Morris Mkwate in BAMAKO, Mali
President Mugabe last night oversaw his first major peace deal here since assuming the African Union chairmanship, with the signing of a ceasefire agreement between the Malian government and Tuareg separatist rebels.The President, who was here in his capacity as the AU chairperson, promised to pray for Mali and received uproarious applause.
Though the main Tuareg separatists absconded, there were indications the AU and President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita’s government will continue discussions with them.
Other rebel groups signed the agreement, which promises greater government representation of northern Malians who have been advocating greater autonomy.
A committee was assembled to follow up implementation and co-ordination.
At Bamako International Conference Centre, President Mugabe implored the warring parties to adhere to the accord and “turn their swords into ploughshares”.
In impassioned and off-the-cuff remarks delivered over 30 minutes, the AU chair promised to pray for Malians, and also pledged the continental grouping’s sustained support.
Displaying his rosary, he preached love and recounted how the Mali of old advocated peace and unity.
“I am born of a Christian family,” said President Mugabe. “I can’t stop praying. I attend every church because God is one. We are all the children of God. I assure you, in my little prayers, I will also pray to God to help the people of Mali find peace.
“When I get back (to Zimbabwe), I will tell my family; I will sit them down and tell them. When I get to my pastor, I will say, ‘I have promised to pray for Mali. Let us offer this prayer to the peace of Mali.’
“I promise I will do it. I thank you, President Keita, for inviting me. May God help you (Malians); may God be with you. I am one of you.”
After speaking these words, President Mugabe drew a standing ovation and uproarious applause from the packed auditorium.
He said Mali should pluck a leaf from its iconic founding leader President Modibo Keita who alongside Kwame Nkrumah (Ghana) and Sekou Toure (Guinea Conakry) championed unity and laid the Organisation of African Unity’s foundation.
President Mugabe said differences should be resolved through dialogue and disclosed how his children -Bona, Robert and Chatunga – sometimes quarrel, but always embrace afterwards.
“So, you teachers of unity, oneness, revolution, don’t let us down,” he said. “If you start falling, disintegrating, you our founders, what will we, the followers, do? I come with a heart that is split, a mind that is confused. How can Mali do this? Who are those for disunity?
“I come to try and help as AU chair, I am also Sadc chair and humble President of Zimbabwe – born of Modibo Keita and your efforts. You sit down and discuss. You pray also. We all are motivated to unite by virtue of being one as the children of Mali. As Africa, we have said we are one, but we start with the family of Mali.
“Unity begins at home. Unity begins with you, with me, with all of us. The same with peace (as one of our leaders would say).
“As I commend you, I commend you in the hope that you bring this love to others and those bent on fighting, to lay down their weapons, turning their swords into ploughshares. I come to you with a heavy heart. I am only a little fellow, but one little fellow who has seen a lot from our founding fathers; that we should unite.”
In 2012, the traditionally nomadic Tuaregs stirred armed conflict by demanding greater autonomy in the north. Jihadists then took advantage and seized half of Mali, prompting French troops to intervene in 2013.
A peace agreement was signed in Burkina Faso in 2013, but has been violated repeatedly.
The latest accord was negotiated in Algeria, and saw government and some rebel groups sign the draft in March 2015.
The Tuaregs initialled the draft on Thursday, but did not turn up yesterday.