PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe is likely to cut a lonely figure at the Sadc summit in Maputo, Mozambique, next week following the death of his key regional ally, Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika in April and the lack of strong allies within the region.
Mutharika strongly backed Mugabe and his death seems to have further eroded Mugabe’s already depleted support in Sadc, leaving Zambian President Michael Sata as his only all-weather friend.
Mutharika’s successor Joyce Banda has ditched the politics of solidarity pursued by Mutharika and embarked on a major drive to mend ties with the international community, especially the West.
She has also taken a number of bold steps to steer the country’s ailing economy into donor-friendly waters.
In a radical departure from her country’s previous stance, Banda quickly broke ranks by refusing to bow to the African Union’s condition that Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on charges of genocide and war crimes, should attend the continental body’s meeting in Lilongwe last month.
Ironically, Bashir had been given a red carpet welcome by wa Mutharika at a regional trade summit in December last year.
With the “close partnership and brotherly bonds” that Mugabe enjoyed with Malawi and other regional leaders gone, MDC-T leader and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai has embarked on a diplomatic charm offensive to persuade regional leaders to call for full implementation of all GPA reforms.
Tsvangirai met Banda on the sidelines of a book launch in Johannesburg last week. Bolstered by the meeting, Tsvangirai embarked on a tour, meeting incoming Sadc chairman and Mozambique President Armando Guebuza on Wednesday, and the bloc’s incoming troika chairman Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete yesterday. He was also set to meet Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba.
Political commentator Blessing Vava said Mugabe no longer exerted the same influence nor enjoyed the support of regional leaders as before and it is not surprising Banda had warmed to Tsvangirai, given her pro-Western stance.
Vava said Botswana President Ian Khama and South Africa’s Jacob Zuma were certainly no allies of Mugabe who could not even count on the support of DRC President Joseph Kabila, or Angola’s Jose Eduardo dos Santos whom he helped during the countries’ civil wars.
Dos Santos is closer to Zuma than any Sadc leader.
“Despite the support Mugabe rendered to his late father (Laurent Kabila), Joseph Kabila has clearly chosen to do business with South Africa. It’s also been several years since Kabila was in Zimbabwe,” said Vava.
Kabila appears to be neutral and does not always attend Sadc summits.
South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, Tanzania, Malawi and Namibia are the countries that hold sway in Sadc, while the likes of Mauritius, Swaziland, Lesotho and the Seychelles are inclined to go with the majority.
While Mugabe is isolated in Sadc and internationally, Tsvangirai has been hogging the regional and international limelight.
The premier was recently in Japan, Australia and New Zealand. Prior to that he visited China.