The African Union has named former Mozambican president Joaquim Chissano mediator in talks which the AU seeks to promote between President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and his political opposition.The nomination elevated Mr. Chissano from the role of special envoy to Harare, which the AU handed him at its at summit last week.
Mr. Chissano is a close friend of Mr. Mugabe and is respected by the Movement for Democratic Change, Zimbabwe’s main opposition party. President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, now AU chairman, has been working in the background of the political crisis for weeks and his office confirmed the mediation appointment on Wednesday.
The appointment comes against the background of negotiations between the Zimbabwe and South African governments for a loan sought by Harare to pay down debt arrears to the International Monetary Fund and avoid being stripped of IMF membership, and buy food and fuel, both in critically short supply in Zimbabwe.
South African President Thabo Mbeki has attached conditions to the loan including broad-based political reform and renewed talks with the MDC opposition.
Mr. Chissano’s ties with President Mugabe date to the 1970s when Zimbabwean liberation forces had political and operational bases in Mozambique. More recently, he was best man at Mr. Mugabe’s 1996 marriage to his second wife, Grace.
Nonetheless, Mr. Chissano could have his work cut out for him. Mr. Mugabe has been strident in saying that he considers the MDC a British puppet that is not worth his time to address. He told a Zimbabwe Heroes’ Day crowd this week that he’d prefer to open discussions with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, long cast as his nemesis.
But Mr. Mugabe has said he might engage MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai if he were to call for an end to selective Western sanctions on Zimbabwe’s ruling elite.
For a sense of what Mr. Chissano’s appointment means to current efforts to end the long-stalemated Zimbabwe political crisis, reporter Ndimyake Mwakalyele interviewed Muna Ndulo, director of the Institute for African Development at Cornell University
Professor Ndulo said Mr. Chissano as president of Mozambique left a legacy of good governance and demonstrated his capabilities as a peace broker not only at home in the aftermath of Mozambique’s civil war, but also in the Angolan conflict.