Dumisani Muleya/Augustine Mukaro
PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe clashed with Zambian leader Levy Mwanawasa at the recent Lusaka summit because he feared Britain was trying
to use the meeting to push its own agenda against Zimbabwe, the Zimbabwe Independent can confirm.
Presidential spokesman George Charamba confirmed the clash, saying in any debate people were bound to hold divergent views.
“Summits by their nature are open to debate and often with divergent views,” Charamba said. “Maybe in this case the president said it in a strong way which people were not used to.”
Mwanawasa clashed with Mugabe after he tried to table the Zimbabwe crisis for debate during a closed session of the meeting. It is said Mugabe reacted angrily to the idea and he lambasted Mwanawasa before walking out in protest.
Charamba said Mugabe suspected that there were “foreign elements” who wanted to turn their budgetary support into political leverage over Zimbabwe.
“The British were pushing the Sadc states to deliver on Zimbabwe, and since most of these governments are funded 70% from donor funds, they are put under pressure. It is at that point that the president intervened and said it was now time to edit the Dar es Salaam agreement,” he said.
Charamba said Zimbabwe was not supposed to be discussed at the summit because all the issues that were set out at the extraordinary meeting in Dar es Salaam were still a work in progress. He said even the economic report was to be forwarded to finance ministers of the different countries to see what each economy could do to help Zimbabwe.
Charamba said the economic report by Sadc executive secretary Tomaz Salomao did not recommend any aid to Zimbabwe but advocated promoting partnerships and normalising trade terms.
This came as it emerged that Mwanawasa fired his vocal former Foreign minister Mundia Sikatana as a result of his explosive row with Mugabe, not because of failing health as officially claimed.
Diplomatic sources said Sikatana was fired by Mwanawasa after he tried to stop Mugabe’s delegation from leaving. Sikatana is said to have told the Zimbabweans to be patient with Mwanawasa because from time to time he experienced momentary concentration lapses as a result of a car accident.
It is understood Sikatana’s references to the occasional slip-ups by Mwanawasa was the real reason why he was dismissed days after the summit.
Mwanawasa and Sikatana are both critical of Mugabe, but the way they handled the Zimbabwe issue during the summit led to the minister’s removal.
The sources said after Mugabe stormed out of the meeting, Sikatana tried to ensure that the Zimbabwean delegation did not walk away for good and in the process explained that Mwanawasa could have acted the way he did due to his erratic behaviour and concentration lapses.
Last year Mugabe also left Lesotho in a huff after Sadc leaders tried to table Zimbabwe for discussion in a closed session. Mugabe is always opposed to the discussion of Zimbabwe at any forum, unless he is allowed to give his own version of events.
South African President Thabo Mbeki tried but failed to stop Mugabe from leaving. The sources who witnessed the dramatic clash said Mbeki tried in vain to restrain Mugabe from hastily leaving Lusaka.
Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete also tried to stop Mugabe from walking out but to no avail as well.
“After Mugabe had walked out of the meeting, Kikwete followed him and tried to convince him to come back. Mbeki also joined Kikwete to try to persuade him not to walk away, but they both failed to influence him,” a source said.
Sikatana tried as well but failed to stop Mugabe’s delegation from going. Mwanawasa’s office claimed Sikatana was unexpectedly removed due to ill-health.
“I very much regret that I am terminating your services as Minister of Foreign Affairs with immediate effect,” a statement from Mwanawasa’s office said. “At the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, you have been able to discharge your duties with distinction until recently when your health appeared to be failing.”
Sikatana recently refuted Mwanawasa’s allegation that his health was failing.
Sikatana, a vocal Mugabe critic, said he was very fit and revealed that he was forced out because of how he handled such issues as the Zimbabwe crisis. He said Mwanawasa was now backing down on his criticism of Mugabe.