Zimbabwe crisis 'kills £45bn economic plan'

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The Independent Online

The leaders of 21 African nations meet in Nigeria today for talks on boosting the continent's economy, but diplomats warn that the crisis in Zimbabwe could undermine Western support for a recovery plan.

The New Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad), modelled on the American Marshall Plan for Europe after the Second World War, seeks annual investments of $64bn (£45bn). Africa is looking to the G8 countries meeting in Canada in June for this investment.

But the United States has said African endorsement of Mr Mugabe's victory could damage support. "Nepad is dead. Buried by the positive reaction, especially of South Africa, to President Robert Mugabe's stolen victory," a Western diplomat said in Harare.

Several others have warned of waning interest in funding a massive development initiative on a continent that is less than committed to free and fair democratic elections – although donor nations have been mollified by the Commonwealth rejection of the poll as illegitimate. The 54-nation Commonwealth suspended Zimbabwe last week after its monitors said the election was neither free nor fair.

During the two-day meeting in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria, the leaders will consider creating a UN-style African security council that is able to order military and peacekeeping interventions in Africa's many troublespots.

Meanwhile, the South African Nobel peace laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu said yesterday that his country had done itself a disservice by calling Zimbabwe's presidential election legitimate. Dr Tutu said he had found the recent behaviour of Mr Mugabe unacceptable and that he backed the Commonwealth decision to suspend Zimbabwe for a year after the poll on 9-10 March was seen as flawed.

"I think we do ourselves a very bad turn to claim that we hold to the ideals of democracy, freedom ... freedom of speech ... and then to endorse, as seems to have been done, something that was so clearly flawed," Dr Tutu said in Newsmaker, a current affairs programme on public television.

South Africa was one of a handful of African countries that endorsed the election in which Mr Mugabe extended his 22-year hold on power, although President Thabo Mbeki lent his name to the troika decision to suspend his neighbour from the Commonwealth.

"I am deeply, deeply, deeply distressed and deeply disappointed that our country could be among those that said the election was legitimate or free and fair when we are claiming to be adherents of democracy," Dr Tutu said. "When democracy is not being upheld, we ought, for our own sakes, to say it is not so.

"My heart is very heavy because I have had very high regard for President Mugabe," he added, "but what he has been doing in recent times is, in my view, totally unacceptable."

Asked if he supported the Commonwealth decision, Dr Tutu said: "I do that with a very heavy heart, hoping that President Mugabe and his government will draw back from the edge of the precipice."