SHARM EL-SHEIK, Egypt – A defiant President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe on Tuesday fended off an effort by African leaders to sanction him for his country’s recent election violence, telling them that their claims to power were no more legitimate than his.
President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal said Mugabe chastised another head of state during a closed-door session Tuesday night for having “worse elections than I did.” The discussion pitted Mugabe against scores of his African peers, said Wade and other participants.
A two-day summit of the 53-nation African Union that was dominated by talk of Zimbabwe’s political crisis ended with leaders issuing no public rebuke.
Instead, African leaders encouraged Mugabe to enter into dialogue and form a power-sharing government with Zimbabwe’s opposition. After intense Western pressure to do more against Mugabe, the leaders failed to hold a planned news conference and left without speaking to reporters.
Mugabe’s escape from any censure fulfilled the prediction his spokesman, George Charamba, had made to reporters earlier Tuesday: “He came here as president of Zimbabwe and he’ll go home as president of Zimbabwe.”
Western critics of Mugabe’s government “can go and hang a thousand times,” Charamba added.
Mugabe, 84, came to the summit at the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheik three days after his supporters forced Zimbabweans to the polls to vote for him in a presidential runoff. Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who won 48 percent to Mugabe’s 43 percent in the initial round of voting in March, pulled out of the runoff for fear of further violence against his supporters.
Accounts of intimidation and killings during the runoff campaign crystallized concerns in Africa and around the world that Zimbabwe was nearing political and economic collapse. More than 80 people were killed in election violence.
Mugabe’s defiance at the summit represented a high-profile setback for those pushing African leaders to move beyond their reputation as a club dominated by heads of state who seized power by force and have ruled for decades since.