Mbeki's future

2008-09-20 00:00

This week President Thabo Mbeki travelled from Harare to Khartoum in his increasingly prominent role as African mediator. With the African National Congress riven by factional tension, and strident attacks being made on him by alliance demagogues, the prospect of being an absent president with reason to stay away from home may have seemed attractive.

In Zimbabwe he left behind a negotiated settlement that endorsed a de facto military coup and a stolen election. During his Sudan visit, Mbeki repeated the African Union demand that the proposed indictment of President Omar el-Bashir by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity be shelved.

Exactly how many days Mbeki will remain in office is unknown. But they are numbered and rumour suggests that he might have ambitions to become another Kofi Annan, an African troubleshooter and facilitator. Given his lack of the common touch and personal warmth, a tendency to protect old political allies and his formulaic verbal responses, this role might be hard to fulfil. As mediator his approach has been low key and far too deferential to leaders with scandalous records of human rights abuse.

Mbeki once placed great emphasis on the African Renaissance project. It was greeted sceptically, but unjustifiably so as it features principles desperately needed in Africa: democratic process, entrenched civil rights, good governance and transparency. There is scant evidence to show that these have been sufficiently highlighted in Mbeki’s interventions. For a new career to be successful, he will need to take serious stock of his approach.

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