Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo made a last minute bid to broker talks between the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front and the Movement for Democratic Change just before the 2003 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting but he made very little progress.
Although he met both President Robert Mugabe leader of ZANU-PF and Morgan Tsvangirai leader of the MDC, the United States embassy in Harare said “Obasanjo, Tsvangirai, and Mugabe all came away from these meetings with less than they had hoped for”.
“Mugabe appears not to have received an invitation, notwithstanding his comment to the press that he was looking forward to attending. Tsvangirai appears no closer to meaningful inter-party talks and remains suspicious of Obasanjo and Mbeki. And Obasanjo has no evidence of progress with which he can argue for Zimbabwe’s readmission. At best, he and Mbeki have a difficult homework assignment in getting the parties together quickly, which would require a credible commitment to talks by Mugabe.”
Viewing cable 03HARARE2256, MUGABE’S CHOGM ATTENDANCE IN AIR FOLLOWING
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 HARARE 002256
AF/S FOR S. DELISI, M. RAYNOR
NSC FOR SENIOR AFRICA DIRECTOR J. FRAZER, D. TEITELBAUM
LONDON FOR C. GURNEY
PARIS FOR C. NEARY
NAIROBI FOR T. PFLAUMER
E.O. 12958: DECL: 11/17/2008
SUBJECT: MUGABE’S CHOGM ATTENDANCE IN AIR FOLLOWING
Classified By: Political Officer Win Dayton under Section 1.5(b)(d)
¶1. (C) SUMMARY: Nigerian President Obasanjo met with
opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai twice and President
Mugabe once during his visit to Zimbabwe on November 17.
According to MDC sources, Tsvangirai told Obasanjo during the
first meeting that the MDC would be willing to participate in
a transition government but that a face-to-face meeting
between the leaders themselves would be required to break the
impasse. Obasanjo told Tsvangirai during a second meeting
that Mugabe had agreed to meet the MDC leader face-to-face
but not before he could consult with his constituencies.
Obasanjo was non-committal to Tsvangirai privately and in his
public comments on the implications of his visit for
Zimbabwe’s possible participation in next month’s
Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Abuja.
¶2. (C) MDC Director for Presidential Affairs Gandi Mudzingwa
on November 18 recounted to poloff details of opposition
leader Tsvangirai’s two meetings with visiting Nigerian
President Obasanjo on November 17. Mudzingwa said Obasanjo’s
first call revolved around three inquiries: (1) what was the
status of inter-party talks, (2) would the MDC be willing to
participate in a transition government, and (3) what was the
best way forward?
¶3. (C) Tsvangirai underscored to Obasanjo that there had
been occasional informal exchanges between the parties but no
substantial progress and no formal talks. He said that the
MDC would be willing to consider a transition government
under two scenarios: a transition government in which the MDC
did not participate but which would lead to internationally
monitored elections, or a transition in which the MDC played
a role without regard to subsequent internationally monitored
elections. The transition government would last for no fewer
than six months and no more than twelve months. As for a way
forward, Tsvangirai asserted that no meaningful progress
would be possible without a face-to-face meeting between
Mugabe and himself and a framework endorsed by the leaders
for subsequent negotiation. Countless other good faith
initiatives had all foundered for one reason — the lack of
mandate from Mugabe himself.
¶4. (C) According to Mudzingwa, after meeting Mugabe Obasanjo
reported to Tsvangirai that Mugabe had agreed to meet
Tsvangirai, but only after consulting with his ZANU-PF
constituents. (MDC Secretary for Economic Affairs Tendai
Biti told the DCM separately that Mugabe told Obasanjo only
that he would think about a face-to-face meeting.) Mugabe
had not indicated when the meeting could be scheduled.
Tsvangirai asked Obasanjo whether Mugabe was to be invited to
the CHOGM, to which the Nigerian replied only “what do you
think?” Obasanjo added that he would have to consult further
with his Commonwealth counterparts. (Biti reported that he
said he would consult South African President Mbeki, and
together they would press Mugabe for movement forward.)
Mudzingwa asserted that Obasanjo left Zimbabwe with a more
positive impression of the MDC and frustrated with ZANU-PF.
He said that the MDC had no faith in Mugabe’s professed
interest in a face-to-face but had no choice but to keep
“giving him rope with which to hang himself” in the
international community’s eyes.
¶5. (C) Embassy was unable to reach the Nigerian High
Commission for comment and Australian High Commissioner
Jonathan Brown told the DCM that the Acting Nigerian High
Commissioner had been evasive during their conversation after
the visit. Brown reported that Obasanjo had met separately
with Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs
Patrick Chinamasa and Minister for National Security Nicholas
Goche, both of whom had been involved in secret
constitutional talks with the MDC. Commenting on the visit’s
potential implications for CHOGM, Brown said that Obasanjo
would report the lack of progress to Mbeki and the issue
would likely be referred to the CMAG, which would not disturb
the status quo. He commented that the troika had run its
course and, with Malta likely to replace South Africa in the
next term, probably would not receive a renewed mandate on
Zimbabwe. Canadian DCM Terrence Mooney told DCM that the
Commonwealth might constitute an eminent persons group
composed of the troika and others — principally a
composition that would de-emphasize racial lines — to
address the Zimbabwean conundrum.
¶6. (C) COMMENT: Obasanjo, Tsvangirai, and Mugabe all came
away from these meetings with less than they had hoped for.
Mugabe appears not to have received an invitation,
notwithstanding his comment to the press that he was looking
forward to attending. Tsvangirai appears no closer to
meaningful inter-party talks and remains suspicious of
Obasanjo and Mbeki. And Obasanjo has no evidence of progress
with which he can argue for Zimbabwe’s readmission. At best,
he and Mbeki have a difficult homework assignment in getting
the parties together quickly, which would require a credible
commitment to talks by Mugabe. Indeed, Mugabe’s credibility
gap will be an obstacle even if he publicly projects
commitment to talks, as his track record and current
posturing continue to evince apparent disingenuousness.
¶7. (C) COMMENT (CONT’D): Although the lead story on the
ZBTC’s November 17 nightly newscast was about gold mining,
the government continues to give the CHOGM story prominent
media play, underscoring its belief that an invitation
remains possible. Mugabe’s priority in attending testifies
to his ego and a general inability to accept rejection. His
government consistently portrays the issue to domestic
audiences entirely in racial terms, with “racist” UK,
Australia and New Zealand thwarting the will of all other
members. If he cannot prevail, Mugabe likely hopes that his
racial wedge will prove as disruptive to the Commonwealth as
it has for his own country.