Africa's leaders are grappling with the question of how to treat
Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe when he arrives to attend an African Union
summit beginning Monday at the Egyptian resort Sharm el Sheik. From the
summit site, VOA's Peter Heinlein reports Zimbabwe's political crisis
has overshadowed other issues in the pre-summit negotiations.
top diplomats and politicians met in closed session for several hours
Sunday, and into the early hours Monday, debating how to respond to
Robert Mugabe's challenge to democracy on the continent. But as heads
of state arrive for the opening of a two-day summit, word from behind
those closed doors is that the 53 African Union members are sharply
Mr. Mugabe was sworn in for a sixth term in office
shortly before the meeting started, after winning a one-man election
widely viewed as a farce. The question facing the African Union as it
meets in this Red Sea resort is whether to accept him as Zimbabwe's
In a sign of the sensitivity of the issue,
Tanzania's Foreign Minister Bernard Membe late Sunday refused to answer
reporters' questions about how the African Union would react to the
vote. When asked whether he would address Mr. Mugabe as president when
he arrives at the summit hall, Membe cautioned journalists to stop
dwelling on titles.
"We are in a serious business here," said
Bernard Membe. "The question is the people of Zimbabwe, what do we do
for the suffering people of Zimbabwe. It's not a matter of the titles
of the people, and I would be surprised if somebody would waste your
time on trying to look for a title. You can call me a terrorist, you
can call me anybody, but as long as I address the issues of my home
country, I don't care. So it would be none of this summit's business to
choose titles for leaders."
Word from behind the closed doors
of Sunday's meetings was that several West African nations are pushing
for strong statement condemning the conduct of the runoff election,
but that a number of other countries are resisting.
top diplomat on African affairs made clear that Mr. Mugabe is no longer
considered as a legitimate head of state. Speaking on the summit
sidelines, Assistant Secretary of State Jendayi Frazier noted that
African observer groups, from the Pan African Parliament to the
Southern African Development Community, were in broad agreement that
the election failed to satisfy the standards of freedom and fairness.
a quote from the SADC report that has just come out," said Jendayi
Frazier. "They said, 'based on the above mentioned observations, the
mission is of the view that the prevailing environment impinged on the
credibility of the electoral process, the elections did not represent
the will of the people of Zimbabwe.' That's a pretty definitive
statement from the Southern African Development Community's observers,
and so I think that clearly says what has been said, which is you can't
have a free and fair election, and you can't have the outcome
considered legitimate or credible based on the level of intimidation
and violence going into that election."
There remains strong
resistance among many of Mr. Mugable's African Union peers to any
strong action against him. But diplomats say there appears to be a new
willingness among African leaders to break with their long tradition of
not criticizing another member of the club.
Some of those
officials say they can trace the change to a summit eve comment made by
Africa's elder statesman, Nelson Mandela . As he turned 90-years-old
during the past week, Mandela spoke of a 'tragic failure of leadership
Diplomats here point out, however, that only 23
of Africa's 53 heads of state have been elected. Mr. Mugabe still has
many supporters among the AU's leaders, and there are still tough
meetings ahead before the continental body is ready to take a stand on
this latest challenge to African democracy.