The annual summit of the leaders of the 14-member Southern Africa Development Community is under way in Dar es Salaam. Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe received a resounding welcome from hundreds of regional officials at the opening ceremony. They also applauded when Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa urged western countries to end sanctions against the Zimbabwean leader and senior officials in his government.
Many Africans support Mr. Mugabe's controversial land-reform program in which he has stripped white farmers of their land and handed it to black Zimbabweans. They also support his defiant attitude toward countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States, which have castigated him for what they say are violations of basic human rights and political oppression.
It is this support for Mr. Mugabe on the African continent that makes it difficult for countries such as South Africa and Nigeria to win backing for their efforts to persuade the Zimbabwe leader to enter negotiations with his political opponents.
Zimbabwe is not officially on the agenda of the summit, but the leaders of South Africa, Botswana, and Mozambique are likely to make use of the opportunity to seek support in the region for their efforts to end the political crises in Zimbabwe.
The leaders are also expected to adopt a development plan for the region. Known as the Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan, it proposes the use of key indicators as a method of both setting and evaluating progress toward development targets.
The plan foresees a 15-year development period during which member states will be expected to legislate and implement plans to reduce poverty, combat HIV/AIDS and other serious diseases, and improve health, education, and gender equity.