Mugabe out in the cold

AFTER managing to isolate Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe internationally, Prime Minister and MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai is now driving a wedge between the Zanu-PF leader and his former supporters in the Southern African region.

In the past few weeks, Tsvangirai seized vital ground from Mugabe on the SADC diplomatic chessboard with a whirlwind trip around the region.

His meetings with regional leaders were crucial ahead of an extraordinary SADC summit on Zimbabwe on May 20 in Windhoek, Namibia, which is likely to be a watershed gathering.

Tsvangirai flies to Luanda tomorrow for talks with Angolan leader, President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who takes over as SADC chairman in August. Their meeting was initially scheduled for Friday.

Luke Tamborinyoka, Tsvangirai’s spokesman, said: "The prime minister visited Lesotho yesterday. He will be going to Angola on Monday. We have so far visited 10 SADC countries."

A senior SADC diplomat said: "Tsvangirai’s meeting with the Angolans is very important as they are going take over as SADC chair. Dos Santos is a very important leader in the region. He is now running the second-largest economy in the SADC and is the longest-serving, most experienced leader.

"Dos Santos was until recent years a close Mugabe ally. The two fought together in the Congo war in 1998, backed by Namibia’s former president Sam Nujoma.

"So for Tsvangirai to make inroads into Angola is a major step forward in his bid to isolate Mugabe."

While Zimbabwe’s relations with Angola remain cordial, Dos Santos has pulled closer to the US. Tsvangirai has isolated Mugabe from the mainstream international community, the US and European Union. The US and EU slapped Mugabe and his cronies with travel bans and an asset freeze.

At the United Nations, Mugabe’s support has dwindled. He now relies on Russia and China to help him out, although he is closer to the Chinese. Mugabe’s real allies internationally are Iran, Cuba, Venezuela, Libya, North Korea and China.

Tsvangirai went to Lesotho on Thursday after visiting the leaders of Zambia, Mozambique, Swaziland, Botswana, South Africa, Namibia, Malawi, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo. He met President Jacob Zuma at his rural Nkandla home in KwaZulu-Natal. Mugabe was reportedly miffed as that signalled closer friendship between them.

The other key meetings Tsvangirai had were with Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba, current SADC chairman. Pohamba is working with Dos Santos and Congolese President Joseph Kabila as the SADC summit troika, consisting of the regional organisation’s chairman, incoming chairman and outgoing chairman.

Tsvangirai also had talks with the leaders who sit in the SADC troika on politics, defence and security, Zambian President Rupiah Banda, Mozambican leader Armando Guebuza and Zuma.

"The sentiment of SADC leaders and thus the regional opinion has shifted dramatically against Mugabe in the past few weeks. Tsvangirai has managed to win the support of regional leaders itching to take on Mugabe," said an official at the SADC headquarters in Botswana. "Just watch what happens on May 20."

When the SADC troika met last week in Livingstone, Zambia, Tsvangirai had already convinced Banda, Zuma, Guebuza and Pohamba that Mugabe was the problem.

As a result, the SADC leaders dealt with Mugabe in an unprecedented way, issuing a damning communiqué that left him shocked. For the first time, they did not mention sanctions.

Mugabe reacted angrily, denouncing Zuma and other SADC leaders, further isolating himself.

Feeling the heat and pressure of isolation, Mugabe on Wednesday sent an envoy to meet Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika.

That day, Mugabe’s spokesman, George Charamba, embarked on damage control, distancing his boss from attacks on Zuma and other SADC leaders.

Tsvangirai is determined to continue tightening the screws on Mugabe. Tsvangirai’s MDC-T spokesman, Nelson Chamisa, said on Friday that SADC now "appreciates the Zimbabwe situation even more than ever before. We have made phenomenal and tremendous progress on diplomacy in the region." – Timeslive