United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan arrived in Cape Town Monday to open a Southern African tour, while some officials in Harare reacted angrily to the news that Zimbabwe was not on his itinerary though such a visit has been long awaited.
Annan is slated to meet Mr. Mugabe's counterparts in South Africa, Madagascar, the Republic of the Congo, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Annan's decision to bypass Harare was perceived there as a snub. The state-owned Herald newspaper quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman John Mayowe as saying that U.N. Under Secretary for Political Affairs Ibrahim Gambari assured President Robert Mugabe in December at a summit in Mali that Annan would visit the country this month.
Zimbabwe's permanent representative to the U.N., Boniface Chidyausiku, said Britain and the United States were trying to politicize the proposed Annan visit by urging that Gambari visit Harare first to ensure conditions set by Annan have been met - among them fuller cooperation by the government with U.N. humanitarian aid efforts.
President Mugabe has declared that he has had his fill of U.N. envoys and would only receive Annan. He dubbed the last U.N. envoy in Harare, humanitarian aid coordinator Jan Egeland, "a liar," and has also had hard words for special envoy Anna Tibaijuka, who in July 2005 delivered a damning report on Harare's slum clearance drive.
Relations have remained tense between Harare and the U.N. Late last year, Mugabe refused to allow the U.N. to set up tents to shelter thousands made homeless in the government's now-infamous May-July 2005 Operation Murambatsvina. It has also proposed to level a model home built with U.N. assistance at a transit camp.
For perspective on the diplomatic standoff, reporter Blessing Zulu of VOA's Studio 7 for Zimbabwe spoke with Information Minister Tichaona Jokonya, who unlike his colleagues played down the current regional tour by the secretary general.
For perspective on the diplomatic brouhaha, reporter Zulu turned to parliamentary liaison officer Herman Honekom of the Africa Institute of South Africa.