‘I won’t govern from the grave’

2010-10-17 09:24

Former president Thabo Mbeki says he hopes that Sudan’s referendum next year, which is intended to decide whether or not the country should split into two sovereign states, will restore stability in Africa’s largest country.

Mbeki and a panel of mediators have been brokering peace in the Sudanese conflict on behalf of the African Union.

In January next year the population will decide whether the landlocked but oil-rich southern Sudan should secede from the north ­following the end of a drawn-out civil war.

Mbeki says the challenge lies in how the country will be structured should the referendum decide it should remain intact, or how the two independent states will continue to benefit economically from each other should they split.

Even though most of Sudan’s oil reserves are in the south, the oil reaches the outside world via a pipeline that goes through the north and its port.

He says that the conflict in the Darfur region and how it is represented in Sudan’s national government still requires a global political agreement.

Mbeki, who now splits his time between resolution efforts in the Sudanese conflict and the Thabo Mbeki Foundation, says the outcome of the plebiscite in Sudan has ramifications beyond its borders.

Sudan’s neighbours include Egypt, Kenya, Ethiopia, Chad and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

“Sudan has nine neighbours and all of them are interested, because what happens there will have an impact on them.

“We must avoid at all cost the ­resumption of war,” says Mbeki.

“We must help in the definition of Sudan after the referendum. What will it look like in a way that will benefit Sudan and the continent? Because of its location and everything else, if Sudan goes well it will have a positive impact on the whole continent.”

Ivory Coast
Mbeki says he does not regret the attempts he has made over the years to broker peace on the continent – which has stabilised over the past few years – except for giving up mediation in Ivory Coast when South Africa took up its non-permanent seat in the UN’s Security Council between 2007 and 2008.

He says the matter of the Ivorian conflict is already before the council and he could not continue mediating it.

“A few months ago I got a message from Ivory Coast. People say: ‘please come back’. That poses a difficulty because there is a new facilitator (there already),” he says.

Foundation and Institute
Mbeki says he established the Thabo Mbeki Foundation and the Thabo Mbeki African Leadership Institute because some heads of state and government had intimated they would have been unhappy had he stopped championing the issues he championed ­during his tenure as president.

Some of the institute’s projects include his African Renaissance vision and an attempt to develop a cadre of leaders who will implement necessary policies for Africa’s renewal in organisations such as the African Union.

“We had to look at ways to address those expectations. Very few people would know what these policies are and we said, let us train people to help implement these policies,” Mbeki says.

The leadership institute, which is a joint initiative with the University of South Africa, will start offering foundation and short courses next year and will eventually offer post-graduate programmes.

“We will have a small conference to see what contribution we can make.

“The view of the university and students is that I must also prepare to become an ­academic. I am sure I will have to participate in the foundation course,” he says.

Ever since his recall, Mbeki has steered clear of local politics.

The global norm, he says, is that a former head of state or government does not intervene in domestic politics ­because “the new people have to be given space”.

He says he has been avoiding commenting on domestic political issues partly because he wants to “avoid this business of people saying you are ruling from the grave”.

“That is why I am saying it will be incorrect to become involved in domestic politics in a partisan way.

“In the United States there is an unwritten agreement that for many years after leaving office a (former) president does not intervene in ­domestic issues,” he says.

G8 and the G20
Mbeki says part of the mission of the Thabo Mbeki Foundation and the Thabo Mbeki ­African Leadership Institute is to thrust the issues Africa successfully lobbied for at G8 and G20 meetings in Canada eight years ago back into the international arena.

He says he was “surprised” that this year’s gatherings of the G8 and G20 did not review what progress had been made in implementing the G8 Africa Action Plan.

This plan, he says, is the most comprehensive programme the developed world has come up with to ­respond to the challenges facing Africa.

“I found it surprising that the G8 meeting in Canada would in fact not undertake this review in order to see what improvements needed to be made,” Mbeki says.

“There was hardly any reference to the G8 Africa Action Plan. The development challenge was raised a bit later, again in Canada, at the G20 summit and the decision taken by the G20 was that a committee was set up to answer the question: How does the G20 respond to the development challenges of the developing world, including Africa?

“There is no reference to the fact that there actually exists a plan.

“Why is it not being implemented?”

Turning to the recent squabbles in the Zimbabwean unity government, Mbeki says that the Global Political Agreement the Movement for Democratic Change signed with President Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF should guide how the government is run, not bickering about who is appointed to what position.

“I would hope the Zimbabweans would be able to sort out this matter,” he says.

National reconciliation is one of the issues contained in the Global Political Agreement – a document that led to the formation of the unity government in Zimbabwe.

“If you are a leader of the Zimbabwean people you can’t say we are not going to work together to make sure the lives of the people of Zimbabwe are improved because we are quarrelling about whether Thabo Mbeki is ­going to be an ambassador or not,” he says.

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