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Campaign fails to dislodge Mugabe

By Paul Reynolds
World affairs correspondent, BBC News website

Robert Mugabe
Robert Mugabe and his aides remain safely entrenched
"Robert Mugabe has to go," declared the British Minister for Africa Lord Mark Malloch Brown on BBC TV on 30 June.

Robert Mugabe has not gone. So by that benchmark the diplomatic campaign led by Britain and the United States against Mr Mugabe has not (so far, at least) achieved its goal.

The diplomatic effort encountered a major setback on Friday when the Russians and Chinese vetoed the sanctions proposed by the US and UK.

To suffer one veto might be regarded as unfortunate. To suffer two looks like carelessness - and over confidence.

There will have to be some heart-searching in London and Washington about their tactics. Not only have they failed to bring South Africa and the African Union fully on board over Zimbabwe, they have now endured what has to be regarded as the humiliation of a double veto from Russia and China. And China normally abstains when there is a difficult vote.

It tells us a lot about the state of relations between the major powers at the moment. They have been precarious with Russia for some time. Now China might be flexing its own muscles.

The US and UK failed to convince Russia and China that Zimbabwe had graduated from an internal and regional tragedy into a threat to international peace and security - the touchstone for Security Council action.

It seems that both Moscow and Beijing felt they were being bounced into action and the conclusion must be that they will be reluctant to have the Council intervene in other areas of concern to the West.

Perhaps they do not want the Council to be used for what they see as Western purposes and priorities.

The US and the UK perhaps assumed too easily that the criticism of Zimbabwe made at the G8 summit recently could be translated into a Security Council resolution. After all the G8 statement did say that "steps" would be taken "introducing financial and other measures against those individuals responsible for violence."

But getting an actual resolution was another matter.

The sanctions were aimed not against the ordinary people but against Mr Mugabe and 13 of his closest associates. Their assets abroad were to be frozen and they faced a travel ban.

There was also to be an arms embargo on Zimbabwe, supporting the previous arms ban imposed by the European union.

And there was a call for the UN to appoint its own mediator, to work alongside the South African president Thabo Mbeki - who is regarded by the US and UK to have been too conciliatory to Mr Mugabe.

Mr Mbeki told G8 leaders recently that tough sanctions on Zimbabwe could ignite a civil war there.

African Union moves

Even the more modest ambition of denying Mr Mugabe a seat at the African Union (AU), suggested by the same Lord Malloch Brown at an earlier briefing for the media, has not been reached.

The AU might have been a bit embarrassed by Mr Mugabe's appearance, but it gave him his seat.

The campaign has not been without some results.

The EU and individual member states have made strong statements denying recognition to Mr Mugabe as Zimbabwe's president. That means it will be hard for him to attend future EU-Africa meetings as he did last year in Portugal.

But the African Union, while calling for a national unity government, refrained from saying anything really critical, though some individual countries did so.

The G8 meeting statement expressing "grave concern" stopped short of denying recognition, saying in a slightly ambiguous way: "We do not accept the legitimacy of any government that does not reflect the will of the Zimbabwean people."

All this helps to isolate Mr Mugabe but it does not remove him. He seems set to remain in power for the foreseeable future.

Backs to the wall

But even if South Africa and its fellow members of the Southern Africa Development Community had more openly condemned Mr Mugabe, it must surely be doubtful if that would have had much effect.

There comes a time in the life of an entrenched regime when it knows that its back is against the wall but it chooses to fight on anyway.

In such conditions, sanctions usually have little effect in the short-term.

Paul.Reynolds-INTERNET@bbc.co.uk


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