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Zimbabwe's Elections 2013 - Index of Articles
elections: A regional security context
Allen Hunge, The Financial Gazette
September 12, 2013
African Development Community’s (SADC) statement
on the regional bloc’s final report on elections is out. The
verdict is now fully established; the elections according to SADC
were “free, peaceful and generally credible”.
also translates to an unconditional acceptance of President Robert
Mugabe’s new five-year tenure.
think anyone expected anything different from the position that
SADC took in its preliminary report, released immediately after
voting on August 2.
This was further
buoyed by the endorsement from SADC Heads of States and governments
summit in Malawi on August 18, where President Mugabe was then elected
to be vice chairperson of the regional bloc.
had earlier asked for an audit of the elections, eventually joined
in the regional chorus in Malawi and accepted the outcome
of the elections.
In looking back
at the Zimbabwe elections and the position of SADC, one cannot ignore
the convolutions of regional politics and security.
is one of the key anchors of how decisions in the Zimbabwean election
were made and this demonstrated the centrality of such matters in
SADC is not
merely driven by open-ended principles and propositions. These must
find location in the regional politico-security matrix if they are
to have any traction.
matrix cannot also be understood from a vacuum. Rather it is built
from the historical perspectives that are so pregnant with liberation
At one point,
around 2011, South African President Jacob Zuma, who was facilitator
of the Zimbabwe mediation process, seemed to have gained courage
to placate the region out of its compelling historical influence.
He, at a meeting held in Livingstone, Zambia, was the first to be
openly critical of President Mugabe intransigence on the implementation
of the Global
Political Agreement (GPA).
Zuma’s direct confrontation with President Mugabe was significant
because it defied the contemporary way of politics in SADC.
had never been known to be confrontational with a sitting Head of
State, no matter how much they toed out of line.
Mugabe, considered as the political father figure in the region,
had up to then never been politically challenged. The only attempt
had been made by Nelson Mandela when he was president of South Africa
in the late 1990s. He and President Mugabe openly clashed on the
structure, composition and mandate of the newly created Organ for
Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation.
internal matters of member states had always been considered to
be sacrosanct and fully submissive to the sovereignty clause of
the SADC Treaty – never to be openly interfered with.
Some saw Zuma’s
stance at the SADC Livingstone meeting as a new shift and a change
of political paradigm in the region. This seemed to herald the evolution
of a new way of politics in the region, able to untangle historical
incapacities and sensitivities.
election was a major test of this shift in SADC approach and position.
Given all the irregularities that characterised the elections, the
new SADC approach as propounded by Zuma’s confrontational
approach to President Mugabe, should have found traction in condemning
We even hear
that within the SADC observer mission there were major differences
and a split along country lines. There was a bloc of countries that
wanted to take a very critical position on the Zimbabwe elections.
There was a
second group that wanted to take a position that would allow continuation
of the coalition and power-sharing government. Then there was another
group that wanted to a take a position in defence of Zanu-PF and
President Mugabe’s win, as a way of ultimately endorsing a
return to their political dominance in the region.
all these groupings agreed to provide a very mild preliminary statement,
and then wait for the Heads of States and governments summit in
Malawi to proffer
the decisive direction on Zimbabwe elections. The endorsement from
the summit then settled matters.
How on earth
did the three varying positions evolve into one congruent and resolute
position? What factors affected the SADC position?
The SADC position
was influenced by what many have referred to as the regional security
position. The region is considered to be very sensitive to security
issues, especially with impression of emerging instability.
RENAMO is once again on the upsurge having caused some level of
instability in the country very close to its borders with Zimbabwe.
In Angola there is rising suspicion that the rebel activity in Cabinda
region will likely rise in the coming few years.
in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) continues unabated. Botswana’s
close military links with the United States which at one time raised
suspicion of the Africom base being set up in this SADC country
is also a fresh and sensitive issue in the region.
All these cases made the Zimbabwe election central to the security
concerns in the region.
in the political corridors in the region are that, Western powers
are likely to take some role or have already done so in these conflicts,
as has happened in the past.
There is a school
of thought that says that in the southern African region, the West
has lost the socio-economic and political battle to the Chinese.
In that regard, the backlash of the western powers cannot be overt
but will rather be through subtle means.
One such way
maybe by reverting back to their direct or indirect historical support
for movements like RENAMO, UNITA and other such forces that may
arise in the region
instability in the DRC is also largely seen as a result of the West’s
historical involvement in that country.
Given that background,
there is a group of very strong-headed SADC regional leaders who
are arguing that the region is once again under a new threat of
Western interference and destabilisation.
priority is security issues and their preference is building a lineage
of regional leaders able to resist and stand against this new wave
of perceived Western offensive.
This is exactly
where President Mugabe’s eminence in the region has suddenly
resurfaced. I should hasten to highlight that, it is not all of
the regional leaders who have this frame of thinking and perception,
but those that do have such a compelling effect in how SADC should
is seen as a relevant cog in the new politico-security dynamics
in the region. His sustained leadership of Zimbabwe is a guarantee
to other regional leaders of bounteous resistance to this evolving
This is also
against the background of other regional leaders’ suspicion
of Tsvangirai’s warm relations with the West. That could have
been the most emphatic nail in the coffin that buried Tsvangirai’s
hopes of SADC support in the past election
cordial interactions with the West were also considered in a scenario
of him having won the elections. Should that have happened, then
the strong-headed regional leaders I mentioned earlier feared Zimbabwe
turning from being the cornerstone against Western regional security
threats to a launch pad against regional security.
Politics is nearly always about perceptions.
For the Zimbabwean
elections, regional perception could have plaid a central and key
SADC’s surprising withdrawal from insisting on reforms before
the elections; its acceptance to hold elections under conditions
that were not so conducive; the regional bloc’s congelation
into a unanimous decision to endorse the election without much reservation;
President Mugabe’s elevation to vice chairperson of the regional
bloc and the emphatic call against sanctions on Zimbabwe all indicate
the influence of a head-strong group of regional leaders, whose
priority in the Zimbabwe election was not “freeness and fairness”
but rather, implications for regional security.
question may not have been the only sway on SADC’s position,
but it’s one of those that is not so much in the public domain
but contributed much to the eventuality.
election was not only about domestic democratisation processes,
it was also about regional security concerns, whether justified
or not, real or perceived.
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