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Commonwealth meeting ends with Zimbabwe row

[Nigeria] President Olusegun Obasanjo will face strong competition in next year's polls. AP
West African heavyweight Olusegun Obasanjo has slammed the transition of power in Togo
The four-day Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting came to an end in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, on Monday with an acrimonious debate over the fate of Zimbabwe dominating issues such as fighting disease, unfair trade and the growing the threat of global terrorism. Queen Elizabeth II declared open the meeting of Britain and its former colonies on Friday, saying its agenda would include poverty, hunger, environmental degradation, HIV/AIDS and international terrorism, with democracy and development "the twin engines of progress". But it was the issue of Zimbabwe, whose President Robert Mugabe was excluded from the summit due to his country’s 18-month-long suspension, that captured the attention of leaders and held it down for most of the summit. While Zimbabwe’s suspension was extended under pressure from the richer members, especially Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, the issues of concern to poorer countries to which West African members belong – combating HIV/AIDS, eradication of the polio virus, a more equitable system of global trade – were pushed to the background. Commonwealth Secretary General Don McKinnon while admitting the summit had been overshadowed by Zimbabwe, nonetheless listed other issues he believed had been dealt – even if unsatisfactorily – during the meeting. These include decisions taken towards improving corporate governance and ensuring companies were socially responsible in member states and guidelines set out for dealing with issues such as terrorism and global trade imbalance. "A Commonwealth delegation will visit Commonwealth capitals to revisit issues discussed at the Doha world trade talks," he told reporters. "We want to bring the talks back on track." Host President, Olusegun Obasanjo, whose government was the subject of a scathing report by New York-based Human Rights Watch on the eve of the meeting accusing the government of rights violations and election violations of the type that earned Zimbabwe suspension, did not face the scrutiny the report would have warranted. Yet, he seized the opportunity at the closing news conference to try and address the issues raised in a general way. According to Obasanjo, no country in the world could say it has achieved perfection in the democratic process. "We are still working on it, we are improving it," he said. Some analysts think if there was ever a summit that raised questions about the usefulness of the club of 54 nations - that meets every two year to discuss initiatives to promote democracy, racial equality, resolve conflicts and manage their cultural diversity by consensus – it was the Abuja meeting. "I believe in the coming years members are going to be asking themselves more searching questions about why they should belong to this club," Nigerian analyst Ike Onyekwere told IRIN. "I won’t be surprised if some fail to find a positive answer." The next meeting in 2005 will be hosted by Malta and in 2007 by Uganda.

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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