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Obasanjo angry over failed meeting

Dumisani Muleya

PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe on Monday sabotaged his prospects of attending next month’s Commonwealth summit when he refused to meet opposition Movement for Democratic Change

leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

Senior diplomatic sources said Nigerian leader Olusegun Obasanjo had come to offer Mugabe, who is desperate to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (Chogm) in Abuja, Nigeria, a last-minute opportunity to secure an invitation but left the country angry and exasperated.

Sources said Mugabe rejected Obasanjo’s attempt to organise an emergency meeting with Tsvangirai to break the political impasse, claiming he needed to consult his party first.

The meeting would have helped Obasanjo to claim he had brokered a breakthrough between the two sides and thereby opened a door to Mugabe at Abuja.

Obasanjo had ostensibly plan-ned to meet Mugabe to formally tell him why he had not been invited to the Chogm, but later saw an opportunity to try to break the political impasse.

When he arrived in the country on Monday, he first met Mugabe before seeing Tsvangirai later in the morning. Sources said Mugabe briefed Obasanjo on the situation and claimed he was a victim of a racist campaign by the “white Commonwealth” angered by his land reform programme.

Mugabe claimed he was trying to address the economic situation. He also said there had been informal talks between Zanu PF and the MDC.

After meeting Mugabe, Obasanjo went to see Tsvangirai for a briefing. Sources said Obasanjo’s first words were: “What’s happening Mr Tsvangirai?” to which the MDC leader replied: “Since your last visit to Zimbabwe (with South African President Thabo Mbeki in May) nothing has changed, except for the worse.”

“Obasanjo looked surprised because Mugabe had given him the impression there was progress,” a source close to the talks said.

Tsvangirai then went on to chronicle events from last year up to now.

Sources said Tsvangirai started with Colonel Lionel Dyck’s purported mission last December, followed by the visit to Zimbabwe of Cape Town Archbishop Njongonkulu Ndungane in March and then the meetings between Patrick Chinamasa and MDC secretary-general Welshman Ncube.

Tsvangirai also spoke about the church leaders’ initiative and secret meetings with Zanu PF chair John Nkomo in September in an effort to secure a meeting between Mugabe and himself.

“It was an extensive briefing by Tsvangirai and Obasanjo was impressed,” a source said. “After that Obasanjo went back to Mugabe at State House hoping to arrange a meeting between the two.

“But when he came back to Tsvangirai from State House he was visibly disappointed because Mugabe had refused an immediate meeting with Tsvangirai. Mugabe said he wanted to first consult his party and gave February or March next year as dates for a possible meeting.”

The sources said after Obasanjo’s experience on Monday, there would be no invitation to Mugabe “unless something dramatic happens” between now and the opening of the conference on December 5.

Obasanjo is on record as saying Mugabe would not be invited unless there was a positive “sea change” in Zimbabwe. His insistence on Monday that “we are still consulting” suggested he had not found any “sea change” during his visit.

Tsvangirai told Obasanjo Mugabe had failed to address Commonwealth concerns raised when Zimbabwe was suspended from the club in March last year. The issues include political reconciliation and democratic reforms.

Australian Prime Minister John Howard and officials at the Commonwealth secretariat in London said after Obasanjo’s visit this week that Mugabe remained uninvited.

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