What happened to the responsibility to protect?

The ongoing violence in Zimbabwe in the run up to the presidential election runoff, is yet again an indictment of the international community’s blatant failure to adhere to its ‘responsibility to protect’ commitment.

The ongoing violence in Zimbabwe in the run up to the presidential election runoff, is yet again an indictment of the international community’s blatant failure to adhere to its ‘responsibility to protect’ commitment.

The UN Secretary General Ban Kii Moon has already cast doubt on the legitimacy of the whole electioneering process. At the same time the head of the African Union election observer group to Zimbabwe, has also said that, given the current violent situation, there is zero possibility of a free and fair democratic process.

If there was anybody who still believed that there is a possibility of free elections, Zimbabwe’s ageing president Robert Mugabe put that to rest by saying that he is not going to allow the opposition to take power even if they win. He has demonstrated his contempt for democratic practice and principles.

With all this evidence, what is the rest of the world doing? It is obvious that the population has been intimidated and that many are unlikely to participate in the elections, something Mugabe must be banking on to win and retain power until he dies.

It ought to be noted that Mugabe, though very notorious, is not the only African leader to make such utterances that show a raw contempt for democratic processes.

Other leaders have also been quoted saying that simply cannot hand power to their opponents if defeated.
The efforts by South African president Thambo Mbeki to put Mugabe back in line seem to be making little impact.

To ensure that the current rulers in Zimbabwe respect due process, regional and international players ought to make bold and serious steps and intervene to avert the humanitarian crisis that is likely to turn into a bitter armed confrontation.

It has in many cases been argued that, the nature of oppression, determines the nature of resistance. By using war veterans and other armed thugs to intimidate and harass those with divergent views, the stage for resistance using similar means has been set.

One wouldn’t be surprised if radical elements in the Morgan Tvangirai led Movement for Democratic Change-MDC, took up arms as a means of self defence. This was witnessed in Kenya after the elections were seen as undemocratic by many in opposition.

All this can be averted by bold intervention by the United Nations working with other continental and regional players.

Fourteen years after the failure of the international community to prevent genocide in Rwanda, one would expect lessons to have been learned by the many eminent members who walk the corridors of international diplomacy.

It has been argued that the changing nature of international players including non-state actors has served to complicate the issue of humanitarian intervention. But there are some cases that are straightforward and involve known parties whose location can easily be determined.

The Zimbabwe crisis is such one example.
What is more perplexing still is that when the veterans were attacking the white settlers on the farms, the west was up in arms threatening to intervene militarily. But when victims are the black African opposition activists, the voices are somewhat muted.

The principle of state sovereignty is always advanced by those who seek to oppress their own people. It is their only defence. But sovereignty does not entail the right to oppress the people. Where human life is threatened on such a massive scale, the need to intervene must at all times be upheld and acted upon.  

Sovereignty becomes secondary to the protection of human life. What this presents to the African people is that there is urgent need to strengthen the capacity of the African Union and other regional bodies, so that they may be in a position to resolve African problems.

Waiting for the West to intervene has not helped in any way, as western players tend to have vested interests in the volatile situation in many African nations.

Moreover it is Africans and their leaders who can easily understand African political problems that in most cases take on ethnic and tribal undertones have.