NIGERIAN President Olusegun Obasanjo is working frantically to ensure the potentially damaging issue of Zimbabwe doesn’t scupper the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meet
ing (Chogm) in Abuja in December.
Diplomatic sources yesterday said Obasanjo had been making strenuous efforts to keep Zimbabwe, currently suspended from the Commonwealth due to electoral fraud, off the Chogm agenda.
The sources said Obasanjo wanted to prevent a major “Zimbabwe row in his backyard” that could split the 54-member grouping along political or regional lines.
This comes against a background of reports of further deterioration in the situation on the ground in Zimbabwe. Political violence and repression remain pervasive while economic implosion deepens, re-cent surveys submitted to Commonwealth leaders and diplomats point out.
A report by regional church leaders released last Friday revealed that Zanu PF youth brigades were still perpetrating acts of violence across the country. Representatives of the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum this week told Commonwealth high commissioners in London that there has been no change – except for the worse – in the country.
However, it is understood Obasanjo is planning to bury the Zimbabwe issue which threatens to create wide fissures in the normally tranquil edifice of Commonwealth consensus.
“The Nigerians are working very hard to ensure that Zimbabwe does not become the main issue at Abuja,” a well-placed source said. “All contacts by Obasanjo and his officials are geared mostly to ensuring that there are no contentious issues on the table.”
Sources said Obasanjo, who sits on the Commonwealth troika on Zimbabwe with South African President Thabo Mbeki and Australian Prime Minister John Howard, has ordered his foreign ministry, which is preparing the groundwork for Chogm, to prevent Zimbabwe becoming the main bone of contention in Abuja. Mbeki is supporting the Nigerian leader’s efforts.
“Obasanjo has instructed his foreign ministry to ensure that by the time Abuja comes there will already have been such progress in dealing with the matter that it will not be an issue,” the source said.
“He believes the Zimbabwe issue could wreck ‘his’ conference. There may be some noise about the issue right now but I can tell you, and I know this, the Nigerians want Zimbabwe to vanish from the agenda.”
Efforts to get comment from Nigerian High Commissioner Wil-berforce Juta were unsuccessful.
Zimbabwe was suspended from the Commonwealth on March 19 last year following fraud and political violence in President Robert Mugabe’s disputed re-election. Harare is, however, trying to get the ban lifted in Abuja.
That will require the ruling party to make progress in its talks with the opposition Movement for Democratic Change.
During its suspension, Zimbabwe was asked to address the club’s various concerns. These include political dialogue and reconciliation; electoral law reforms and other fundamental legislative changes; promotion, in collaboration with the UNDP, of an organised land reform exercise; human rights issues and the economic crisis.
But as Commonwealth secretary-general Don McKinnon’s report states, and the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum reinforces in its report released this week, Harare is in clear breach of the Commonwealth’s Harare Declaration, the Millbrook Commonwealth Action Programme on the Harare Declaration and the Abuja Agreement signed in Nigeria on September 6 2001 in a bid to end the local crisis.
“The evidence available at pre-sent indicates that Zimbabwe remains divergent to the Common-wealth goal of ‘promoting democracy and good governance, human rights and the rule of law, gender equality and sustainable econo-mic and social development’,” the forum’s report says.
It said Harare has also failed to comply with the Marlborough House Statement on Zimbabwe, through which the country was suspended, and the Zimbabwe Mid-Term Review Statement issued by the troika in Abuja on September 23 last year.
“Electoral processes in Zimbabwe continue to be conducted in an environment in which citizens are unable to participate freely,” the report says. “They are persistently subjected to violence, intimidation and coercion. High levels of human rights violations continue to prevail.”
It went further: “There has been continued disregard for the rule of law and manipulation of the judiciary that has compromised equal access to justice.
This has been accompanied by the establishment of a culture of impunity presided over by a seemingly partisan police force.”
On the economy, it said: “Economic decline has accelerated as a result of mismanagement, coupled with engagement in an unsustainable land reform programme that has only served to aggravate food insecurity in the country.”