African Union calls for unity government in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe's opposition rejects calls for a unity government, however, citing perceived bias of mediator, South African President Thabo Mbeki.

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

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    George Charamba, spokesperson for Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe spoke to the media at the African Union summit. African leaders called on President Mugabe to form a government of national unity on Tuesday. Mr. Charamba said Zimbabwe would not adopt the 'Kenyan way,' of negotiating a power-sharing agreement.
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In its most strongly worded statement on Zimbabwe thus far, the African Union (AU) called on President Robert Mugabe to form a government of national unity – a power-sharing arrangement – with his chief rival, Morgan Tsvangirai.

The AU statement, which fell short of the full condemnation of Mr. Mugabe sought by some African nations, such as Nigeria, Botswana, Kenya, Liberia, and Senegal, expressed concern over the violence during the three-month-long election process and called on South Africa to continue its work in mediating the political crisis.

Neither Mugabe nor Mr. Tsvangirai's party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), expressed much enthusiasm for a unity government, with Mugabe's spokesman telling reporters in the Egyptian city of Sharm el-Sheik that Zimbabwe would not adopt the "Kenyan way" of negotiating a power-sharing agreement. "Kenya is Kenya. Zimbabwe is Zimbabwe," said George Charamba, Mugabe's spokesman. As for Western critics, Mr. Charamba said, they could "go hang a thousand times."

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The African Union's inability to directly rebuke Mugabe for an election that even African observers say "fell short" of AU standards, for acts of violence and intimidation that killed some 90 opposition activists and displaced tens of thousands more, shows the limits of the AU's promises of solving African problems with African solutions. While some African nations are pushing hard toward greater democratization, others are digging in their heels against reform and clinging steadfastly to the very tools of violence that Mugabe has used.

"This clearly indicates that there are no shared and common values around what good governance is, what democracy is," says Chris Maroleng, a security analyst at the Institute for Security Studies in Tshwane, South Africa, as Pretoria is now called. "A lot of our leaders have questionable democratic credentials, so it's not surprising that the AU fell short of the mark."

The AU's resolution contrasted strongly with the call by Zimbabwe's neighbor, Botswana, urging the AU to exclude Mugabe from future meetings by the AU and the Southern African Development Community (SADC). "In our considered view, the representatives of the current government in Zimbabwe should be excluded from attending SADC and AU meetings," Botswanan Vice President Mompati Merafhe said in a statement.

Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and the leaders of Senegal, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, also urged stronger action against Mugabe and his ruling entourage.

Yet the AU's emphasis on dialogue between the MDC and Mugabe means that the AU has punted back to South African President Thabo Mbeki, who has served over the last year as the designated mediator for the 16 nations of SADC. Mr. Mbeki's "quiet diplomacy" with Mugabe has earned him more criticism than praise, and his tendency to protect Mugabe – flying in to Harare amid a wave of post-election violence against opposition members and declaring at Mugabe's side that there is "no crisis in Zimbabwe" – have more than once prompted the MDC to request his replacement by someone seen by everyone as impartial.

President Mbeki's spokesman, Mukoni Ratshitanga, expressed satisfaction with the AU resolution, saying, "We will continue to work with the Zimbabweans and we are convinced that the challenges will be resolved."

The MDC is not impressed with Mbeki's efforts, claiming that he is biased in favor of Mugabe. "The MDC's reservations about the mediation process under President Mbeki are well known," reads a statement issued Wednesday by the MDC. "It is our position that unless the mediation team is expanded to include at least one permanent representative from the African Union, and the mediation mechanism is changed, no meaningful progress can be made toward resolving the Zimbabwean crisis. If this does not happen, then the MDC will not be part of such a mediation process."

The "sham election" on June 27, which Tsvangirai pulled out of, "totally and completely exterminated any prospects of a negotiated settlement," said Tendai Biti, the MDC's secretary general. Mr. Biti is currently out on bail, after his arrest two weeks ago on charges of treason and writing articles that were insulting to Mugabe.

Analyst Chris Maroleng says that the current "asymmetry of power" between Mugabe and the opposition – Mugabe retains control over the Army, police, intelligence, judiciary, and all organs of government – makes any talk of a government of national unity impractical.

"A government of national unity at this stage is a nonstarter," says Maroleng. Unless there is a complete restructuring of the Constitution, a change in the executive powers of the presidency, any power-sharing deal at this point would tilt the advantage, permanently, in the favor of Mugabe. "It's placing icing over a rotten core. It would look nice, but underneath, it would still be rotten."

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