A call by the G8 to send a UN envoy to Zimbabwe and to press for new sanctions is a stinging humiliation for mediator Thabo Mbeki, analysts say.
A call by eight of the world’s most powerful leaders to send a United Nations envoy to Zimbabwe and to press for new sanctions against Robert Mugabe’s regime is a stinging humiliation for long-time mediator Thabo Mbeki and his policy of quiet diplomacy, analysts said on Wednesday.
The South African president, who was at the Group of Eight (G8) summit in Japan, has long argued he is best placed to broker a settlement between Zimbabwe’s governing party and opposition and that sanctions would only worsen the situation.
But while world leaders have previously been willing to leave the hot potato of Zimbabwe in his lap, observers said Tuesday’s statement by the G8 shows they have run of patience with the South African leader’s softly-softly approach.
“It is extremely humiliating,” said Hussein Solomon, director of the Pretoria-based Centre for International Policy studies.
Solomon said that Mbeki’s refusal to criticise Mugabe had not only been discredited in the eyes of the West but was regarded with increasing scepticism closer to home.
“Various African countries, Kenya, Botswana, Zambia, have all been critical of Mr Mugabe, and for some reason Mr Mbeki refuses to budge. This is partly his personality—he would have to accept his failure.”
Mbeki has been involved in mediating the crisis in neighbouring Zimbabwe since counterpart Mugabe allegedly rigged his 2002 re-election.
He was again appointed as mediator by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in March last year after a crackdown by Zimbabwe’s security services left opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai in hospital with head injuries.
The South African leader, now into his last year as president, has always been the go-to man for the international community who have relied on him to carve the African solution they backed as being the answer to the crisis.
Tony Blair, speaking in South Africa during a farewell visit as British prime minister last year, gave his backing to Mbeki’s efforts and stressed that there had to be “an African solution for Zimbabwe”.
United States President George Bush also originally lobbied African leaders to use their influence on Mugabe but he has also visibly lost patience with their relatively timid approach.
As the African Union called last week for the establishment of a national unity government in Zimbabwe following Mugabe’s re-election in a one-man poll, the European Union announced it would only deal with an administration led by Tsvangirai, who boycotted the run-off ballot after attacks on his supporters.
“What they [G8] have done is accept the position of Mr Tsvangirai,” said Solomon.
The Star newspaper’s foreign editor, Peter Fabricius, wrote on Wednesday that the G8 calls for sanctions and a special UN envoy amounted to a “slap in the face” for Mbeki and “an implicit vote of no confidence” in his mediation efforts.
His view was echoed by Karin Alexander of the Institute for Democracy in Southern Africa, who said the G8 call indicated a “falling level of confidence in Mbeki’s mediation”.
While Alexander said the move should not be interpreted as an outright snub to Mbeki, it was a sign he needed to be more open about how negotiations were proceeding.
“A UN envoy is a way to get a clearer picture on the ground,” she said.
Tsvangirai’s relations with Mbeki are notoriously bad, with the Movement for Democratic Change leader—who pushed Mugabe into second place in the first round of voting in March—regarding the South African as blatantly biased.
Mbeki’s claims to neutrality were hardly helped on Wednesday by Mugabe’s Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu, who said that he had “proved his mettle as an African statesman par excellence” during his negotiations.—AFP.