Obasanjo calls for ‘sea change’ in Zim


Dumisani Muleya

NIGERIAN president and incoming Commonwealth chair Olusegun Obasanjo says President Robert Mugabe will not be invited to the club’s summit in Abuja in December unless the

re is a positive “sea change” in Zimbabwe.



Obasanjo said in New York on Monday there has to be fundamental and far-reaching changes in Zimbabwe if Mugabe was to be invited.


So far Nigeria has said Mugabe and Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf who seized power through a military coup in 1999 are not welcome at the meeting.


Obasanjo was responding to a question as to whether he would reconsider Mugabe’s ban as South African President Thabo Mbeki had initially urged.

“Well, it’s a decision for me but it’s not really a decision for me alone,” Obasanjo said. “It’s a decision for me with the Commonwealth leaders and for now, after appropriate consultations, I believe there has to be a sea change in Zimbabwe for an invitation to be sent.”


Asked about the sea change represented by the closure of the Daily News, Obasanjo said: “I would say if that qualifies to be called a sea change at all, then it’s a negative sea change.”


Despite South Africa’s initial protests over Mugabe’s exclusion, Mbeki’s spokesman Bheki Khumalo was this week quoted in the press accepting Obasanjo’s decision.


Khumalo said Mbeki was among those consulted by Obasanjo over the Mugabe issue.


“The president accepts President Obasanjo’s decision,” he said “It is up to Nigeria to decide whether or not to invite President Mugabe.”


Outgoing Commonwealth chair John Howard of Australia said inviting Mugabe to the Abuja summit when he was in blatant breach of the Commonwealth Harare Declaration principles on democracy, human rights and elections would be a “tragedy”.


South Africa initially protested over Mugabe’s exclusion before realising it was fighting a lone battle. Its official position on the issue has so far shifted no less than three times. But now Pretoria has accepted it is unlikely to change the club’s stance on Mugabe.


On suggestions that Mbeki could boycott the summit over Mugabe’s ban, Khumalo said: “There is no question of the president boycotting the event. That notion is a dead duck. He will be there with the other Commonwealth leaders to engage the issues.”


The Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) which met on September 27 in New York on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly said Zimbabwe’s suspension from the Commonwealth for electoral fraud would be reviewed in Abuja.


But CMAG said Zimbabwe was still suspended and would not be invited to the meeting. Mbeki recently claimed in parliament that Harare’s ban ended in March.


CMAG members, Botswana, Malta, India, Bangladesh, Bahamas, Samoa, Nigeria and Australia, said there was little chance of Zimbabwe rejoining the councils of the Commonwealth because it remained in material breach of the club’s principles and has failed to address key issues of concern.


Instead, they said Pakistan stood a better chance of bouncing back to the club earlier than Zimbabwe.


Australian Foreign minister Alexander Downer, who has taken a tough position on Mugabe, prepared a document for CMAG showing that Zimbabwe has not measured up to the Commonwealth “benchmarks” for its readmission.


He circulated the document demonstrating Zimbabwe’s lack of progress in meeting Commonwealth benchmarks for democratic reform and insisted Mugabe has to comply with the club’s principles.


Howard has made it clear Zimbabwe should not be readmitted until “the disappearance of Mugabe’s government”.