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Drawing lessons from Egypt to shape EU policy on Zimbabwe
Rights NGO Forum
In the wake
of the Egyptian coup, a prominent Zimbabwe blogger quipped, “The
"thing" called democracy is very confusing. President
Morsi of Egypt was elected "democratically", however,
the people are saying he has failed to rule "democratically"
and the army, though not elected, has decided to "democratically"
remove Morsi in order for "democracy" to take effect?”.
In the weeks leading to the Egyptian uprising, a report by the European
Court of Auditors found that EU development aid to Egypt intended
to promote human rights and good governance has largely been squandered.
Much of it went directly to the Egyptian authorities, who refused
to commit to human rights and democracy programmes, while 4 million
euros allocated to civil society groups was subsequently cancelled.
In the same vein, President Obama had promised President Morsi billions
of developmental aid if he agreed to set aside parochial political
interests for national good.
The above scenarios
highlight the inherent supposed pitfalls in the neo-liberal democracy
founded on the Washington Consensus. In Egypt, there is a real danger
of extremists resorting to violence, and justifying their actions
on the disappointing results of democracy. Whereas in countries
such as Zimbabwe, there is a palpable danger that Zanu-PF will feel
vindicated and feel more empowered through its propaganda that western
imposed democracy does not work. Given this predicament, how should
policy makers, particularly within the EU respond?
In our humble
opinion, the pitfalls of the fledgling Egyptian democracy should
not lead Europe to back pedal on its ambitious new strategic framework
on human rights and democracy which was adopted by its Council of
foreign ministers a year ago. Further the European Instrument for
Democracy and Human Rights has already posted moderate results for
the year 2011-12 which should be built on.
in the Egyptian context, the EU’s current policy on Zimbabwe
is only correct in one respect, especially that, “Contrary
to many expectations, a government change may have only a slim impact
on democratic quality”. However, there is a danger that that
this might be misinterpreted to mean that there shouldn’t
be a change of government in Zimbabwe.
echoes our sentiments, “ From the recent primary elections
neutral observers would conclude that MDC-T is just Zanu-PF by another
name (albeit a poor imitation). Given that reality, the electorate
will vault and vote for the real McCoy. There is a great possibility
of a major event a few days before elections that will result in
MDC-T mortally splitting. I project a government of national salvation
getting formed from a coalitionary arrangement between the (MDC)
splinter group, MDC-Ncube, and a new face Zanu-PF. In a dramatic
real politik sleight of hand, Professor Welshman Ncube will get
to lead Zimbabwe in a rotating Presidency arrangement in a move
that will assuage the ghosts of Gukurahundi”.
It is disappointing
that the EU's current policy appear to be echoing such sentiments
when they equated Zanu-PF’s lack of democratic roots and the
MDC’s lack of trustworthiness. Such equation of moral probity
overlooks a number of factors, particularly that Zanu-PF’s
moral probity is not only limited to the lack of democratic roots
but a history of repression and a total disregard of the right to
life upon which all other rights are contingent.
also overlooks the unequal political footing within Zimbabwe as
well as the sentiments echoed by the MDC on Wednesday, 03 July 2013,
in an article titled ‘A New Zimbabwe beacons’, which
in part states that, ‘We have travelled this long, painful
and arduous journey together all these years and have survived all
the trials and tribulations presented to us by Zanu-PF over the
years; we cannot afford to relent in this last hour of our journey.”
By drawing lessons
from Egypt, perhaps the EU needs to adopt a dual strategy premised
on ensuring that the forthcoming
elections are free, fair and credible but also focussing on
the issue participatory democracy based on the understanding that
real sustainable political change ought to be organic and sustained
by changed social attitudes towards politics. Currently Zimbabweans,
unlike the Egyptians do not owe allegiance to their country but
to political parties. The focus should be on nurturing the values
that we collectively cherish as a nation.
While the EU are correct in stating that government turnover does
not guarantee democratic change in Zimbabwe on the basis that Zanu-PF
lacks democratic roots; but the MDC has, for its part, done little
to prove its trustworthiness, they are wrong in concluding that,
“Rather than asking who is in power, international analysts
might want to put a stronger focus on how to actually improve Zimbabwe’s
political culture and institutions”. While it is important
to improve political culture and institutions, political renewal
is also necessary to the extent that it is symbolic and has the
effect of jogging tired politicians from their complacency.
By stating that,
‘Foreign actors need to act very carefully to avoid unintended
outcomes’, the EU has placed itself in an inextricable trap
of Zanu-PF ‘regime change’ propaganda. As the EU Foreign
Affairs Council prepare to meet later this month to evaluate the
human rights framework they adopted last year, they should borrow
a leaf from Edward McMillan-Scott, Vice-President of the European
Parliament for Human Rights & Democracy who stated that, “Europe
must stop whispering on human rights. It must not only speak with
one voice, it must speak loudly and without hesitation. It is high
time that the EU and its member states translated words into action
and put human rights centre-stage”- EU Observer (27.06.2013).
The EU must
be in a position to articulate a coherent and consistent approach
to human rights that makes full use of its combined economic and
political clout on the global stage. So far there is so much prevarication
and lack of message discipline as there is a clear policy chasm
between the British on one hand and the Scandinavian states on the
other. It is sad that the British voice does not loom large in Brussels,
and disappointingly, the reasons premised on its past colonial relationship
with Zimbabwe has only served to strengthen Zanu-PF's resolve to
hold on to power.
Edward McMillan-Scott, “Over the past year, the world has
undergone a series of major political upheavals. Across the Arab
world, in authoritarian China and Russia, and more recently in democratic
Turkey and Brazil, people have risen up in protest against their
leaders. In the majority of cases, ruling governments have responded
with violent crackdowns and by suppressing freedom of expression”.
Freedom House's latest annual report found that there has been an
overall decline in political rights and civil liberties worldwide,
as authoritarian regimes have stepped up their persecution of civil
society groups, independent and online media, and the popular democratic
movements which threaten their grip on power.
not been an exception to this rise in persecution of civil society
groups. Many Zimbabweans are used to living with their fundamental
rights repressed. Human Rights Defenders have particularly been
the main targets. On 23 February 2012, Zimbabwe was cited by Frontline
Defenders as being amongst a number of countries that have witnessed
an increase in attacks on human rights defenders (HRDs) in their
homes or offices and intimidation of HRDs by the judicial authorities.
2013 witnessed a similar trend on a more intensified scale. In 2013,
on World Freedom Day, Media rights group, Reporters Without Borders
(RSF) stated that Zimbabwe’s President, Robert Mugabe is among
the seven worst 'press
freedom predators' on the African continent.
in countries such as Egypt, Zimbabweans have remained placid in
the midst of suffering and several reasons can be given to explain
this. The main reason is fear. The UK Supreme Court captures this
state of fear in its country guidance decision on Zimbabwe in which
Lord Hope states that, “One of the hallmarks of totalitarian
regimes is their insistence on controlling people’s thoughts
as well as their behaviour.” George Orwell captured the point
brilliantly by his creation of the sinister “Thought Police”
in his novel 1984. The idea “if you are not with us, you are
against us” pervades the thinking of dictators. From their
perspective, there is no real difference between neutrality and
In this regard,
Zimbabweans avoid state persecution by engaging in mendacity and
even by avoiding to publicly airing their views on the current Egyptian
uprising. A couple of cases illustrate this. In 2011, during a public
lecture in Zimbabwe activists showed video footage of the Arab Spring
protests in Egypt. The police raided
the lecture and arrested 45 people. Eventually charges were
brought against six activists, who were convicted of inciting public
violence in March and given community sentences.
In a separate
Facebook subversion trial, a supporter of the MDC-T party, Vikas
Mavhudzi, reportedly put a post on a public Facebook wall drawing
parallels between the Arab Spring and the political situation in
Zimbabwe. He was arrested and spent a month in jail. The prosecutor
said the post was ‘an attempt to take over the government
by unconstitutional means or usurping the functions of the government’.
However, his trial eventually collapsed because the post had been
deleted and could not be offered as evidence.
In light of
the current political flux across the world including Zimbabwe,
how should Europe shape its foreign policy especially on Zimbabwe?
According to Edward McMillan-Scott (ibid), “A strong and coherent
European voice on human rights has never been so important. Only
by working together can EU countries fight against torture and repression,
support civil society and political activists, promote universal
values and encourage the transition towards democratic regimes based
on the rule of law. And while there is a strong moral imperative
to act, it is also firmly in European countries' own interest. A
world in which more states respected the fundamental rights of their
citizens would not only be more free; it would be more stable, prosperous
McMillan-Scott, an effective human rights strategy will require
greater coherence, stricter conditionality, and for actors such
as the EU Special Representative on Human Rights to be given a stronger
and more flexible mandate so that they are empowered to speak out
He also suggests that:
parliaments across Europe must also play a bigger role in pressuring
their respective governments to take up human rights issues, and
should develop closer links both with the European Parliament
and with each other to push for a more coordinated EU approach.
- For its part,
the European Parliament should step up its game by placing human
rights resolutions higher up the agenda, rather than on the Thursday
afternoon sessions when all but a few dozen MEPs have already
- EU must build
a stronger partnership with the US Congress and take up individual
human rights cases together.
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