidelines of the AU summit, although this was yet to be confirmed yesterday.
Some nations in the AU support Mugabe, whilst others think he has mismanaged his country and should go. – Gift Phiri, Political Editor