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SADC and the AU decide to side with Mugabe
Ozias Tungwarara
March 21, 2007

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The Zimbabwean government is now openly conducting itself in an unlawful manner with impunity under the watch of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) and the African Union (AU). Both these organisations profess to adhere to the principle of the rule of law that should protect citizens’ basic rights such as freedom of association, assembly and expression. There has been muted if not constipated condemnation by the two institutions of the unprecedented onslaught on fundamental rights in Zimbabwe in the past two weeks.

The reality of African politics is that politicians are most reluctant to criticize each other openly. The often cited reason is national sovereignty and non-interference in each others domestic affairs. At another level however, Africans acknowledge and fully accept that Africa’s survival depends on deeper economic and political integration. For the past decade or so sub-regional and continental bodies such as SADC and the AU have penned an array of norms and standards that are aimed at ensuring basic rights and consolidate democratic governance. The problem is not about lack of standards and normative values; the crisis is about the will to implement. There is a yawning gap between rhetoric at regional and continental levels and practice on the ground

Events in Zimbabwe in the last two weeks have put the credibility of SADC and the AU on the line as well as that of African political leadership. That a head of state of a member state openly incites violence and condones the most dastardly acts of violence against citizens and gets away with it without public censure amounts to abdication of responsibility by African leaders. During the last eight years of political turmoil in Zimbabwe, Mugabe and his officials have conducted themselves with little or no accountability to the citizenry and to their African peers. Mugabe himself has openly condoned acts of violence and incited his militia to carry out violent acts against political opponents. What is frightening about recent events is that while in the past the government put up a show of complying with law; this time around they openly defy court orders and do not deny that people have been tortured, in fact they boast about it.

African leaders including President Thabo Mbeki have conveniently allowed themselves to be confused by justifications that amount to no more than political scapegoats. The moment the Zimbabwean issue is raised in sub-regional and continental fora it is immediately framed as a race and colonial legacy issue. While these factors have a bearing on Zimbabwe’s problems and those of any former colony, most of the problems that Zimbabwe faces today are a direct result of abuse of political power. Often opposition political formations are looked upon as junior political partners and an extension of the former colonial powers. This is a fallacy and a myth that the Robert Mugabe regime has effectively peddled and which institutions such as SADC and the AU have not been able to reject. Democracy means plurality of political players. SADC and the AU, in the context of their commitment to democracy and good governance should insist that the Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU PF) government accept that the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and other opposition political parties are legitimate political forces. As long as the regional and continental institutions remain ambivalent on the right of the opposition to exist, Mugabe will continue to wood wink his peers.

While it should be acknowledged that "rooftop diplomacy" is not the most effective way to resolve situations of deep seated conflict and tension, there is also the need not to deviate from certain fundamental principles and values. It is very clear that the current violence directed at members of the opposition and civil society actors is state sponsored. The police, militia, army and security personnel are not acting as free agents. They are receiving clear instructions from the highest levels to act in the manner they are doing. For SADC and the AU to remain silent on the issue of State sponsored violence is criminal. SADC and AU member states are fully briefed about the nature of violence in Zimbabwe. The least they can do is to categorically state that State sponsored violence is just not on. If regional and continental leaders choose to remain silent when Mugabe makes statements like "we will bash them some more if they continue to speak out" then we can only conclude that African political leadership has made a conscious choice to side with Mugabe and not with the people of Zimbabwe.

Members of the Mugabe government now openly talk about how they have been seriously marginalized in decision making processes that affect the country. The current de facto state of emergency under which the country is being governed is a result of political power being exercised by the Joint Operations Command (JOC), a committee of the heads of military and security establishments in Zimbabwe. The constitutionally mandated decision makers have been side lined. Effectively a coup detat has already taken place. The only bullets fired are those directed at the civilian population that is trying to resist this state of affairs one of which killed Gift Tandare. It will be naïve to assume that the region and the continent are unaware of this state of affairs. They know and have decided not to act.

In solidarity,

Ozias Tungwarara

Ozias Tungwarara is Director of the Africa Governance Monitoring and Advocacy Project (AfriMAP) a project of the Open Society Institute (OSI). He is a lawyer by training. He has worked on human rights and democracy issues at national, regional and international levels including as Executive Director for the Zimbabwe Human Rights Association (ZimRights), as advisor to a SADC regional democracy program and as senior program officer with the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) based in Stockholm.

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