PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe has been left out of the ongoing International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) currently underway in Angola, where several of his counterparts, including South African President Jacob Zuma, have been invited.
BY RICHARD CHIDZA
The meeting aims to find a lasting solution to the long-running political crisis in the Great Lakes Region, where Mugabe, in the late 1990s, unilaterally deployed thousands of Zimbabwean soldiers to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to help defend Laurent Kabila against Ugandan and Rwandan-supported rebels.
Countries in the region include the DRC, Burundi and Rwanda.
Reports claim hundreds of Zimbabwean soldiers perished in the DRC war after Mugabe circumvented Parliament and deployed the army to defend his late erstwhile ally Laurent Kabila, father of current DRC, leader Joseph.
The DRC excursion and Mugabe’s unbudgeted expenditure on former freedom fighters have been blamed for triggering Zimbabwe’s economic crisis.
Asked why Zimbabwe was not attending the summit, Foreign Affairs permanent secretary, Joey Bimha yesterday said Harare was not part of ICGLR, hence, its absence.
“We are not part of the ICGLR. However, the DRC is part of both the ICGLR and Sadc. Our participation in the defence of the sovereignty of the DRC was under Sadc,” he said.
“When Sadc is involved and the DRC is part of the discussion, we will take part, but only in the context of the regional body.”
However, Mugabe attended the Sadc and Great Lakes Region International Conference held in South Africa in 2013.
The sixth ordinary summit of Heads of State and Government of the ICGLR taking place in Luanda, is being attended by leaders from Uganda (Yoweri Museveni), DRC (Kabila), South Africa (Zuma), Republic of Congo (Denis Sassou Nguesso) and Kenya (Uhuru Kenyatta).
Angola, South Africa and the DRC are members of Sadc.
Burundi’s First Vice-President Gaston Sindimwo, Central Africa Republic Prime Minister Simplice Sarandji and Sudanese Second Vice-President Hassabo Mohamed are also in Luanda for the meeting.
Angolan President José Eduardo dos Santos is chairing the summit in his capacity as ICGLR acting head, with discussions centring around ways to consolidate peace, security, stability and regional integration in the politically-volatile region.
Globetrotting Mugabe rarely misses any international engagement, with officials claiming he is representing Africa, while his critics have accused him of abusing State resources on useless jaunts.
Early this year, the veteran leader was forced to abort a visit to India, where he was to be the “guest of honour” at a low-key cultural festival.
The event is running under the theme Let Us Accelerate the Effective Implementation of the Pact and Its Protocols Towards a Greater Democracy and Stability in the Great Lakes Region.
The ICGLR was established in 1994, following the conflicts that erupted in the region.
ICGLR countries are Angola, Burundi, Zambia, the DRC, Central African Republic, Republic of Congo, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, South Sudan, Sudan and Tanzania.
Burundi remains on edge after President Pierre Nkurunziza forced through a third term triggering deadly demonstrations led by opposition groups.