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African leaders embrace Mugabe at SADC summit

The group's soft approach to Zimbabwe's president disappoints many, but some say it may be more effective in engaging him.

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If Zimbabweans expected their country's neighbors to come out strongly against the repressive behavior of their president, Robert Mugabe, at a meeting of regional leaders in Kinshasa this week, then they were sorely mistaken.

Far from criticizing President Mugabe – who unleashed private militias and government security forces against his political rivals before joining a coalition government with them in February – the members of the Southern Africa Development Community instead chose to adopt Mugabe's call for an end to Western sanctions against his country.

SADC's soft approach to Mugabe will come as a stinging disappointment to Mugabe's rival and coalition partner, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, who personally lobbied South African President Jacob Zuma to get tougher with Mugabe. Mr. Zuma instead joined the rest of SADC in a warm embrace of the aging leader.

The approach of seeking to bring external pressure to bear on Mugabe is naive, says Steven Friedman, a political analyst and head of the Center for the Study of Democracy at the University of Johannesburg.

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