How Mugabe split the continent: How much did the hostile reception he faced from other African leaders at the African Union summit in Cairo persuade Robert Mugabe to seek a negotiated settlement? Can he continue to split the continent as a power-sharing deal is being thrashed out?

Author:Nevin, Tom
 
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While an unprecedented number of Africa's leaders bristled with indignation as Robert Mugabe, having 'won' an uncontested election took his place at the African Union Summit in Egypt last month, President Mugabe handed down a challenge of biblical proportions for his fellow leaders to show him a clean pair of hands. The gambit worked.

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On the eve of his departure to the AU summit, Mugabe imperiously called for the casting of the first stone. His breathtaking challenge immediately silenced the mutterings of dissent by most of his fellow leaders at his hijacking of the Zimbabwe presidency in a run-off election most of the world regarded as "a sham and shameless electoral fraud". There were exceptions to those unwilling to cast the first stone, and these exposed a widening rift in Africa's moral, ethical and economic fabric.

In effect Mugabe wanted his fellows to know that he was not the only leader in the African hierarchy to have seized and held on to power through less than democratic means.

"I would want to see a country that will point a finger at us and say we have done wrong," Mugabe thundered as he prepared to depart for Sharm el Sheik, the venue in Egypt for this year's African Union summit. "I would want to see that finger and see whether it is clean or dirty. I want to see it in Africa, in the African Union. I want to see that finger. Let it be pointed at me."

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At the summit, Mugabe remained defiant, fending off efforts by African leaders to sanction him. He bluntly told his detractors that their claims to power were no more legitimate than his.

Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade recounted an incident in which Mugabe chastised another head of state during a closed-door session for having "worse elections than I did". The discussion pitted Mugabe against scores of his African peers, said Wade.

After intense Western pressure to do more against Mugabe, the leaders failed to hold a planned news conference and left without speaking to reporters. Mugabe's escape from any censure fulfilled the prediction his spokesman, George Charamba, had earlier made to the media: "He came here as president of Zimbabwe and he will go home as president of Zimbabwe." And as a parting shot, Charamba added that Western critics of Mugabe's government "can go and hang a thousand times".

The AU house of cards

While open anti-Mugabe dissent had caved in like a house of cards, a few were left standing. Botswana...

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