By Welshman Ncube
THE protocol on principles and guidelines governing democratic elections which was agreed by Southern African Development Community (Sadc) leaders at their recent summit in Mauritius repres
ents a significant landmark in the process of the region’s democratic transition and offers Zimbabwe a chance to break with the past and make a new beginning so as to ensure security, freedom, liberty, prosperity and a better life to its people.
Prior to the summit, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) had cautioned regional leaders against adopting a set of electoral benchmarks based on narrow criteria. Instead, the MDC urged them to focus on securing consensus around a comprehensive set of standards that could have a meaningful impact on strengthening the region’s nascent democratic culture, institutions and processes. The protocol that was eventually agreed provides Sadc with a regulatory framework within which it can achieve these democratic objectives.
The Sadc consensus on comprehensive election standards together with the African Union’s Declaration on the Principles Governing Democratic Elections in Africa send out an unequivocal message to the outside world that Africa is moving in the right direction. These symbolic commitments to strengthening democratic governance underline the determination of the continent’s progressive political leaders to shape a new Africa and stake out the ground for a new beginning that will allow the continent to renew itself and end its marginalisation within an increasingly globalised world.
This concept of a new beginning filters down to the micro level. The people of Zimbabwe desire a new beginning so that they can get jobs, food on their tables and enjoy secure and prosperous lives by ending the cycle of chronic poverty within which they have become trapped. These basic aspirations however can only be achieved under a stable and democratic political dispensation which protects and promotes citizens’ fundamental civil and political rights, particularly their right to choose a government of their choice in free and fair elections.
The signing of the Mauritius protocol by the Zimbabwe government, in theory, lays the foundations for a new Zimbabwe and a new beginning. If the government acts in the spirit of the agreement, in its broadest sense, Zimbabwe’s latent democracy will flourish and, as a country, we can collectively begin the process of rebuilding our shattered lives and uniting our divided nation.
However, at this moment the MDC does not believe that the Zimbabwe government has the desire or political will to act “in the spirit of Mauritius”. President Robert Mugabe’s signing of the protocol was an exercise in political expediency. If his government genuinely subscribes to the principles enshrined in the agreement Mugabe would have returned to Zimbabwe and announced his commitment to comprehensive political and electoral reforms in line with the MDC’s minimum elections standards that are encapsulated in our RESTORE document and captured in the Sadc protocol. This has not happened.
Instead, in the immediate aftermath of his return to Zimbabwe his government signalled their contempt for democratic values by unashamedly gazetting a draft NGO Bill containing provisions which continue the government’s sustained determination to crush all organised centres of opinion at variance with that of the Zanu PF government.
It is this dearth of tangible evidence that the Mugabe government is prepared to enforce the Sadc guidelines and principles, in their fullest context, that prompted the MDC national executive to unanimously agree to suspend the MDC’s participation in all forms of elections in Zimbabwe.
The national executive resolved that the MDC will, with immediate effect, not participate in elections until political space has been opened up and a legal, institutional and administrative framework for elections has been established that harnesses acceptable levels of transparency and fairness in the electoral process.
The MDC’s demands are not huge: all we are asking for is that the people of Zimbabwe be allowed to enjoy the same democratic freedoms that are already enjoyed by an overwhelming majority of their brothers and sisters across the Sadc region.
We believe that it is the height of hypocrisy for any leader to sign an agreement endorsing these democratic freedoms when, in his own backyard, he is simultaneously sanctioning the organic growth of a framework of repression that thus far has spawned a violent youth militia, resulted in the closure of three independent papers and stripped citizens of their basic rights pertaining to freedom of speech, assembly and association.
For the people of Zimbabwe, the resultant loss of democratic space, which has been caused by this violent and self-serving political agenda, is no longer the primary source of their pain. It has gone beyond this. The primary source of their pain now is the scarcity of jobs and food that has been provoked by this agenda. Democratic concerns are now subordinate to the needs of basic survival. This is how far Zimbabwe has sunk under Zanu PF rule. This is how retarded Zimbabwe’s national development has become. And this is why we need a new Zimbabwe and a new beginning.
The intransigence of Mugabe, vis-à-vis acting in accordance with the spirit of Mauritius and kick-starting a new beginning for Zimbabwe in order to alleviate the suffering of the people, makes it incumbent upon other Sadc leaders to apply diplomatic pressure on the Zanu PF government to fully comply with the elections charter. Internal and international pressure must be resolutely applied to bring Mugabe and his government to their senses and restore the democratic freedoms of the people of Zimbabwe – freedoms which were secured through the heroic liberation struggle whose primary purpose was to secure the sovereignty of the people to select and constitute a government of their choice through regular, free and fair democratic elections.
The credibility of Sadc will be on the line if Zimbabwe fails to comply, in full, with the agreement on election standards. Sadc leaders must send the Zimbabwe government a clear message that the country risks diplomatic isolation at the regional level if the government refuses to honour the undertakings made in Mauritius.
If Africa is to build on the solid foundations created by the establishment of the AU and the adoption of Nepad, the progressive leaders who were at the vanguard of these developments and who are leading Africa’s renaissance now need to take a firmer stance against those who make a mockery of the new standards on which the African renaissance is founded. Zimbabwe should not be allowed to hold Sadc and Africa to ransom while hiding behind violent, intolerant, highly cynical and self-serving psuedo-nationalist and pan-Africanist ideology born out of nothing more than a desperation to hold on to power against the wishes of the people who desire freedom and prosperity.
The MDC has now drawn a line in the sand and resolved not to continue giving legitimacy to sham elections in which the very concept of choice or election is wholly negated through institutionalised violence, the application of highly repressive legislation preventing any meaningful communication with the people, electoral fraud, highly partisan policing in which the conduct of law enforcement agents is indistinguishable from that of the violent and brainwashed Zanu PF militias, and a public media which has been wholly appropriated not just by a political party but by an individual within that political party.
Zimbabwe desperately needs a new beginning under which economic recovery that should bring jobs, food security and prosperity to all the people can take place. That new beginning requires as a first step the restoration of democratic elections and general freedoms through the application of the Sadc protocol on elections as adopted in Mauritius.
* Professor Welshman Ncube is MDC secretary-general.