African leaders expected to back Robert Mugabe

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries would also press Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai to end a row over a power-sharing pact that was holding up vital foreign aid, said the officials.

"We are convinced that if sanctions are lifted, Zimbabwe, within the framework of its current political agreement, will have the possibility to move towards development," said Congolese Foreign Minister Alexis Thambwe Mwamba.

"We will also ask South Africa, which is the only sub-Saharan African country that is a member of the G20, to plead for Zimbabwe’s cause," said Mwamba, whose country is taking over the SADC chair and hosting the meeting in Kinshasa.

South African President Jakob Zuma is being watched for signs he will take a tougher line than predecessor Thabo Mbeki over Mugabe, who has been hit by EU and U.S. sanctions including a travel ban for alleged rights abuses and vote-rigging.

Last month, Zuma called on the West to repeal the sanctions. But in what sounded like a tougher tone on Mugabe, he also stressed the need for respect of democracy and human rights.

A recovery in Zimbabwe’s battered economy is important for South Africa because millions have been driven to seek work in their much wealthier neighbour. Zimbabwe says it needs $10 billion in foreign reconstruction aid, but Western nations are reluctant to release aid without political and economic reform.

Mugabe and long-time foe Tsvangirai formed a power-sharing government in February as part of a SADC-backed deal to end a political crisis that followed disputed polls last year. 

The agreement called for Tsvangirai to condemn the sanctions and call for them to be dropped, as SADC’s 15 member countries have already pledged to do.

But the power-sharing deal is beset with problems.

Tsvangirai’s MDC party accuses Mugabe’s ZANU-PF of failing to honour an agreement to reverse the appointments of political allies to key posts. ZANU-PF, in turn, has charged that the MDC has not done enough to have the sanctions lifted. Reuters