Zimbabwe crisis coming hotly after Kenya is indicative of grave dangers ahead threatening governance, democracy and human rights in Africa. It is a vindication of severe weaknesses and deficit of internal institutions in resolving internal disputes and conflicts not just within the country but also within African Union. Of keen interest would be how Ghana and South Africa are set to handle their respective elections with ethnic cleavages starting to emerge. While the Africa Union may protest this assertion and parade Kenya as contrary evidence, my opinion remains. What happened in Kenya is legitimization of civilian coup against people’s sovereign will through back door. The political deal brokered by African Union mediation process led by Dr. Kofi Annan cannot be the formula to brand and market. Nobody should attempt to propose this formula to Zimbabwe. It is fraudulent, cruel and illegitimate. It subverts democracy and human rights. Consolation is that despite the Robert Mugabe’s incredible regime brutality, the indomitable spirit of the people of Zimbabwe and their yearning for democracy remains unbowed. African Union and others in international community must stand with the people of Zimbabwe in order to realize their goal of democracy and human rights.
Mugabe’s barbaric acts of crushing opponents seem as entrenched as ever. It is significant to emphasise that Mugabe lost the election but is forcing to negotiate his way out - a fact that has been confirmed by outcome of the forced re-count of votes. The South African government apparently support for re-run is misguided. How do you conduct and manage a re-run in an extremely volatile and conflict situation? President Mbeki has his right of opinion but I do not think the Southern Africa Development Community necessarily shares the same position. South Africa might be the regional top dog with peculiar historical ties to Zimbabwean people but that must not be the excuse for complacency and baby-sitting Mugabe. Truth be told, Mugabe has a progressive side. However, his invocation of imperialism sabotage to justify brutalizing and annihilating Zimbabweans is unacceptable. A three-tiered pressure approach accompanied by clear division of labor between the African Union, United Nations, Zimbabwe’s neighbors and the wider international community is required to bring change in Zimbabwe. It is important to observe that constitutional and governance reforms are absolutely critical before going into another election. A transient government and a reform agenda programme is the starting point.
The first tier would build on the work of the President Mbeki’s mediation process. He has been able to establish a reasonable relationship with all the key players in Zimbabwe crisis. It therefore makes sense for this process to be taken over, strengthened and directed by the African Union to coordinate the diplomatic efforts. SADC can play key role focusing on constitutional, electoral and political reforms, national reconciliation and socio-economic reforms. This would require sustained, high-profile mediation efforts. However, accountability for the grave human rights violations must not be sidetracked. Secondly, accelerated and structured regional talks are essential. South Africa and other neighboring countries have taken heat for their defense of Mugabe even when he is committing absurd atrocities. This has seriously damaged their credibility and moral legitimacy to intervene. Now is the time for them to call in their favors with the brutal Mugabe’s regime. Zambia and Botswana are showing progressive leadership in resolving Zimbabwe crisis unlike ambivalent South Africa. Regional talks based on the prospect of Zimbabwe’s reintegration into the region should address the need for long-term stability, democratic reforms and transparent socio-economic policy. Without paranoia, Zimbabwe neighbours and friends will need to reassure Zimbabweans that Zimbabwe’s stability and territorial integrity are not threatened by their intervention but it is for the good of the region. African Union has been accused for long for reluctance and lackluster initiative in resolving Africa’s governance crisis. The West must accept that given a chance and support AU can deliver. Regional civil societies have to take more bold steps in helping Zimbabweans. I know Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa, Open Society Initiative for Eastern Africa, Kenya’s human rights groups, South Africa’s human rights and labour movements amongst others are working jointly with various Zimbabwean civil society groups. Their active involvement and participation in resolving Zimbabwe crisis is of utmost necessity. It is possible that Mugabe might agree to constructive actions with a group consisting of regional actors. The wider international community has a vital role to play too, providing the context for the regional talks and the UN’s mediation efforts. This would mean keeping human rights at the top of the agenda; developing a set of escalating sanctions targeting top notch Mugabe supporters and incentives to encourage progress and punish recalcitrance by the regime; and monitoring the regional talks to ensure they do not degenerate into an excuse for inaction and arena of rewarding gross human rights violations. A development partners’ dialogue forum could help address the urgent problems of hunger, poverty, and disease. It could also start contingency planning for a transition to democracy. The crisis in Zimbabwe goes beyond politics. After decades of oppression, institutional failure and poverty, the country suffers deep social divisions, incompetent and corrupt governance, collapse of the social amenities and deep-rooted structural poverty of major proportions. The creation of a development partners’ forum would send a powerful message to Mugabe that there is an alternative to self-perceived hostile relations with the outside world.
Resolving Zimbabwe crisis must also address certain persistent misperceptions. The first is that ever tighter sanctions can force change. Mugabe and his cohorts are used to ostracism, and they are not going to be forced to give up power through West-styled sanctions. The second is that South Africa and certain East countries like China holds the key, if only they can exert their influence. China’s influence and support come out recently through shipment of consignment of arms to Zimbabwe. Arms moratorium to Zimbabwe is critical. Zimbabwe does not just need removal of Mugabe’s brutal regime. At best, Mugabe removal can only be beginning of the real process of transforming governance. Zimbabwe faces real problems of internal conflict and instability. Rule by fait has caused most formal and informal institutions to wither. Change will require compromises, and will be slow at best. There is a small window of opportunity to bring change in Zimbabwe. African Union and Zimbabwe’s neighbors backed by the international community should seize the moment.
Writer is Director, International Center for Policy and Conflict