Barely 24 hours after the SADC landmark summit in Tanzania on 29 march which asked the west to lift "all forms of sanctions against Zimbabwe", the tanzanian president, jakaya mrisho kikwete, (pictured) spoke with our editor, Baffour Ankomah, on Zimbabwe and the way forward. Here are excerpts:
Baffour: You have been to Europe twice in recent months. Did Zimbabwe come up in your discussions with European leaders?
President Kikwete: Oh yes, everywhere, everywhere! Zimbabwe is a big story of huge interest everywhere. There is a lot of dissatisfaction in Europe and beyond of what is going on in Zimbabwe, and they see President Mugabe as some kind of devil, somebody who shouldn't have been there, and they think that we in Africa should have done something to have him removed.
Even yesterday, I was talking to one European journalist after the summit who said to me: "But Mugabe is still there!" I said, "Yes, but the SADC meeting was not about removing Mugabe. [Laughs]." There is a lot of this all the time. I have been to the US, I have been to Britain, I have been to the Nordic countries, everywhere you go, Mugabe and Zimbabwe become a major issue of discussion.
Baffour: Do they ever talk about their own economic sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe which are making the economy implode and the country go down?
Kikwete: Of course they say they have not imposed economic sanctions; they say "targeted sanctions", targeting the leadership.
Baffour: But you know that is not true. You know the economic sanctions prevent Zimbabwe from borrowing on the international market, and Zimbabwe can't get debt cancellation, aid, budgetary support or credits like Tanzania, Ghana and Nigeria ...
Kikwete [cuts in]: I know, I know, I know. We have always had differences with the international community. They want us to join in the chorus of open condemnation of Zimbabwe. But we have been saying: "Fine, you can condemn when something is not going right, but our approach has been 'let's talk about the issues'."
We have always been trying to engage with President Mugabe and yesterday's summit was the culmination of the whole process, where we seriously discussed the issues involved. The discussions inside the closed sessions were very frank on the things that we think the Zimbabwean government is not doing right, and our view on what could be done right; and also on the things that we think the opposition is not doing right and what could be done right.
But at the end of it all, our conclusion has been accusation and counter-accusation, confrontation and counter-confrontation is not the answer. Because if confrontation is the answer, what you must simply do is to arm the opposition so that they will be able to better confront the government. The government, on the other hand, will also continue to arm itself so that it can better confront the opposition. But that is not the answer.
The answer is dialogue. The government and the opposition have differences, and these differences are not such that they cannot be sorted out at the roundtable. So this is the position that the SADC took and we agreed that President Thabo Mbeki will take the initiative.
Okay, we know that the opposition and the West have been saying that President Mbeki's "quiet diplomacy has failed, it is a policy for doing nothing". Well, we beg to differ, because in mediation the first thing is "do the parties have confidence in the mediator?" It appears in the Zimbabwean setting that both sides have confidence in President Mbeki, and this is the good thing about it all. We think President Mbeki will be able to help.
So what are they going to discuss? They will discuss their differences, but also how to get to a situation in Zimbabwe where democratic dispensations function, how to get to free and fair elections--elections are due next year, it is only 12 months from now, so they have to seriously talk about it, and other issues?