COMMONWEALTH leaders this week forged a remarkable consensus to ban President Robert Mugabe from the club’s forthcoming meeting in Nigeria after attempts by South Africa to intervene on his b
Club chair Australian Prime Minister John Howard said Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and the group’s secretariat had decided that Mugabe would not be admitted to the biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (Chogm) in Abuja, Nigeria, on December 5/6.
The decision – which shattered Harare’s claims to solidarity among African, Asian, Caribbean and Pacific nations and pushed Mugabe into further international isolation – was taken by Nigeria on the grounds that Zimbabwe is still suspended from the club’s councils. But, observers say, the Nigerians would have acted in close consultation with other members as well as the group’s secretariat in London.
Following a fierce war of words between South Africa and Australia over the issue, Pretoria jettisoned its posturing after it realised that there was agreement between Obasanjo, Commonwealth secretary-general Don McKinnon and other leaders over Mugabe.
South African President Thabo Mbeki’s spokesman Bheki Khumalo initially protested against Howard’s announcement that Mugabe had been banned from the Abuja meeting, claiming “megaphone diplomacy” was not appropriate.
“We want to appeal to the Australians to understand that megaphone diplomacy will not produce results,” Khumalo said. “We don’t think that using megaphone diplomacy will work.” Harare said Canberra’s attitude was “rude, condescending and racist”.
But Howard firmly rebutted this. “Everything Australia has said about Zimbabwe in the time I’ve been Prime Minister, far from being megaphone diplomacy, has been a plain statement of truth,” he said.
Howard insisted it would be a “travesty and tragedy” if the Commonwealth invited Mugabe to Chogm when he had defied with impunity the club’s demands for him to redress his violation of the Harare Declaration, the Millbrook Commonwealth Action Programme on the Harare Declaration and the Abuja Agreement of September 6, 2001.
He said Harare was also in breach of the Marlborough House Statement on Zimbabwe, by which the country was suspended from the club on March 19 last year for electoral fraud, and the Zimbabwe Mid-Term Review Statement issued by the troika in Abuja on September 23 last year.
The Australian premier, who sits on the troika on Zimbabwe with Mbeki and Obasanjo, said Harare should remain suspended until Mugabe is gone.
“Zimbabwe is a disaster, a human disaster,” Howard said. “It is quite unacceptable that Zimbabwe continue to participate, or be allowed to resume participation, in Commonwealth affairs until there’s a complete change of approach, and that can only happen with the disappearance of the Mugabe government.”
Nigeria also wrong-footed South Africa when it confirmed Mugabe was not invited to Abuja at a time when Pretoria was claiming the issue was not settled.
“Zimbabwe and Pakistan have not been invited to the Commonwealth summit because they are still under suspension for violating the 1991 Harare Declaration,” Nigeria’s under-secretary in charge of regions and international organisations, Gbenga Ashiru, said. “There is no way the suspension of the two countries can be lifted before the summit.”
After this the spin in Pretoria changed. Khumalo later told the Zimbabwe Independent: “Nigeria has got the right to invite President Mugabe or not. We are not insisting that President Mugabe should go to Abuja. We will live by whatever decision Nigeria takes.”