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Zimbabweans Worry New Zuma Mediation Role in Ivory Coast May Distract Him

Mr. Zuma has been mediating between the ZANU-PF party of President Robert and the Movement for Democratic Change formation of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara on behalf of the Southern African Development Community since 2009

Ntungamili Nkomo | Washington

Zimbabwean civil society and political activists expressed concern Monday that South African President Jacob Zuma's appointment as a mediator in the Ivory Coast crisis could distract him from his existing responsibilities in Harare's own troubles.

Mr. Zuma has been mediating between the ZANU-PF party of President Robert and the Movement for Democratic Change formation of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai on behalf of the Southern African Develoment Community since 2009.

Wrapping up a summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on Monday, the African Union named Mr. Zuma to a five-member taskforce assigned to mediate between Ivorian President Laraunt Bagbo, who lost last year's election but has refused to hand over power to opposition leader Allassane Ouattara, internationally recognised as the victor.

The panel also includes the presidents of Tanzania, Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Chad. The announcement scotched media speculation in Harare's Herald and Newsday papers that President Robert Mugabe might be tapped for the mediation panel.

Zimbabwe was not on the AU agenda but sources said Mr. Zuma would raise the Harare issue with heads of state well informed on the situation late Monday. AU leaders were taken up with more acute crises in Egypt, Ivory Coast, Tunisa and Somalia.

Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition spokesman Philip Pasirai said President Zuma's inclusion in the Ivorian task force will tend to shift his focus away from Zmbabwe.

"That is an obvious distraction from the all-important issue of Zimbabwe," he "Mr. Zuma has a lot on his plate already and any additional load will prove too much to handle."

Pasirai's sentiments were shared by Nhlanhla Dube, spokesman for the MDC formation headed by Welshman Ncube. Dube told reporter Ntungamili Nkomo that Mr. Zuma should strike a balance between the Ivory Coast crisis and the situation in Zimbabwe.

"If it was an issue of involving someone in the SADC region, we would have thought of former South African President Thabo Mbeki who has experience with leading negotiations to join the Ivorian panel. Mr. Zuma should have been left to focus on Zimbabwe," Dube said.

The AU meanwhile, elected Equatorial Guinea President Teodoro Obiang Nguema as its new chairman under a rotation system, replacing Malawi President Bingu Wa Mutharika. Critics see Mr. Nguema as a dictator with little regard for human rights or democracy.

In his acceptance remarks President Nguema called on African leaders to unite and find lasting solutions afflicting the continent, including poverty and strife.

"Africa must focus on the dialogue for a peaceful negotiaed solution to the conflicts that ravage our towns. Africa must assume, more than ever before, a leading role not just on the continent but in the international arena," Nguema said.

The AU summit was also attended by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and French President Nicholas Sarkozy at the invitation of the continental body.