Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe has been warmly welcomed at a summit of
African leaders, despite international concerns about the legitimacy of
his re-election. From the summit in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, VOA's
Peter Heinlein reports that in their opening speeches, Mr. Mugabe's
colleagues offered only gentle criticism of the conduct of the
election, and none of the man himself.
Robert Mugabe walked into
the conference hall at this Red Sea resort accompanied by the host,
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, along with Tanzania's President
Jakaya Kikwete, who also holds the African Union presidency.
African countries are known to be pressing behind the scenes for a
strong statement condemning Mr. Mugabe's recent election. Some have
agreed with the United States and European countries in declaring
illegitimate Mr. Mugabe's swearing-in for a sixth term as president.
But there was no sign of the closed-door bickering at the summit's
President Kikwete, speaking in Swahili through
a translator, was cautious in his criticism. He congratulated the
Zimbabwean people for what he called their success and avoided any
direct criticism of Mr. Mugabe for what many have called a 'sham'
"We have also witnessed the historic elections which
were done in two phases," said President Kikwete. "There have been a
positive side, but there have also been challenges. The first-phase
election was calm, but during the second phase there were many
challenges starting with the pre-campaign period during the campaign
but also during the elections. But now there are even more challenges
that need to be addressed after the elections, which took place two
AU Commission Chairman Jean Ping is known to be
working behind the scenes to craft a compromise between Mr. Mugabe's
defenders within the organization and those calling for tough action.
Speaking in French through a translator, the former Gabonese foreign
minister commended efforts by region leaders to find a negotiated
"Africa must fully shoulder its responsibilities and
do everything in its power to help the Zimbabwean parties to work
together in the supreme interests of their country, so as to overcome
their current challenges," he said.
The strongest words came
from former Tanzanian Foreign Minister Asha Rose Migiro, in her current
capacity as Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations. Migiro
described Zimbabwe's political crisis as the single greatest challenge
to stability in southern Africa.
"This is a moment of truth for
regional leaders," she said. "Many have raised their voices regarding
this issue. The secretary-general urges your excellencies to mobilize
support for a negotiated solution. Only dialogue between Zimbabwean
parties supported by the African Union and other regional actors can
Speaking to VOA on the summit sidelines,
U.S. Assistant secretary of State Jendayi Frazier called Mr. Mugabe's
election 'an open expression of tyranny', and said the world would be
watching to see how Africa's leaders respond.
"In the past, the
issue in front of African leaders was how they were going to deal with
governments that were coming to power through force of arms," she said.
"Now they are taking another step to say how do you deal with
presidents who inaugurate themselves in faulty elections, not credible
elections, and that is going to be a difficult issue because there have
been a lot of elections that have not been the best, that have not been
free and fair."
A draft resolution on Zimbabwe being
considered for adoption at Tuesday's final session does not directly
criticize Mr. Mugabe or the election. It only criticizes violence in
general terms and calls for dialogue. Diplomats say efforts are on to
toughen some of the language, but it will be difficult given the number
of friends Mr. Mugabe has made within the close-knit club of African
leader during his 28 years in power.