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  • Zimbabwe's Elections 2013 - Index of Articles

  • Need for comprehensive evidence based international approach
    Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum
    August 06, 2013

    Faced with yet another looming stalemate in Zimbabwe, how should the international community respond in the long term? Should the international community simply be dissuaded by President Mugabe’s rhetoric that Zimbabwe’s sovereignty should be respected? Is true sovereignty not expressed through genuine elections and doesn’t the free expression of people’s will provide the basis for the authority and legitimacy of government? Given the dark underbelly in the history of foreign interventionism, how should the international community act with great care to avoid unintentionally causing a counterproductive backlash or does the responsibility to protect the suffering people of Zimbabwe far outweigh the unforeseen backlash?

    Norway's statement is a good starting point as it touches on the bottom line - the suffering people of Zimbabwe. It’s Minister of International Development Heikki Eidsvoll Holmås, in his statement dated 6 August, laid out in unclear terms, what the primary consideration should be, “After many years of insecurity and poverty, the people of Zimbabwe deserve a better life. Unfortunately, these election flaws make it difficult to view the election results as an expression of the will of the people… The African election observers have not yet published their final report. The opposition MDC-T will consider whether to take legal action and demand new elections... We are now awaiting the outcome of these processes, which will also affect Norway’s relations with Zimbabwe in the years ahead. It is very important for Norway that countries we cooperate with show a genuine willingness to promote democracy and human rights.”

    Several human rights defenders feel betrayed by SADC and the African Union at the moment as it is clear they are placing geopolitical considerations above the responsibility to protect human rights. Therefore, while SADC is still an essential partner, future engagement with Zimbabwe should not be outsourced to SADC anymore. The United Nations (UN), the European Union (EU) and the rest of the international community need to go a step further than merely supporting and assisting the efforts of SADC and the AU to facilitate processes and institutions supporting the development of democratic and accountable governance in Zimbabwe. Like Norway, it is very important that democratic governments only cooperate with governments that show a genuine willingness to promote democracy and human rights. They should also go a step further by rebuking democratic governments and regional blocs that seek to prop up or even congratulate undemocratic governments. Democratic governments should set an example, ‘not to teach others a lesson but because human rights are inalienable and as the French would say, ‘Setting an example in promoting fundamental freedoms is our battle and a matter of honour for us’.

    The international community must exert pressure on SADC and make it clear in no uncertain terms that it should not be an ‘old boys club’ which places relationships above principles. Female voices, for example, Lindiwe Zulu's should not be quenched under the guise of diplomacy. In this regard, Botswana has demonstrated courage and moral leadership by listening to civil society in acknowledgement of the essential role that civil society plays generally and under track diplomacy. The Government of Botswana issued a statement on the 2013 Election in the Republic of Zimbabwe, dated 5 August 2013, in which it partly states, 'Further to the above, it is the perspective of the Government of Botswana that in the context of the preliminary findings of SEOM, as well as the initial report of our own observer team, that there is a need for an independent audit of the just concluded electoral process in Zimbabwe. Such an audit will shed light on the conduct of the just ended election and indicate any shortcomings and irregularities that could have affected its result, as well as the way forward. This will ensure that all involved in future elections would be aware of what to look out for and that there is no repeat of the same. There is no doubt that what has been revealed so far by our observers cannot be considered as an acceptable standard for free and fair elections in SADC. The Community, SADC, should never create the undesirable precedent of permitting exceptions to its own rules'.

    Before the elections, it might have been right for the EU to follow SADC’s lead and desisting from megaphone diplomacy which hadn’t worked before. It might have been the right course of action for the EU not to put any physical pressure on SADC as this would discredit it within Zimbabwe. However, it is becoming clear that SADC’s tolerance on what constitutes a free and fair election might differ from the EU standards, even before their final report is out. Presidents Zuma and Kikwete's congratulatory messages already pre-empt due process. They should have simply congratulated the people of Zimbabwe is brief and terse diplomatic statements.

    Again, one wonders how it would be difficult to conclude on what constitutes free and fair elections since the SADC region has a comprehensive electoral code. Further, on 26 March 2013, all SADC countries were part of the Friends of Zimbabwe meeting delegation in London where the issue of elections was comprehensively discussed. The resultant Communiqué, among other things stipulated, ‘We welcomed the effective SADC observation of the constitutional referendum and SADC’s stated intention to observe the elections, consistent with the SADC Guidelines. We discussed the importance of long-term SADC observers covering the period in the run-up to, during and after elections. A wide range of international observers would contribute to building confidence and help enhance the credibility of the poll and the strength of the government elected'.

    One cannot say the Communiqué was adhered to since the confusion on the election date meant that Observers were not in the country long enough to engage with the issues and despite engaging with some of the crucial issues, in particular the flagrant disregard of the constitution and electoral laws, SADC continued to say the environment was conducive for a credible election. Further, independent and objective organisations as the Carter Centre we turned down without any valid reasons.

    In light of the above, how should the international community engage Zimbabwe in future? This question cannot be answered without reference to the international decisions on Zimbabwe and in this case focus shall be on the EU and what the UN recently said. On 25 March 2013, the High Representative, Catherine Ashton, on behalf of the European Union issued a Declaration with regard to the successful Constitutional referendum in Zimbabwe and the review of EU restrictive measures. She stated that, ‘In this regard we welcome the commitment by SADC to deploy a robust observation mission. The EU stands ready to provide any support that is requested... The EU reiterates its commitment to work with whatever Government is formed as the result of a peaceful, transparent and credible electoral process, and looks forward to continue strengthening our partnership to encourage growth and stability, and to build prosperity for all Zimbabweans… The EU welcomes and supports the repeated calls for national reconciliation and peaceful political activity made by political leaders, including the President and the Prime Minister. A number of key decision makers will remain subject to restrictive measures until peaceful, transparent and credible elections have been achieved’.

    Upon the conclusion of the elections, on 3 August, the High Representative Catherine Ashton on behalf of the EU on the elections in Zimbabwe, once again issued a Declaration that, ‘The EU is concerned about alleged irregularities and reports of incomplete participation, as well as the identified weaknesses in the electoral process and a lack of transparency. The EU will continue to follow developments and work closely with its international partners in the weeks to come. The EU encourages all parties to maintain calm and order.’

    Last but not least, on 2 August 2013 the UN Secretary-General, speaking on elections in Zimbabwe, in a statement said, ‘The United Nations encourages the country's leadership to govern responsibly and inclusively and to pursue policies and reforms that could serve to deepen democratic governance and also spur economic recovery that would benefit all Zimbabweans.’

    From the above, it is clear that the international community’s engagement of Zimbabwe was based on reward for progress and punishment for intransigence. Progress was measured against criteria that included ‘inclusivity, peace, reconciliation, economic recovery etc or in other words the realisation of universal human values of peace, freedom, social progress, equal rights and human dignity. It should be noted that the international community invested millions of dollars towards the realisation of these, including the costly constitution making process, meetings, summits, conferences, and support to institution building etc. This demonstrates its genuine commitment to see Zimbabwe progress.

    With Zanu-PF set to solely form the next government with two-thirds majority in parliament, there is a real danger that all these will be reversed. There is a danger that Zimbabwe will become a failed state. Under its twin indigenisation and look East policy, there is a real danger that they will obliterate anything and everything that originates from the West. The sheer hypocrisy of it all is that most of their children and supporters are in Western universities at the taxpayers’ expense. In light of this, there is need for firm dialogue on Zimbabwe premised on the need to create an inclusive society that respects fundamental rights. In so doing, the international community should make it very clear to SADC that they will not do business with undemocratic governments but also with governments that prop up illegitimate governments. To that end, Botswana has since set the bar very high on the portrait of a SADC we all want to see. While we do not expect miracles from SADC, they could do well by borrowing words of wisdom from Justice Holmes albeit in a different context that, ‘One does not expect of a diligens paterfamilias any extremes such as Solomonic wisdom, prophetic foresight, chameleonic caution, headlong haste, nervous timidity, or the trained reflexes of a racing driver. In short, a diligens paterfamilias treads life's pathway with moderation and prudent common sense.’

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