- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 13, 2003

JOHANNESBURG — Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe’s government pulled off a diplomatic coup yesterday when it was given a senior position in the African Union, a group set up to promote good governance in Africa.

The move was seen by some as a direct snub to President Bush, who, during his African tour last week, called for a “return to democracy in Zimbabwe.”

It also outraged Zimbabwe’s opposition Movement for Democratic Change, which said the appointment was a “betrayal of the people of Zimbabwe” and made a mockery of the AU’s founding commitment to good governance.

Mr. Mugabe is expected to exploit Zimbabwe’s appointment as a deputy chairman of the AU to bolster his contention that he is the victim of a Western conspiracy against Africa.

The appointment exposed the gaping difference between Africa and the West in the attitude toward Zimbabwe.

While the United States and the European Union have accused the Mugabe government of a systematic abuse of the rule of law, African leaders have been more tolerant, if not entirely supportive.

Heads of state gathering in Maputo, Mozambique’s capital, for the annual AU meeting signaled their condoning of the Mugabe administration by removing Zimbabwe as an issue from the summit’s main agenda.

Instead the session was dominated by calls for the United States to intervene in Liberia and for the West to finance an economic package to address poverty across the continent.

But the rewarding of Zimbabwe with a senior administrative position overshadowed the summit.

“This really is a great betrayal of the people of Zimbabwe who have suffered so much under Mugabe,” said Paul Themba Nyathi, an MDC spokesman. “He is going to interpret this as nothing but an endorsement of his policies.

“In reality this is nothing but a knee-jerk reaction by other African leaders unable to commit themselves genuinely to good governance.”

The appointment comes at a time of crisis in Zimbabwe.

So impoverished is the state that fuel stocks are all but exhausted and the national air carrier can barely fly.

Senior sources in the aid community say there is a famine that the government is not likely to acknowledge because it would be too humiliating to admit failure.

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