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?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
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

Ashdown Group: Project Manager - Birmingham - up to £40,000 - 12 month FTC

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Manager - Birmingham - ...

SThree: Recruitment Consultant - IT

£25000 - £30000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: Sthree are looking fo...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin (based in London)

£20000 - £25000 per annum + commission: SThree: Real Staffing's Pharmaceutical...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before