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Last Updated: Tuesday, 9 December, 2003, 12:50 GMT
Abuja summit a boost for Nigeria
By Anna Borzello and Barnaby Phillips
BBC, Abuja

Mozambique President Joachim Chissano strode through the lobby of the Abuja Hilton, his face set in fury. Namibian President Sam Nujoma followed right after, then Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa.

A waiting BBC journalist called out: "Mr Mwanawasa. Do you accept the compromise reached on Zimbabwe. Are you happy with what was agreed?"

Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo (r) and Commonwealth Secretary-General Don McKinnon
Nigeria's president (right) hosted the Abuja summit
"No not at all," he said, as he swept by.

On the other side of town, British Prime Minister, Tony Blair was getting on a plane back to London, satisfied he had managed to get what he wanted on Zimbabwe - the southern African country's indefinite suspension.

The split summed up the Abuja summit, which was meant to be about aid, trade, terrorism and development. In the end it was really only about one thing - Zimbabwe.

Commonwealth Secretary General Don MacKinnon, described it as "one of the more difficult" conferences. But while the quarrel may have cost the commonwealth its unity, it also proved the group could stick to their avowed democratic principles.

At the end of the four-day conference, Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, urged journalists not to report on the meeting as if there were "winners and losers".

But he was, without doubt, its one clear winner.

African statesman

Flags of Commonwealth countries
Important issues got lost in the row over Zimbabwe
Nigeria was suspended from the commonwealth in 1995, and was only readmitted in 1999 with the return of civilian rule.

Mr Obasanjo spent money and time cleaning up Abuja for his guests and was desperate to show that Nigeria - despite its flawed elections and shaky human rights record - had fully returned to the fold.

The former general emerged triumphant, and after his final address - delivered in his trademark gravelly voice - everyone was singing his praises.

The president may run a country riven by ethnic violence, and rated as one of the most corrupt on earth, but his dream of becoming an African statesman now looks firmly on track.

All the leaders in Abuja were frustrated that Zimbabwe took up so much time, although they were keen to stress there were useful talks in other areas, particularly on trade.

It is Mr Obasanjo who has been left with the difficult task of engaging with Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe.

The Nigerians will send an envoy to Harare before Christmas. President Obasanjo says he will do everything he can to bring Zimbabwe back into the Commonwealth.

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