Obasanjo tries to sneak Zim in


Dumisani Muleya

PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe is battling to sneak into the forthcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (Chogm) in Abuja, Nigeria, next month after he was initially ba

rred.


Diplomatic sources said Mugabe was engaged in critical talks with Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo over the issue. South African President Thabo Mbeki is understood to be part of the negotiations to secure Mugabe a belated invitation to the biennial summit, even if it may not mean full participation.


Mugabe has not been invited to Chogm because his regime, which is suspended from the councils of the Commonwealth, has failed to comply with demands for fundamental democratic reforms set out in March last year.


British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Australian premier John Howard, the outgoing Chogm chair, have threatened to boycott the meeting if Mugabe attends. Commonwealth secretary-general Don McKinnon has said Mugabe will not attend the meeting unless he embraces serious reforms.


Obasanjo said last month that Mugabe would not be invited to Abuja unless there was a positive “sea change” in Zimbabwe.


In an attempt to deliver the “sea change” as Chogm approaches, Mugabe last week announced there would be sweeping reforms of state institutions, including a cabinet reshuffle.


This week he launched the reforms starting with the appointment of a new Reserve Bank governor and provincial governors. A cabinet and army reshuffle is also looming.


Meanwhile, Mbeki this week said while visiting Canada that there was progress in trying to resolve the Zimbabwe crisis. He said talks between the ruling Zanu PF and Movement for Democratic Change opposition could produce a coalition government soon.


He said dialogue was still going on. But the parties concerned have said the talks were off. Mbeki’s remarks after meeting Canadian premier Jean Chretien were seen as part of efforts to secure Mugabe an invitation to Chogm.


Evidence of Mugabe’s battle to get into Abuja mounted this week with reports by the Nigerian Chogm taskforce that Obasanjo and other leaders were locked in high-level consultations over the suspension of Zimbabwe and Pakistan from the Commonwealth.


Pakistan was suspended in 1999 when President General Pervez Musharraf seized power through a coup. Musharraf, like Mugabe, has not been invited.


Nigerian Foreign Affairs Director of International Organisations Ambassador Olusegun Akinsanya told journalists in Abuja that although the two countries remain uninvited to the December 5-8 meeting “for the time being”, Obasanjo was still working on the issue.