Obama calls South Africa’s president. Was it to talk Zimbabwe?

Obama calls South Africa’s president. Was it to talk Zimbabwe?

This morning’s Times (London) reported that the Obama administration is planning a tougher stance against Zimbabwe’s self-ordained president-for-all-time, Robert Mugabe. Then at the White House Daily Press Briefing today, we learned that Obama made a call to the president of South Africa, Kaglema Motlanthe.

Is Obama calling to talk Zimbabwe? Now would be good timing. Just today at a summit in South Africa, Mugabe and the opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai look to have agreed to form their long-awaited unity government.

South Africa — reciever of Zimbabwean refugees and primary economic partner — is really the only country that can put enough pressure on Zimbabwe’s Mugabe to make the deal work. So far, the signs haven’t been promising. South Africa’s former President Thabo Mbeki has muddled through moderating talks since September, favoring his fellow former-anticolonial comrade Mugabe.

Since Mbeki resigned as president and interim leader Motlanthe took over, the odds of South Africa putting on the pressure are even lower. South African elections are pending in just weeks time, and a split within the ruling party has raised the stakes for the first time in that country’s history. As Human Rights Watch analyst Tiseke Kasambala recently told me, “there are domestic goings on in South Africa now that will likely take South Africa’s eye off the ball.”

None of the rumored Africa people from the new administration have returned e-mail messages about Obama-Zimbabwe policy. But my hope is that Mugabe’s name came up in the phone call. I would bet more money on that than I would the Zimbabwean currency.

Photo: ALEXANDER JOE/AFP/Getty Images