This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
1. (C) Summary: Presidential International Affairs Advisor
Ad'Obe Obe September 25 told Polcouns that the September 23
Commonwealth Troika meeting ended in stalemate. Australian PM
Howard pushed to suspend Zimbabwe from the Commonwealth and
for other sanctions to show displeasure over GOZ land
seizures and stalled political negotiations with Mugabe's
opposition. Diametrically opposite Howard was South Africa's
Mbeki, who insisted the Troika lacked the mandate to suspend
Zimbabwe or authorize sanctions. He wanted to give Zimbabwe
and Mugabe more time to work toward political dialogue.
Somewhere between, but clearly leaning towards Mugabe, stood
Obasanjo. With neither Howard nor Mbeki softening his
position, Obasanjo ultimately sided with Mbeki, and the
meeting ended with no action taken against Zimbabwe. End
2. (C) During a September 25 meeting with PolCouns,
Presidential Advisor Obe stated that the Abuja Troika was
President Obasanjo's idea. On the margins of the WSSD,
Obasanjo met serially with Australian PM Howard, South
African President Mbeki and Mugabe. All three agreed to the
3. (C) Trouble started when Howard, asserting his prerogative
as current Commonwealth Chairman, took it upon himself to
organize the meeting. In tandem with Commonwealth Secretary
General McKinnon, Howard prepared the agenda and invitations
with minimal consultations with Abuja and presumably
Pretoria, commented Obe. Feeling that Howard was hijacking
the meeting, Obasanjo briefly considered its cancellation but
thought that would do more harm than good.
4. (C) Obe described the invitation to Mugabe as insulting.
The only plausible explanation for the invitation's terseness
was an intention to provoke the Zimbabwean leader, Obe
maintained. Adding to the perceived insult, the invitation
was publicized on the Internet. Mugabe, believing his public
humiliation and embarrassment was Howard's aim, decided
against attending the session. Obasanjo attempted to
convince Mugabe to rethink his nonattendance by stating that
the issues raised by Howard were mere points for discussion,
not foregone conclusions. Obasanjo's entreaty was
ineffectual. At the end of their conversations, Mugabe
sealed his absence by offering that he would attend on the
condition that the status of Australia's Aborigines was the
first item discussed by the Troika.
5. (C) Upon hearing that Mugabe changed his mind, Mbeki also
decided not to show. According to Obe, there was a flurry of
phone calls between Howard, Obasanjo and Mbeki. After much
heavy pushing, Mbeki was turned back toward to Abuja. By then
however, pre-meeting atmospherics were decidedly negative and
this palpable tension was an active participant in the Abuja
6. (C) In Abuja, Howard strongly advocated that the Troika
toss the book at Mugabe by suspending Zimbabwe from the
Commonwealth for the land seizures and for stalling the
political dialogue. Mbeki steadfastly opposed Howard,
claiming the Troika lacked the mandate to suspend Zimbabwe
from the Commonwealth or to approve other sanctions.
Initially, Obasanjo tried to find middle ground then pull
Howard and Mbeki toward consensus so that the meeting could
end with a unified position. However, neither Mbeki nor
Howard budged, forcing Obasanjo to decide between the two.
Predictably, Obasanjo cast his deciding vote in Mbeki's favor.
7. (C) According to Obe, the meeting rekindled the tempers
that flared during the Commonwealth Summit in Australia.
There, African leaders criticized British PM Blair for
failing to give sufficient weight to the history of social
and racial injustice underlying the GOZ position on land
seizures. This time in Abuja, Mbeki took Howard to task for
being insensitive to Zimbabwe's history. Becoming
increasingly animated, Obe stated that both Howard and
Commonwealth Secretary McKinnon were not attempting to be
impartial, but were carrying Britain's water at this meeting.
He stressed that both Mbeki and Obasanjo were rankled that
the British and Howard seemed indifferent to the equities and
emotions underlying the Zimbabwean land dispute.
8. (C) The British lend more weight to the plight of 4,000
farmers than the whole issue of Zimbabwean independence, Obe
bristled. Mugabe had repeatedly stated the independence
struggle was over land. There were black Zimbabweans who
remembered living on and owning the farms now occupied by
white farmers. If those lands did not devolve to the blacks,
the struggle for independence would be incomplete. It was
this quest to gain recompense for past injustices that made
most African leaders sympathetic to Mugabe, Obe asserted.
Unless the West realized the strength of this sentiment,
there would be continued friction and misunderstanding
between the West and Africa concerning the way forward in
9. (C) Reflecting on the dynamics at the Troika meeting, Obe
remarked that it was naive to expect Mbeki to energetically
oppose Mugabe. The rank-and-file in Mbeki's ANC strongly
sympathized with Mugabe. If Mbeki openly sided with Britain
against Mugabe, he would suffer a tremendous domestic back
lash, particularly given that South Africa's day of reckoning
on the land redistribution lies in the future, Obe opined.
10. (C) While Nigeria did not have to grapple with the same
dilemma facing Mbeki and South Africa, President Obasanjo
felt some personal responsibility for Zimbabwe, Obe
continued. In 1979, then military Head of State Obasanjo
encouraged Mugabe to accept the proposed Zimbabwean
constitution, which placed a 10-year moratorium on the land
question. In 1989, when the 10-year ban ended, then African
statesman Obasanjo joined the chorus of other voices
counseling Mugabe not to move forward with land reform. It
was feared that events in Zimbabwe could cause apartheid
hard-liners to retrench in South Africa and scuttle the
emergent reforms beginning to take place. Having twice
advised Mugabe to idle himself, Obasanjo now felt some
sympathy for the principle underlying Mugabe's actions,
although he did not agree with Mugabe's tactics.
Consequently, Obasanjo was very reluctant to excoriate the
Zimbabwean and instead wanted to maintain dialogue with him.
11. (C) Regarding Mugabe, Obe posited that Mugabe generally
had accomplished his goals on land seizures; he considered
himself as presenting the world with a fait accompli as to
the farms recently seized. However, Obe pointed out Mugabe
was careful that his land seizures did not leave affected
farmers landless. He only seized the lands of people who
owned multiple farms. Because Mugabe was more comfortable
with what he has done on land redistribution, now might be
the best time to nudge him to a more conciliatory stance on
internal political dialogue, Obe offered.
12. (C) Comment: By his very nature, Obe is an acerbic,
sometimes combative personality, so his comments must be seen
in this light. The friction attendant at the Abuja Troika
might not be quite as intense as he described. However, he is
not prone to invent things that did not happen. We think his
account is generally indicative of what happened. Thus,
instead of bridging the differences between the African
leaders and the Western outlooks on Zimbabwe, the Troika only
accentuated these divergent viewpoints.