Mugabe soothes SADC
Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe urged Southern Africa yesterday to reduce its dependence on foreign aid and to make better use of its natural resources, such as minerals and land.
Mugabe, Africa's oldest leader and now chairman of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), was speaking at the opening of the regional bloc's two-day summit at Zimbabwe's Victoria Falls tourist resort.
"Our continued over-reliance on the goodwill of our cooperation partners compromises our ownership of the SADC," he told the meeting.
"Our region has abundant resources, which instead of being sold in raw form at very low prices, must be exploited ... to add value to the products we export."
Mugabe, 90, was most recently re-elected over a year ago.
He has consistently denied charges by the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change that his Zanu-PF party has used violence and vote-rigging to stay in power since 2000.
The SADC has been bogged down in mediating poll disputes in Zimbabwe for the last decade.
Days before the summit, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said the SADC's credibility was at stake if the bloc did not address rights violations among its members, including the arrests of political activists and journalists.
The groups cited Angola, Malawi, Swaziland and Zambia as having committed violations. Mugabe did not mention these allegations in his speech.
Critics say Mugabe's regional standing has been undermined by a long-running economic crisis in Zimbabwe, which they partly blame on his seizures and redistribution of white-owned commercial farms to landless people.
Mugabe also moved to quell speculation that he would use his new position as SADC chairman to settle old scores with member states.
Mugabe took over the rotating chairmanship of the 15-member SADC from Malawi .
Political observers said Mugabe was not keen to ruffle feathers of African regional leaders during his term, as he needed their support to secure the African Union Commision chairmanship post, which becomes available next January.