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Southern Africa steps out to tackle Mugabe problem


As the old man remains adamant

President of Zimbabwe Robert Mugabe listens as Prof. Alpha Oumar Konare, chairman of the Commission of the African Union, addresses attendees at the opening ceremony of the 10th Ordinary Session of the Assembly during the African Union Summit in Addis Ab aba, Ethiopia, Jan. 31, 2008. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Jeremy Lock) (Released)


By John Eche


While Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe and his close circle of power-mongers are adamant he should remain in office until he literally drops dead,  his continued stay in office, despite presiding over the continuing slide in the quality of living of his people is beginning to rankle feathers within Southern Africa and indeed all of the continent.

Stepping out to bell the cat last week, his Botswana counterpart, Ian Khama, publicly requested the old man to step down and allow fresh blood to come in and improve Zimbabwe’s economy.

Analysts interpret Khama’s outburst as the first salvo in what is expected to be a growing trend in the next few months given the continuing deterioration of the situation in the country with attendant costs for its neighbours in the area of security and the refugee burden.

In its own swift reaction however, the Zimbabwean government has hit back at President Khama following his comments asking President Robert Mugabe to step down.

Khama, in an interview with Reuters news agency on Wednesday, said Mugabe should step aside without delay for the sake of Zimbabwe and the region, comments that “shocked” officials in Zimbabwe.

“The government of Zimbabwe is shocked by this uncharacteristic behaviour on the part of President Khama. It is taboo in African etiquette and diplomacy,” Zimbabwe’s Information Minister Chris Mushohwe said in a statement on Friday.

“We sincerely hope that this will be the last time Botswana’s leader opens his mouth to bad-mouth President Mugabe and fellow African leaders. Why should President Mugabe be removed from office unconstitutionally as President Khama’s sentiments seem to suggest?”

Khama had said Zimbabwe needed new leadership to deal with a political and economic implosion that has dragged down the whole of Southern Africa since 2000.

“It is obvious that at his [Mugabe’s] age and the state Zimbabwe is in, he’s not really able to provide the leadership that could get it out of its predicament,” Khama said.

“They have got plenty of people there who have got good leadership qualities who could take over.”

Botswana is home to an estimated 100,000 Zimbabweans – a fraction of the three million believed to be in South Africa – although this is still enough to strain public services in a nation of 2.3 million people.

It has felt the full effects of its neighbour’s economic collapse under the weight of political violence and hyperinflation.

Although Zimbabwe’s economy stabilised in 2009 with the scrapping of the Zimbabwe dollar, a slump in commodity prices over the last two years has triggered a cash crunch, raising discontent in the country.

Already the word out there on the streets is that factions of Mugabe’s ruling ZANU-PF party are locked in a bitter struggle to succeed the only leader Zimbabwe has known, but no clear potential successor has emerged. The growing fear is that in the event of a clear sucessor not emerging shortly, the door may remain open for the possibility of a civil war breaking out anytime soon.

Observers say it is to avert this dangerous scenario that the leaders of the region are now resolved to use more frontal measures to ease out the old man even now.

Before now, the bulk of the pressure to resolve the Mugabe problem had come from Europe. But the tough-talking Mugabe propaganda machine had gone to work, branding those calls as imperialist and neo-colonialist. Today however, things have gotten much worse that fellow African leaders are electing to now carry the can themselves.

It will be recalled that it was a similar rally from neighbouring African leaders that had led to the ouster of the notorious Ugandan dictator, Idi Amin Dada several decades ago.

But continuing to fly his maverick card much further, Mugabe said on Saturday that the African Union was planning to form a splinter group with countries such as Russia, China and India if the U.N. Security Council did not include members of his continent next year.

President Robert Mugabe said the African Union was still concerned that it had no permanent seats on the Security Council.

Upon arrival in Harare from New York and this year’s U.N. General Assembly late Saturday, the 92-year-old Zimbabwean leader told ZANU-PF supporters that the African Union wanted to be on the Security Council if veto powers of the five permanent members – China, France, the United Kingdom, the U.S., and Russia – were not removed.

“It is not all permanent members being tough. It is Britain, France and [the United States of] America,” he said. “If they remain adamant, they must not cry foul when we agree to form our own organization with countries like China, India and other Asian countries. This is what we want to do next year in September, when we have made a commitment.”


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