MOST invited African heads of state did not pitch up for President Robert Mugabe’s inauguration at the National Sports Stadium in Harare yesterday, spoiling what officials wanted to be a grand historic occasion conferring a stamp of legitimacy on Mugabe’s controversial re-election.
Initially, 51 leaders were expected to attend but the number was later whittled down to 40 and then reduced to 30, but those who attended were nowhere near that number. Only a handful of leaders attended the ceremony.
These include Tanzania’s Jakaya Kikwete, Namibian leader Hifikepunye Pohamba, Mozambican President Armando Guebuza, Democratic Republic of Congo leader Joseph Kabila, Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo and Mauritian President Kailash Purryag.
South Africa –– which has played a key role in Zimbabwean politics since 2000 –– was represented by deputy president Kgalema Motlanthe, Zambia by Vice-President Guy Scott and Malawi sent Vice-President Khumbo Kachali.
To put a further damper on Mugabe’s big bash, Sadc chairperson Malawi President Joyce Banda and her African Union counterpart, Ethiopian Prime Minister Haile Mariam Dessalegn did not attend.
Even Sadc’s Zimbabwe facilitator, South African President Jacob Zuma was not there. West African political giant Nigeria’s President Goodluck Jonathan was not there either.
Mugabe’s liberation struggle era counterparts such as Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos, Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni and Cameroon leader Paul Biya also did not grace the occasion.
If it were not for former heads of state, the occasion could have been truly a damp squib. Former leaders who attended include Botswana’s Sir Ketumile Masire and Festus Mogae, Ali Hassan Mwinyi and Benjamin Mkapa (Tanzania), Kenneth Kaunda (Zambia), Sam Nujoma (Namibia) and Thabo Mbeki (South Africa).
Botswana President Ian Khama also snubbed the party attended by over 60 000 people, most of whom were bussed in from all the country’s 10 provinces.
Mugabe seemed only too aware of the failures by many leaders to attend as he defended it, saying it was due to time constraints since there was only a 48-hour notice.