African Union to send assessment mission to Zimbabwe
Plans are at an advanced stage by the African Union to send an assessment mission to Zimbabwe to examine electoral conditions before another poll can be held, a leading pro-democracy activist said on Thursday.
Dewa Mavhinga, regional director of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, told reporter from the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, that a team of independent technical experts will visit Zimbabwe in the first quarter of this year.
'The team, to be assembled by the Political Affairs Unit of the AU, is expected to be dispatched before March to investigate, as requested by Civil Society Organizations, conditions on the ground.
'They will seek to establish whether Zimbabwe has a conducive environment and sufficient reforms to hold credible elections that are free and fair and without violence or intimidation,' Mavhinga said.
On Wednesday, representatives of Zimbabwe's civil society issued a statement in Addis Ababa, imploring the AU and SADC to conduct independent investigations in Zimbabwe, to establish whether the necessary conditions existed.
The CSO's other wish is for fresh elections to be announced only after the AU and SADC have given them the OK. They argue that the inclusive government has not carried out sufficient institutional and legislative reforms to enable the country to hold credible elections.
It's also reported that the AU will deploy a second mission when an election date is announced, to assess the conditions in relation to the AU's own declaration on the conduct of democratic elections.
Reports from these missions will be sent to the AU chairman, who will then be expected to propose to the secretariat the deployment of an observer mission to monitor the poll.
President Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea is the incoming chairman of the AU, taking over from Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika.
Of concern to civil society is the fact that Obiang is a close ally of Robert Mugabe. He presented the ZANU PF leader with the Grand Collar of the Order of Independence 'in recognition of the great action by the government and Mugabe in person for the defence of the interests of the people of Equatorial Guinea' in November 2004.
The then ruling ZANU PF government had arrested 68 suspected mercenaries at Harare Airport while they were in transit to Equatorial Guinea where they were going to topple Obiang in March 2004.
Mavhinga admitted the chairmanship of Obiang, because of his closeness to Mugabe, presents a key challenge but he remained optimistic he would not be an impediment.
'If you look at the response of the AU to the Ivory Coast debacle there is growing consensus among Africans that there is a progressive African strategy to deal with elections, which may be applicable equally to Zimbabwe,' he said.
The 53-nation AU, under Mutharika's chairmanship (also a close Mugabe ally) has recognised Ivorian opposition leader Alassane Ouattara as having won the election against Laurent Gbagbo, who has refused to step down.
The standoff between the two bitter enemies is expected to top the agenda of the AU Heads of State meeting on Saturday.