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Crisis Group Chief Says Mugabe's AU Elevation Not Vote of Confidence in Zimbabwe Leader

  • Blessing  Zulu

Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe, left, Somalia's President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, center-left, United Nations Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon, center-right, and Ethiopia's Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, 2nd right, pose with other African leaders for a group photograph at the annual African Union (AU) summit, held at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia Friday, Jan. 30, 2015. (AP Photo/Elias Asmare)

Zimbabwe's veteran leader and the world's oldest president, Robert Mugabe, who turns 91 on February 21, has assumed the chairmanship of the African Union for a year.

But some critics say President Robert Mugabe remains a political lightning rod in relations between Africa and the West and his chairmanship will be turbulent.

Mr. Mugabe is also subject to travel bans from both the United States and European Union in protest at alleged political violence and intimidation.

But Harare claims that relations with the West soured after the government embarked on a land redistribution exercise to empower the majority blacks.

Last year he boycotted an European Union-Africa Summit in Brussels after he was given a rare invitation - but his wife, Grace, was denied a visa.

United States president Barack Obama last year also hosted the US-Africa Leaders Summit and Mr. Mugabe did not make the list of the invited guests.

International Crisis Group’s southern Africa project director, Piers Pigou, said the elevation of Mr. Mugabe is not a vote of confidence on him.

But former Zimbabwe Deputy Information Minister and a member of the ruling Zanu-PF party, Dr. Bright Matonga said the elevation of Mr. Mugabe is an endorsement of his leadership by African leaders.

Mr Mugabe's detractors accuse him of failing to turn around Zimbabwe's economic fortunues, with all economic indicators heading south.

But his backers blame the economic decline on Western sanctions. The International Crisis Group has described Zimbabwe as a "failing state."