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Global Issue 15

network The Long View commonwealth The 2002 election was marred by violence and intimidation This apparent unanimity concealed deep farm invasions on the rural black population. Commonwealth divisions. Many Commonwealth By the time of the Abuja CHOGM, in December leaders, particularly in Africa, saw justice 2003, there had been little progress. over land as the great unresolved issue. Zimbabwe remained suspended and the Four thousand white farmers still owned 80 per cent of the land. This needed to be tackled, even if the means were unpalatable. Mugabe continued to be lauded as a liberation hero and respected father of African nationalism. Others, in particular from the old Commonwealth, considered Zimbabwe as primarily a governance issue. Many Zimbabweans cared more for jobs and a productive economy than land, they argued. Abuses of human rights and democracy were having disastrous financial consequences, with rampant inflation and an economy in freefall. In the UK, media coverage dwelt on the brutality main battle lines were drawn: would that meted out to white farmers but little mention suspension be lifted – or renewed? That was made of the devastating impact of the was not all. Don McKinnon had once 74 l www.global -br ief ing.org thi rd quar ter 2013 global swapped cricketing stories with Mugabe over tea. Now he was a detested figure, in particular for announcing a continuation of Zimbabwe’s year-long suspension until the CHOGM. With the help of South Africa, Zimbabwe planned a ‘decapitation’ strategy. McKinnon’s re-election in Abuja for a second four-year term was reckoned a formality, though one Foreign and Commonwealth Office official had let slip that the UK would be willing to back an anti- McKinnon candidate. With days to go, Lakshman Kadirgamar, a former foreign minister of Sri Lanka, emerged as a surprise challenger to McKinnon. Neither Kadirgamar nor his proposer, the Sri Lankan President Chandrika Kumaratunga, appeared in Abuja, and it was left to Thabo Mbeki to marshal the forces of opposition. Mbeki attempted to delay the vote until the end of the meeting but Heads opted instead for an early ballot. With a reluctant candidate and all too transparent motives, the ‘Zimbabwe’ candidate mustered a reported 11 votes, against 40 for McKinnon. But the substantive argument was not resolved so swiftly. At the outset, a committee of Heads, chaired by the Jamaican Prime Minister PJ Patterson, was charged with finding a consensus. After two meetings, the committee reported to the Headsonly Retreat. Despite the authority and skill of the chair, President Obasanjo, Southern African Development Community (SADC) leaders fought stubbornly. In the end, it was PJ Patterson, in a masterful intervention, who urged the bridging of two “almost irreconcilable” positions so that there could be unity. SADC countries wavered – and Obasanjo was able to announce agreement. The suspension of Zimbabwe remained. It was, in McKinnon’s words: “the end of the beginning”. A few days later, Zimbabwe’s departure from the Commonwealth was announced, and Mugabe later railed against “that evil organisation”. But a seachange was now underway in African opinion which would see a far different – and much more robust – pattern of engagement by SADC countries with Zimbabwe in the future. Commonwealth unity had held firm. The Zimbabwe regime was out of the association; but, like apartheid South Africa before it, the mission for the Commonwealth was now to keep faith with Zimbabwe’s people. Abuses of human rights and democracy were having disastrous financial consequences, with rampant inflation and the economy in freefall Robert Mugabe has steadfastly clung to power Stuart Mole is the senior research fellow of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies at London University and former Director of the Secretary-General’s Office in the Commonwealth Secretariat 


Global Issue 15
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