Mugabe Cold-Shouldered At African Summit

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has attended the African Union summit a day after being sworn in for a new term. The BBC's Elizabeth Blunt says people inside the summit said few spoke to Mugabe, and no one congratulated him on his election win.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris. African leaders pushed Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe to open talks with the opposition today as the Bush administration pressed for U.N. sanctions against his government.

The African Union summit in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt is seen as a test for Mugabe. The Zimbabwean president was looking for a vote of confidence from fellow African leaders after being re-elected last week in a one-candidate run-off that was widely denounced as a sham.

Elizabeth Blunt is covering the African Union summit for the BBC. She's in Sharm El Sheikh, and she joins us now from there. Elizabeth, how has Robert Mugabe been received at the summit?

Ms. ELIZABETH BLUNT (British Broadcasting Company): Well, that's the great question. And, in fact, I can't really tell you because this summit, the security is so incredibly tight. The journalists aren't allowed anywhere near the hall. We only saw one picture of him on Ethiopian television, sitting, looking extremely glum. And I'm told, actually, by people who were in the hall, that was pretty much how it was.

Jendayi Frazer, who was in the session, said she only saw one person go over and speak to him. And someone else who was there said nobody greeted him, and nobody congratulated him for just having won an election. And if this was a normal person that came to your house, of course, you would congratulate him. By African standards, this is actually quite rude towards him.

NORRIS: And you mentioned Jendayi Frazer. She is the U.S. undersecretary of state for Africa.

Ms. BLUNT: She is, yes. And she's here - really, she's here lobbying for them to do something strong on Zimbabwe, and, I think, for support for the American plan for sanctions against Zimbabwe. They're putting that up at the U.N. next week.

NORRIS: In the past, many African governments have been reluctant to criticize Zimbabwe or criticize Robert Mugabe's strong-arm tactics. Why is that?

Ms. BLUNT: I think they're very reluctant to criticize any of their own number, at least in public, but they do do it behind closed doors. I've been to a Southern African summit meeting two or three years ago. They were there to put pressure on President Mugabe. They had a closed-door session that went on for hours and hours. Nobody came out, not even for lunch.

About half an hour before the end of it, the doors flew open, and out stomped President Mugabe, striding out by himself and out of the building. Obviously, there had been some huge row and some major disagreement, and yet the statement at the end of that meeting was as bland as those statements always are. So you can't judge by what you read in the statement or what's said publicly. Unless you can see the body language, it's very hard to know exactly what's going on.

NORRIS: Now, this summit will continue. Are there indications that those kind of difficult, closed-door sessions might happen in the days ahead?

Ms. BLUNT: Oh, yes. Tomorrow, yes, they will discuss Zimbabwe, and we understand that President Mugabe is being given time, perhaps an hour, to explain himself to his fellow heads of state. That, I'm afraid, will be behind closed doors again, but it's going to be extremely interesting, and I'm sure we'll sooner or later find out what went on.

NORRIS: Elizabeth Blunt is covering the African summit for the BBC. She's in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. Thanks so much for speaking with us.

Ms. BLUNT: Thank you.

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Zimbabwe's Mugabe: From Liberator to Pariah

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe is sworn in. i i

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe is sworn in for a sixth term in office in Harare on Sunday after being declared the winner of a one-man election. Alexander Joe/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Alexander Joe/AFP/Getty Images
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe is sworn in.

Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe is sworn in for a sixth term in office in Harare on Sunday after being declared the winner of a one-man election.

Alexander Joe/AFP/Getty Images

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe flew to Egypt on Monday for an African Union summit, where he is expected to face pressure from other African leaders who want him to negotiate with his country's opposition.

Mugabe was hastily sworn in for a sixth term as president Sunday after a widely condemned runoff election. The opposition boycotted the vote.

A military gun salute and the pomp and ceremony of state were all in evidence for the inauguration, but the 84-year-old veteran — Africa's oldest leader — showed none of his usual energy and exuberance. Mugabe looked unsmiling and subdued as he took the oath of office.

Mugabe has been in power since the country gained independence from Britain in 1980 — and he has courted controversy for much of that time.

High Hopes

When independent Zimbabwe was born, following a liberation war against white minority rule, there were high hopes for reconciliation in the new nation. Mugabe — a highly astute scholar and the political brains behind the struggle — was to head the new government.

"Our theme is really one of reconciliation," Mugabe said at the time. "And there is no intention on our part to use the advantage of the majority we have secured to victimize the minority. That will not happen."

But after a defeat in 2000 in a referendum that Mugabe hoped would entrench his hold on power, he retaliated. His supporters targeted minority white farmers and black farmworkers — the backbone of the economy. White-owned farms were often violently occupied.

Mugabe felt he had been betrayed by whites who backed a new opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai. He also blamed the British, accusing them of supporting the opposition.

'He Reacts with Revenge'

Journalist and commentator Heidi Holland has known Mugabe since the early days. She recently published a book, Dinner With Mugabe: The Untold Story of a Freedom Fighter Who Became a Tyrant. Holland says it's important to understand that his love-hate relationship with Britain and white Zimbabweans, as well as a poor and austere Catholic upbringing, underpin many of Mugabe's much-criticized actions today.

"He comes to power and he thinks it's going to be all about suffering and sacrificing and helping his people. Well, of course, that isn't the real world," she says. "As things started to go wrong — very early on — when the whites of Zimbabwe, former white Rhodesians, voted racially against him five years into his rule, that was the beginning of it.

"And he couldn't tolerate it. He was too fragile. When he's rejected or humiliated, he reacts with revenge, he gets revenge, and I very much fear that's what he's doing right now. He's getting revenge against his own people in the rural areas, because he knows they rejected him in the March election."

Holland says former colonial power Britain, the United States and other hostile Western governments must be careful not to box Mugabe into a corner. She warns that a wounded and cornered animal is a dangerous adversary, and a defiant Mugabe could come out blazing. And she says ordinary Zimbabweans, who have suffered a campaign of terror meted out by Mugabe's security forces and thugs, could have to endure more violence and oppression.

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