PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe, once the region’s leading statesman, is fast losing his grip on the affairs of the Southern African Development Community
Evidence of Mugabe’s loss of influence mounted yesterday when it was confirmed Zimbabwe’s political and economic crisis would be discussed at the Sadc summit which opened in Lesotho yesterday — clearly against his will.
Mugabe — who a few years ago was forced to surrender the Sadc Organ on Politics, Defence and Security after years in control — has usually opposed discussing Zimbabwe’s domestic affairs at such meetings unless he wants support.
Lesotho’s Finance minister Timothy Thahane this week said crisis-ridden Zimbabwe and Swaziland, which are notorious for human rights abuses, would be discussed at the close of the summit today.
Problems have forced millions of locals to flee across borders, mostly to South Africa, Botswana and overseas as economic refugees.
“There will be a special session at the close of the summit to discuss what’s going on … specifically in Zimbabwe and Swaziland,” Thahane told reporters on Wednesday.
Thahane, who is also head of the Sadc Council of Ministers, said the issue of former Tanzanian president Benjamin Mkapa’s mediation in Zimbabwe was not on the agenda, although it might be tabled in the closed session.
Sources in Harare said Mugabe’s delegation would try to introduce the issue to seek Sadc support for Mkapa to become the official envoy of the regional body on Zimbabwe.
Mkapa was confirmed as the mediator at the recent African Union summit in Banjul, The Gambia, ahead of United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan who was widely expected to deal with the issue.
South African President Thabo Mbeki said recently he expected Annan to tackle the Zimbabwean issue during his anticipated visit which has since been cancelled.
Mbeki, who met Mugabe and his Mozambican counterpart Armando Guebuza on Wednesday to open a key border post on the trans-frontier national park, has been trying to resolve the Zimbabwean crisis for the past six years. The three leaders reportedly discussed Zimbabwe and the Sadc meeting.
Mugabe has said he supports Mkapa to deal with the alleged “bilateral dispute” with Britain over Zimbabwe’s chaotic land reforms. Mugabe wants to speak to British Prime Minister Tony Blair about the issue.
However, London has rejected Mugabe’s claims, saying the problems in Zimbabwe are about human rights and poor governance. It has been suggested that Blair will not talk to Mugabe. Britain says Zimbabweans must talk on their own to sort out the problems besetting their country. Mugabe is today expected to use Sadc to salvage the Mkapa initiative because he thinks it will buy him more time in power.