|Africa News Digest
South African President Mbeki To Mediate in Zimbabwe
The heads of state of the 14-member Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) held a summit in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania March 27. The situation in Zimbabwe was among the matters of regional concern for the summit, which had originally been scheduled at the foreign minister level. The conflict between President Robert Mugabe and the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) is being continuously fanned by the Western press, with the British press taking the lead, calling for stronger action to be taken against Mugabe. Violence is increasing, and Zimbabwe's economic crisis is deepening.
Agreement was reached at the summit, according to a March 29 BBC wire, that South African President Thabo Mbeki should try to mediate the crisis. Mbeki will attempt to formally arrange talks between Mugabe and the opposition.
The summit also called on the West to drop sanctions and appealed to Britain to "honour its commitments" to fund land reforms in its former colony (see below for final communiqué).
Before the summit, former Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda said in a March 20 Reuters wire, that Western powers have no moral right to demonize President Mugabe. Kaunda, who is one of the few remaining African statesmen with Mugabe's liberation-era credentials, said Zimbabwe's economic and political woes were largely due to "broken promises" on land reforms, by former colonial power Britain. Kaunda said: "We need to find an answer and not to throw accusations at him." He said Zimbabwe required the immediate intervention of African leaders, and that this would have to be through talks that brought Mugabe and leader of the opposition MDC, Morgan Tsvangirai, together.
South African government spokesperson Themba Maseko said March 20 that, "It was the position of the South African government that the recent elections had been free and fair," although the MDC claims this not to be the case.
Before going to the summit, Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa, compared Zimbabwe to the Titanic. He also categorically stated that the Zambian government didn't want any other nation, outside of the SADC, to meddle in the Zimbabwe situation, either directly, or indirectly.
South African Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Aziz Pahad again rejected suggestions that economic sanctions should be imposed as a means to resolve the crisis in Zimbabwe. In an official statement, the South African government said, "[The] cabinet, once again, expressed its concerns about the deteriorating situation in Zimbabwe, and reaffirmed the government position, as recently stated by the deputy minister of foreign affairs, that only dialogue among the main political and economic protagonists can help bring about a lasting solution to the current political and economic challenges facing Zimbabwe.
"As stated previously, South Africa is ready to provide whatever assistance is required in bringing about a peaceful and lasting solution to the situation in Zimbabwe."
In the Mail and Guardian of March 27, Pahad said: "It's constructive diplomacy that we're working on." He noted South Africa could not bring about a solution alone, but that the situation demanded a collective approach within the framework of the SADC or the African Union. He stated that if there had been a collective approach from the start, the crisis would not have progressed to this stage.
Pahad emphasized that "we will never just make militant statements simply to satisfy ourselves or governments far away." He concluded: "Our objective is to help normalise the situation and enable us to protect ourselves from any further serious impact of what will happen if we are not able to resolve the Zimbabwe situation.
After the summit, on March 30, the central committee of Mugabe's party, the ZANU-PF, backed his decision to run for a new term as President in 2008.
SADC Summit Refuses To Join British Attacks on Zimbabwe
The March 28-29 Extra-Ordinary Summit of Southern African Development Community (SADC) issued the following communiqué on Zimbabwe.
"The Extra-Ordinary Summit noted and appreciated the briefing by H.E. President Robert Mugabe on the current developments in Zimbabwe.
"The Extra-Ordinary Summit recalled that free, fair, and democratic Presidential elections were held in 2002 in Zimbabwe.
"The Extra-Ordinary Summit reaffirmed its solidarity with the Government and people of Zimbabwe.
"The Extra-Ordinary Summit mandated H.E. President Thabo Mbeki to continue to facilitate dialogue between the opposition and the Government and report back to the Troika on the progress. The Extra-Ordinary Summit also encouraged enhanced diplomatic contacts which will assist with the resolution of the situation in Zimbabwe.
"The Extra-Ordinary Summit mandated the SADC Executive Secretary to undertake a study on the economic situation in Zimbabwe and propose measures on how SADC can assist Zimbabwe to recover economically.
"The Extra-Ordinary summit reiterated the appeal to Britain to honor its compensation obligation with regard to Land reform made at the Lancaster House.
"The Extra-Ordinary Summit appealed for lifting of all forms of sanctions against Zimbabwe."
Worst Fighting in Somalia Since UIC Ousted
On March 29, Ethiopian helicopter gunships fired at a market near a reported insurgent stronghold in southern Mogadishu. Ethiopian tanks are also deployed, and anti-government militias responded with heavy artillery fire, according to BBC. Insurgents are reportedly also using rocket launchers and machine guns against the Ethiopians. The Ethiopians want to take control of five key junctions, in what they call a three-day operation. They appear to be doing this before the meeting of all factions which is supposed to take place the first week in April. Ethiopian President Zenawi says two-thirds of his troops have been pulled out. Wounded people, many of them civilians, are stranded.
The only part of the Africa Union peacekeeping force that has arrived, are 1,500 Ugandan troops, and they are feeling as if they are guinea pigs, according the Kenyan daily East African of March 27.