As much as the die may already have been cast against former Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe, who on Tuesday was eventually forced to resign, one cannot but reflect on the role of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
Not only in defusing the fluid situation in that country since the intervention of the army last week, but ever since the country’s calamities over the years.
South African President Jacob Zuma, SADC’s chair, and Angolan President João Manuel Gonçalves Lourenço, Chairperson of the Organ Troika on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation, were presumably still mid-air to Zimbabwe when Mugabe resigned. After a week or two of dilly-dallying and indecision by the regional body following the latest spark in the Zimbabwean political fluidity, some African countries have been having their misgivings about the International Criminal Court (ICC) for seemingly targeting African leaders.
As a result, some of these countries have withdrawn from the ICC, notably Burundi. It is also a matter of time before South Africa withdraws.
Likewise, Namibia’s misgivings about the ICC are well documented. Even as recent as the United Nations General Assembly in September, Namibia voted against R2P, a global commitment endorsed by all UN member states at the 2005 World Summit to prevent genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. Namibia later explained its vote against as only procedural.
Namibia’s rationale as per the head of state, Dr Hage Geingob, is the need for the continent to have and rely on its own institutions. Fast-track this rationale, especially the near-calamitous explosive situation in Zimbabwe, SADC’s Organ Troika simply failed to instill any confidence and inspiration, especially among the Zimbabwean oppressed masses. When they not only very much needed it but expected it, when expecting deliverance from SADC. But the Southern African leaders conveniently and cautiously opted to steer clear. Cautious not to cut their noses to spite their faces.
With the country going through many of its political and economic cliffhangers, Southern Africa, especially members of the political and economic elite club of SADC, have been ominously quiet, their usual oblivion self. Even when matters reached a breaking point lately, not a first for Zimbabwe that has seen many a breaking point but which was averted, albeit at cost to the suffering, and even loss of lives of the masses. But the SADC elites have never seemed nearer to awakening from their political slumber. The best they could do with the latest episode was to sound a strong caution to the army. The very army that many Zimbabweans consider their saviour.
Not strangely perhaps, given their tinted political spectacles, blinding them to the realities of mass sufferings in Zimbabwe all these years, and oblivious to the deterioration of human and civil rights in Zimbabwe, SADC’s elite political leaders could not see in the latest developments in Zimbabwe no more than a military takeover.
The signals have always been there all these years that Zimbabwe must not, and could not have been heading on the right path, even by African, if not Southern African self-avowed democratic standards. Without SADC leaders daring to say or utter anything about the unbearable political and economic conditions, which have been prevalent for some time now in their neighbouring country. Only for them to be lately unnerved by the intervention of the Zimbabwean army.
One cannot really imagine to what catastrophic and calamitous point Zimbabwe must have deteriorated, to warrant a consequent moral and political action by SADC’s political leaders, and African leaders, through the African Union. Let alone spur them into genuine and honest brokerage?
Because even in terms of such a brokerage, they arrived late as they seem following Mugabe’s eventual resignation after an initial defiance. The question that SADC must now ask itself is can the Zimbabwean masses when writing their post-Mugabe memoirs, really hail it? But it is not late for SADC to redeem itself in the eyes of Zimbabweans.
While many Zimbabweans see the resignation of Mugabe as the dawn of an era, and rightly so, this is only the beginning. His successor, Emmerson Mnangagwa’s own history is as much tainted. And as much that of ZANU-PF, if not for acquiescing to tyranny, for prodding and propping it. It is all for the Zimbabweans themselves now whereto from here. But surely this time around there is much that SADC positively and proactively can do to help steer the country towards better times, democratically and economically.
This is if African governance institutions like the SADC Organ Troika are to have any veneer of credibility, if only in the eyes of the region and continent’s inhabitants.