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African Union Leaders Urge Political Dialogue in Zimbabwe

July 1, 2008 at 6:05 PM EDT
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The African Union called on Zimbabwe Tuesday to create a government of national unity following last week's disputed runoff election that saw Robert Mugabe enter a sixth presidential term. Analysts examine the crisis.
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RAY SUAREZ: It took two days of meetings before the African Union adopted a resolution calling for Zimbabwe to form a government of national unity.

Throughout this summit, Robert Mugabe remained defiant, standing by the results of a run-off much of the international community labeled a sham. Earlier today, his spokesperson told the world to stay out of Zimbabwe’s affairs.

GEORGE CHARAMBA, Spokesman for President Mugabe: They can go and hang. They can go and hang a thousand times. They have no basis, they have no claim on Zimbabwean politics at all and that is exactly the issue.

RAY SUAREZ: Mugabe ended up running uncontested last Friday. The major opposition party, the MDC, withdrew. Its leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, said he couldn’t continue to run in an environment in which his supporters were beaten up, arrested, and killed by Mugabe allies.

Sunday, Mugabe again took the presidential oath.

ROBERT MUGABE, President, Zimbabwe: … so help me God.

RAY SUAREZ: Once hailed as an African liberation hero, he’s now increasingly seen as a dictator, responsible for ruining the country he’s ruled for 28 years.

Tsvangirai and the opposition say Mugabe and his backers controlled a campaign of violence aimed at keeping the president in power. Mugabe ignored international pressure to postpone Friday’s election and says he won with 85 percent of the vote.

Few African leaders have been willing to criticize Mugabe’s actions publicly. And most nations on the continent refuse to question the legitimacy of his rule.

Today, the African Union stood up to Mugabe, calling for Mugabe and Tsvangirai to honor their commitment to initiate dialogue with a view to promoting peace, stability, democracy, and reconciliation of the people of Zimbabwe.

The United States wants the United Nations Security Council to impose an arms embargo on Zimbabwe and travel bans on its government officials. Through a spokesman, Mugabe dismissed the foreign pressure.

GEORGE CHARAMBA: The way out is a way to find defined by the Zimbabwean people, free from outside interference, and that’s exactly what will resolve the matter.

For as long as we’ve got some external interest that are seeking to express themselves within our own politics then naturally we have that kind of resistance. Because for us it recalls a certain experience, ugly experience of going through before, that of colonialism.

Mugabe urged to share power

Briggs Bomba
Africa Action
I think we're still seeing a continuation of the old, soft-gloved politics that has characterized how the A.U. and a lot of African leaders have intervened in Zimbabwe.

RAY SUAREZ: Meanwhile, it's unclear what Mugabe's next move will be.

REPORTER: Mr. President, has it been a successful meeting?

RAY SUAREZ: He left the meeting today without responding to reporters' questions and without comment on the A.U.'s resolution.

For more, we get two views: Akwe Amosu, senior policy analyst for Africa at the Open Society Institute in Washington, she's written and reported widely on Africa for over 20 years; and Briggs Bomba, an associate director at Africa Action, an advocacy organization promoting human rights in U.S. policy on Africa. He's a Zimbabwean citizen and worked for several civil society groups there.

Akwe Amosu, the A.U. passed its resolution this afternoon calling for a peaceful end to all of this and a unity government. A significant step?

AKWE AMOSU, Open Society Institute: Significant in the sense that they have told Robert Mugabe that the status quo is not acceptable.

A disappointment, I think, in that, for those people who see Mr. Mugabe as having bludgeoned his way back into power, he is not going to pay for that. He is going to be allowed to continue to be a member of the government in Zimbabwe.

And many people think that, had he not intimidated the voters so drastically, that he would have been voted out.

RAY SUAREZ: Briggs Bomba, were you looking for something stronger?

BRIGGS BOMBA, Africa Action Organization: Well, I think disappointment is an understatement. I think betrayal is the correct word to put out there.

When you look at the situation there, you have 2,000 political prisoners in Zimbabwe. The head of the opposition does not have travel documents. He's not issued with a passport. You still have displaced people. You still have marauding, you know, squads that are still committing acts of violence.

So I think, when you look as though at the fact that the election of June 27 was an outright sham, we were expecting for a moral outrage to come out of Egypt. We didn't see that.

RAY SUAREZ: But what about Ms. Amosu's suggestion that at least the A.U. has now at this point signaled that it's looking to him, Robert Mugabe, to share power or to leave?

BRIGGS BOMBA: Well, there is a step that has been taken, but, as I'm saying, the situation on the ground calls for the A.U. to express a serious moral outrage.

When you look at the wording of the resolution, it says, "We encourage President Mugabe and the leader of the opposition to stick to their commitment." So they're not really pushing as hard as they're supposed to be pushing. It's still very, very mild.

The statement also talks about dissuading any actions that can undermine a climate for negotiations, which is basically saying, "Hands off Mugabe. Don't talk about sanctions. Don't talk about anything else that can upset Mugabe."

So I think we're still seeing a continuation of the old, soft-gloved politics that has characterized how the A.U. and a lot of African leaders have intervened in Zimbabwe.

Criticism stops short of pressure

Akwe Amosu
Open Society
I think one thing it is important to say is that you've seen for the first time in my recollection open dispute between members of the A.U.

RAY SUAREZ: Why won't African leaders publicly pressure Robert Mugabe to leave office?

AKWE AMOSU: Well, I think that several members of that heads of state assembly who are themselves no paragons of virtue when it comes to democracy. There are members of that community that have been in power for 40 years. They probably see elections pretty much as a rubber stamp and are not highly motivated to see change in Zimbabwe.

But I think, while I really agree with what Briggs has said about the deficit in the A.U. position, I think one thing it is important to say is that you've seen for the first time in my recollection open dispute between members of the A.U., including countries like Botswana, like Sierra Leone, like Benin, like Kenya, Senegal, coming out and saying quite publicly this man should not be sitting in our hall, he should not be accredited as a member of this heads of state assembly, and that he should not go on being a member of the government of Zimbabwe.

And I think that's really quite unprecedented in African politics. And much as I would have liked to see stronger action today, I think we should acknowledge that there is change happening.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, the word "unprecedented" was used. Hasn't there been a long tradition in post-colonial Africa of not publicly calling across countries' borders for change inside fellow African states?

BRIGGS BOMBA: There certainly has been. If you look at the guiding strategy of the A.U., it's really quiet, behind-the-scene intervention. There's an over-emphasis on respecting national sovereignty and a lack of readiness to interfere in what is seen as internal conflicts.

So I think we have seen the A.U., you know, adopting a hands-off approach. But we have the case of Mauritania, where the A.U. withdrew the membership of Mauritania following a coup there.

So there's been that action taken place, but for, by and large, we look at cases like Ethiopia, where you know you had the sham election, you had thousands of activists arrested, some of them for two years, but the A.U. did not come out saying anything.

You look at Nigeria, where we had the same situation, as well, and the A.U. did not take a decisive step. And I think it's because of this history that the A.U. is limited, you know, on the extent of what they can do today when they're facing the question in Zimbabwe.

African Union's commitment may grow

Akwe Amosu
Open Society
There's a very, very strong movement of civil society actors in Africa today who are demanding change, who are putting their heads of state under pressure in a way that really was never done before.

RAY SUAREZ: Do you agree with that, that, in effect, they underplay their own hand, give away power, as Briggs Bomba suggests?

AKWE AMOSU: Yes, I think, on the whole, it has been a period of transition for the African Union. The old Organization of African Unity was even more reactionary in this respect, and the A.U. is a change. We're seeing a new climate. But it can go a great deal further.

AKWE AMOSU: And what I think is different -- and I think for Americans who perhaps don't necessarily get to follow Africa every day -- what's important to understand is that there's a very, very strong movement of civil society actors in Africa today who are demanding change, who are putting their heads of state under pressure in a way that really was never done before.

And under that kind of pressure that you are seeing, people in different countries around the continent saying, "Actually, yes, we need to do this a different way. We need to be better actors. We need to be more transparent."

I really agree with Briggs that there's an awfully long way to go. But I would also say that you are beginning to see some shift in that old stance.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, earlier you named several countries with elected, young leaders, not from Mugabe's generation, who are publicly calling for him to go, but there's one missing partner that story after story after story is saying, where's South Africa?

Why has Thabo Mbeki invested so much of his own political capital in protecting Robert Mugabe?

AKWE AMOSU: Well, there are multiple theories out there about the times when South Africa did go out in front, when Ken Saro-Wiwa was executed back in the '90s, and the rest of Africa didn't follow. It's said that the members of the ANC government then vowed that they would never find themselves in that position again and have always been very conservative since then.

There are others who say that Mr. Mbeki views himself alongside Mr. Mugabe as an old liberation fighter and that they have to stick together. There are many theories.

I think what you have to say is that his policy of trying quiet diplomacy has been shown to be a complete failure. And many people hope that the African Union would replace South Africa's mediation with an Africa-level special envoy to take this matter much more seriously and show more commitment.

It's disappointing that that hasn't happened, but I think, at the same time, as I said earlier, you've got some countries in the region there in southern Africa, like Botswana, like Zambia, like Tanzania, who are taking a very different tone.

And I think, going forward from this summit, you'll find it's a different atmosphere in the regional body. And South Africa won't be able to carry on just keeping the lid on things the way it has to date.

Western leaders' power is limited

Briggs Bomba
Africa Action
I think unilateral action by Western powers is counterproductive. One of the messages that we see coming out of Egypt clearly is African leaders saying Africa is capable of handling the problems that we are confronted with.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, what about the world outside Africa? Today, we had Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, talking about possible sanctions applied unilaterally by the United States, if the U.N. won't go along.

You also had Bernard Kouchner, the French foreign minister, talking about France simply being unwilling to accept any other government but a Tsvangirai government in Zimbabwe. Does that help or hurt the opposition inside your country?

BRIGGS BOMBA: I think unilateral action by Western powers is counterproductive. One of the messages that we see coming out of Egypt clearly is African leaders saying Africa is capable of handling the problems that we are confronted with and the message is we ought to say we are not going to be taking orders on this, particularly from the West.

So I think -- and African leaders, as well, do not want to be seen to be in a position where they seem to be doing the bidding of Western powers on the continent.

And the key point to note there is that Western intervention is a very sensitive matter on the African continent, you know, taking into consideration the colonial history of the continent.

So I would really think that it's advisable for Western intervention to come through these bodies. I know we've mentioned that there are a lot of weaknesses with the A.U. There are a lot of weaknesses with SADC.

But it's important to intervene through SADC, through the A.U., and through the United Nations. I do not think that unilateral action is going to be helping. It will end up fueling, especially in the case of Zimbabwe, where Mugabe has positioned himself as an anti-colonial struggle hero, and a message that has been bought by a number of people in the African continent. So it will end up giving him ammunition, as well.

RAY SUAREZ: SADC, of course, the regional southern African group that includes Zimbabwe.

Briggs Bomba, Akwe Amosu, thank you both.

AKWE AMOSU: Thank you.

BRIGGS BOMBA: You're most welcome.