Blair fails to reach Commonwealth agreement on Zimbabwe exclusion

Tony Blair failed yesterday to get the swift agreement he wanted from other leaders that Zimbabwe would remain suspended from the Commonwealth. The Prime Minister had hoped the issue, which could split the Commonwealth along race lines, would be settled at the opening session of a summit in Nigeria yesterday.

The Nigerian President, Olusegun Obasanjo, who was hosting the meeting in Abuja yesterday had also hoped to reach agreement on the divisive issue of Zimbabwe early in the three-day conference.

Instead, a tense, full meeting of Commonwealth leaders yesterday decided to ask a committee of six countries to make a proposal to the heads of government tomorrow. The meeting was reported to be deadlocked and heated.

After the meeting, Mr Blair and Thabo Mbeki, President of South Africa entered a Commonwealth reception but left immediately after talking only to their officials. John Howard, the Australian Prime Minister, who has already fallen out with Mr Mbeki over Zimbabwe, did not attend.

The composition of the six reflect the geographical distribution of the Commonwealth but also the spectrum of views on Zimbabwe. South Africa and Mozambique, African countries want to readmit Zimbabwe. Australia and Canada, so-called old Commonwealth countries, are against. The chair, Jamaica, and India are neutral. For Robert Mugabe, President of Zimbabwe, the pain of being kicked out must be more than amply compensated for by the pleasure of watching the agony of the Commonwealth trying to agree what to do about him.

Usually, breaches of Commonwealth standards on democracy are dealt with the Commonwealth ministerial action group made up of foreign ministers but so deep is the division over Zimbabwe that the presidents and prime ministers have decided to handle it themselves.

On the one side stand South Africa, Zambia, Namibia, Mozambique and Malawi, calling for the readmission of Zimbabwe to Commonwealth meetings. On the other side, Australia, Britain, Canada and a host of other countries want its suspension maintained.

The division is not as black and white as it appears or Mr Mugabe has tried to paint it. Several African countries, including Ghana, Sierra Leone and Botswana, also want Zimbabwe kept out but do not like to raise their voices. They fear accusations of being called "imperialist lackeys" by Mr Mugabe and breaking the cosy African solidarity among African leaders.

The committee of six is unlikely to agree on readmission or continued suspension but it can chose several options to deal with Zimbabwe.

It could recommend they monitor Zimbabwe, or they could suggest setting up of an Eminent Persons Group such as the one that visited South Africa in 1985.

They are also wary of Britain which has played its hand badly. Under pressure from the right, Tony Blair's Government allowed the Zimbabwe issue to be defined as persecuted white farmers and their land rather than bad government and human rights abuses against the black opposition.

Again, it appeared Britain was more interested in whites and their land than in the rest of Zimbabwe's population.

Africans remember that in 1966 when Ian Smith declared independence, Britain failed to impose effective sanctions. "We don't believe human rights are the issue for the British," one of President Obasanjo's advisers said this week. "It is just a cover for their real interest which is protecting white interests in Zimbabwe."

Mr Mbeki believes the solution must come through internal negotiation which must be promoted by outsiders. Sanctions, he says, do not help this. He has claimed that talks are achieving results.

The trouble is that no meaningful talks are happening, and Mr Mugabe has given his South African counterpart nothing to back his claim of progress.

When President Obasanjo went to Harare to see for himself a fortnight ago he asked Mr Mugabe at least to shake hands with the opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, in public. Mr Mugabe is reported to have answered that he would never shake the hand of "that tea boy".

The battle of Zimbabwe is being fought on other fronts too. Australia and Britain raised the possibility of Pakistan's suspension being lifted because it is role in the "war on terrorism". African countries - and India naturally - were incensed. If Mr Mugabe, at least elected, was to be kept out, why should Pakistan, a military dictatorship, be readmitted they said.

But Mr Mbeki and his allies failed in their attempt to depose Don McKinnon as secretary general of the Commonwealth. They backed - some say organised - a challenge from a former Sri Lankan foreign minister, Llakshman Kadirgamar. But Mr McKinnon won a ballot yesterday though he will have been weakened by the challenge.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?