Increasing the pressure

2008-07-10 00:00

The world leaders known as the Group of Eight (G8), meeting in Japan this week, went against the advice of their African colleagues by rejecting the legitimacy of Robert Mugabe’s government in Zimbabwe and indicating that pressures for change were necessary. Remarkably, Russia joined in this declaration despite previous resistance to such a course.

At the same time, the British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, has been in South Africa arguing for similar pressure to force the Mugabe regime to make room for a transitional political arrangement based on the outcome of the elections held on March 29. It is clear that on a wide international level, with the likely exception of China, there is a rising consensus that stronger pressure, political and economic, should be exerted on Mugabe to relinquish his illegitimate hold on power.

The African Union (AU), on the other hand, has taken a different stance, refusing to condemn Mugabe and preferring to support the mediation efforts of President Thabo Mbeki. This could be based either on a blind Africanist loyalty to a hero of the continent’s struggle against colonialism or on a perception that overt pressure on someone of Mugabe’s nature will make him more obstinate than ever.

Mbeki has done his best as a mediator, backed by years of behind-the-scenes diplomacy rather than outright criticism. The time has come for him to acknowledge that his efforts have failed to achieve positive results. Instead, Mugabe has taken advantage of them to entrench himself in power.

It is no longer acceptable for South Africa to say simply that Zimbabweans must sort out their own problems. They do indeed have a key part to play but regional and wider international pressure also needs to gather momentum. Mbeki and his government should be part of this. It is only when Mugabe and his military junta are faced by a solid front that they may be forced to listen and at last to give way to a new political order in their desperate country.

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