Mugabe's new master-plan
How the so-called elected president plots to get his own way
Robert Mugabe, newly sworn in yesterday as President of Zimbabwe, will arrive at the African Union (AU) summit in Egypt today waving a giant olive branch. He is expected to tell delegates that he is ready to accept a negotiated settlement with the opposition MDC to solve the crisis in the country. But there are major conditions to his offer.
The AU members will first have to agree publicly that Friday's Presidential re-run poll was credible, and that Mugabe himself is the duly elected President of Zimbabwe. And second, they must also accept Mugabe's terms for establishing any much-vaunted Government of National Unity.
This plan is not likely to cut much ice with several African states, including Zambia, Botswana and Tanzania, who have already condemned the election and called for a new free and fair poll. But other African nations may see Mugabe's apparently benign proposals as a way out of the crisis, at least temporarily.
Mugabe began this series of manoevres before the election, when MDC secretary-general Tendai Biti, previously facing charges that carry the death penalty, was unexpectedly freed. Mugabe also promised that following his victory he would begin talks with the opposition.
However, MDC leader Morgan Tsvangrai has said that any negotiations must be on the basis on the first presidential election, which he won by a clear margin - a condition to which Mugabe will never agree.
Observers believe that Mugabe is now operating from a position of power. If the AU accept him as a legitimate President, all well and good. If not he will just return to Harare and carry on as before as the all-powerful "elected" president. For the country's people, things can only get worse.
The election results were released within 48 hours of the polls closing, in contrast to the five weeks it took for the Electoral Commission to announce the result of the first vote. Yet turn-out, at 42.3 per cent, was approximately the same.
The official figures were:
Robert Mugabe 2,150,269. Morgan Tsvangirai 233,000. Spoiled ballots 131,481
Immediate international reaction to the statistics was stronger than ever. An observer team from the Pan-African Parliament called for fresh elections, saying the vote was neither free nor fair. Former Cape Town Archbishop Desmond Tutu appealed to the AU not to recognise Mugabe as President. And US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called for strong international action to end the violence in Zimbabwe.
Morgan Tsvangirai, meanwhile, remained behind the walls of the Dutch embassy in Harare. I am told he is unable to fly to the AU meeting in Egypt because his passport is "full" - and the Zimbabwean authorities have refused to renew it.