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Page last updated at 11:32 GMT, Monday, 30 June 2008 12:32 UK

African leaders' discomfort over Mugabe

By Martin Plaut
BBC News, Sharm el-Sheikh

To the traditional accompaniment of wailing sirens, African leaders have arrived at the opening of their summit - a summit dominated by the crisis in Zimbabwe.

Robert Mugabe at the African Union meeting at Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, 30 June 2008
Robert Mugabe's face has not featured much on the official television feed

But a visitor arriving in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh without this prior knowledge might find it difficult to be believe.

The summit's host, President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, made a strong speech in which he said that Africa's conflicts were a major impediment to development.

"There can be no development without peace and no advancement without stability," he said.

And he went on to enumerate the continent's conflicts: between Djibouti and Eritrea, Chad and Sudan, and in Somalia.

But of Zimbabwe he had nothing to say.

Zimbabwe is an embarrassment, which some African leaders do not want to mention in public in the hope it might just go away.

'African responsibility'

UN Deputy Secretary General Asha-Rose Migiro, however, told the summit that this was a "moment of truth" for African leaders, when they could mobilise support for a negotiated solution.

The AU even has a mechanism for refusing to recognise a head of state who has not been democratically elected.


I don't think it would be right for the African Union to welcome him after all he has done

Thokozani Khupe
Zimbabwe's opposition MDC

But those who wanted the AU to ban Mr Mugabe from the meeting were always going to be disappointed.

Despite days of debate by its foreign ministers, the AU has not yet revealed a clear plan of action.

The AU may call for more dialogue in Zimbabwe, but it is not expected to go much further than that.

Security is extremely tight, so it is not even possible for journalists to see if the assembled presidents and prime ministers are still giving Mr Mugabe their traditional warm welcome, or if some are now giving him the cold shoulder.

It was left to the union's chairman, Jean Ping, to give some indication of current thinking.

"Africa has to shoulder its responsibility," he said. "It must do everything to help the parties work together in the interests of their country."

Not exactly a map of the way forward, but the best so far.

Perhaps the clearest sign of African leaders' views come from the official television feed from the vast conference chamber.

Other delegations have been shown at length, listening to the speeches.

But for some reason the cameras have decided not to linger lovingly on the face of one of the continent's leaders.

The familiar features of Robert Mugabe have been only given the briefest screening.

Regional impact

He is not the only Zimbabwean leader in Sharm el-Sheik.

The opposition Movement for Democatic Change has flown in one of its senior officials - Vice-President Thokozani Khupe.

Not that she is allowed into this conference centre.

But she did hold a news conference early this morning at one of the hotels.

"I don't think it would be right for the African Union to welcome him after all he has done," she said.

Her voice will almost certainly be ignored by Africa's presidents.

What they cannot ignore is the impact on southern Africa: the millions who have fled from Zimbabwe, spilling over the country's borders into neighbouring Zambia, Botswana and South Africa.

Investors, concerned about the instability that threatens the region, have been putting plans to bring new manufacturing and mining to southern Africa on hold.

The region and the continent cannot ignore the crisis in Zimbabwe, even if Egyptian television can.


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