THE shock administered to the international community nine days ago when China and Russia unexpectedly used their vetos to block a UN Security Council resolution proposing strong sanctions against Zimbabwe and its leaders has seemed to paralyse any further action.
However, yesterday a new initiative emerged when the African Union floated the idea of a “reference group” to participate in negotiations between President Mugabe and Zimbabwe's opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai. The group would consist of South Africa's president Thabo Mbeki and representatives of the African Union, the Southern African Development Community and the United Nations.
The advantage of this approach is that it would enable others with a key interest in the Zimbabwe crisis to keep in close touch with whatever negotiations are taking place between the two principals, Mugabe and Tsvangirai. This would buttress the latter's position which otherwise is one of a supplicant even though he actually won the first round of the presidential election in March.

Talk of the “restoration of normality and stability” in Zimbabwe as an object of further talks begs the question of when normality and stability last existed in that benighted country. One curiosity of the present state of affairs is the apparent unwillingness of those closely involved to call on the services of Kofi Annan to assist the negotiations. As the former Secretary General of the United Nations his negotiating skills are unquestioned - as he demonstrated when he unravelled the mess that Kenya was in earlier this year. He has indicated that he would be willing to undertake the task but has not been called on. Africa is not so rich is diplomatic skills that it can afford to ignore him.


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