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Mugabe Defends Image Amid Controversy at Close of AU Summit

FILE - Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe began his one-year term as chairman of the African Union at the start of the summit Friday.
FILE - Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe began his one-year term as chairman of the African Union at the start of the summit Friday.

Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe is rejecting concerns that his election as chairman of the African Union could cause friction with the West — and he's doubling down on statements he made dismissing the idea of equality for women.

Speaking to reporters Saturday at the close of a heads-of-state summit in Addis Ababa, Mugabe said he was not concerned with how the West might perceive his leadership.

“What the West will say or do, that’s not my business," he said. "My business is to ensure that the decisions that we have arrived at here are implemented and they are all decisions which have to do with the development of Africa.”

Rights groups and mostly Western governments have criticized Mugabe for suppressing his opponents during nearly three decades in power in Zimbabwe.

In 2003, the United States imposed economic sanctions targeting top Zimbabwean officials for “undermining democratic processes” and seeking to destabilize the country through political intimidation.

Mugabe began his one-year term as chairman of the AU at the start of the summit Friday.

Speaking to reporters Saturday, the Zimbabwean leader also responded to a question about an interview he gave to VOA's Zimbabwe service earlier this week in which he suggested it was not possible for women to be equal to men.

“Parity with women, that is what we have been working for. Equal work for equal wages," he said. "But total parity — because we are different biologically, there are certain things that men can do that women may not be able to do.”

One of the themes of this year's summit was "the Year of Women's Empowerment."

While Mugabe’s election preoccupied much of the meeting, AU leaders also addressed key security issues, in particular the Boko Haram insurgency in West Africa.

The AU Peace and Security Council agreed to seek a new multinational African force of 7,500 troops to stop the Islamist group, based in Nigeria, from spreading across the region.

Smail Chergui, AU commissioner for peace and security, said Saturday that the first meetings on the formation of the force would take place in Cameroon in the coming days, followed by consultations at the United Nations to seek endorsement and funding for the mission.

Another pressing security challenge, the conflict in South Sudan, has been put aside as the security commission decided to postpone consideration of an AU inquiry report on that country.

The report allegedly names and shames those responsible for committing war crimes in the country during more than a year of fighting. Human rights groups have called for the AU to make the inquiry public.

The Intergovernmental Authority on Development has organized a separate summit in the Ethiopian capital to get South Sudan’s warring parties to sign a power-sharing agreement.