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Wednesday, 20 March, 2002, 11:29 GMT
Zimbabwe offered carrot and stick
Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo (l), Australian Prime Minister John Howard (c) and South African President Thabo Mbeki (r)
The Commonwealth's three wise men avoided a split
Barnaby Mason

The Commonwealth has decided to adopt a two-track approach to Zimbabwe.

It has suspended the country for a year on the grounds that this month's presidential election was not free and fair.

But Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and South African President Thabo Mbeki will continue their efforts to promote reconciliation in Zimbabwe between government and opposition.

The two African leaders agreed the approach at a meeting in London with Australian Prime Minister John Howard.

Mr Howard said the three leaders accepted the findings of the Commonwealth observer team - that the election was marred by a high level of politically-motivated violence and intimidation, and did not adequately allow a free expression of will by the people.

Financial aid urged

Mugabe and Tsvangirai
Commonwealth observers' findings

  • High level of politically motivated violence and intimidation
  • Zanu-PF's paramilitary youth group largely responsible for intimidation
  • Restrictions on independent local observers
  • Lack of transparency in the registration process
  • Polling stations reduced in urban areas
  • Many unable to vote in Harare and Chitungwiza because process was too slow
  • Limitations on freedom of speech and movement hampered opposition campaign

  • Zimbabwe is suspended for a year from all Commonwealth meetings - a symbolically severe step similar to that taken against Pakistan and Fiji, where democratic governments were actually removed by the military.

    At the same time, Mr Howard said the Commonwealth would stay engaged with Zimbabwe, with Mr Mbeki and Mr Obasanjo trying to heal some of the damaging splits between President Robert Mugabe and the opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai.

    The Commonwealth leaders also urged the international community to respond to the desperate economic situation in Zimbabwe, especially the food shortages.

    Mr Howard described the outcome of the London talks as balanced.

    The troika, as he called it, managed to present a united front in public and avoid a black-white split of the kind that threatened the recent Commonwealth summit.

    There had been doubt as to whether the South African leader would agree to suspension at all - most of Zimbabwe's southern African neighbours had endorsed the election as legitimate.

    But to have done nothing would have damaged the chances of greater Western investment in African countries under the New Partnership for African Development which is dear to Mr Mbeki's heart.

    A group of predominantly white Commonwealth countries led by Britain had demanded Zimbabwe's suspension as a minimum step to demonstrate that the Commonwealth was serious about its commitment to uphold democracy and the rule of law.

    Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo
    "They have agreed that their parties will sit down together"

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    See also:

    19 Mar 02 | Africa
    01 Feb 02 | Country profiles
    07 Mar 02 | Africa
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