Editor’s Memo

What’s new?

Vincent Kahiya

SADC heads of state and government meeting in Mauritius this week have finally adopted the much-touted electoral guidelines and principles committing them t

o hold free and fair elections.

The charter implores member countries to ensure that there are equal opportunities for parties to campaign and to access public media. It also stresses the importance of an independent judiciary and impartial electoral institutions.

The principles are, however, neither new to the continent nor are they a peculiarly African innovation as some African leaders would have us believe. These are universal tenets which perhaps explains why before last month they were so strongly resisted by demagogues in our midst who thrive on coercion to govern.

Other countries in the region have already embraced many of the electoral principles and have been encouraging errant members of the bloc such as Zimbabwe to adopt them.

These are the same standards which Western critics of Mugabe have been pushing Zimbabwe to adopt. The elections in South Africa and Malawi this year were held under the dispensation of transparency and political tolerance of the opposition. Mozambique and Namibia will hold elections later in the year using the same basic standards.

Tanzanian president Benjamin Mkapa however, in pursuit of regional solidarity and redundant militancy, let fly against the West saying Africa was “tired of being lectured on democracy by the very countries which, under colonialism, either directly denied us the rights of free citizens, or were indifferent to our suffering and yearnings to break free and be democratic”.

While we are mindful of his need to soften up our autocrat by means of flattery, Mkapa should be reminded that liberation movements which fought to break free from colonial bondage have no monopoly over the freedoms which are our birthright.

The liberation struggle was a fight for equity as much as anything else. Sadc leaders have no right to deny others rights on the spurious premise that they brought us democracy and therefore should not be censured when they err. Modern-day oppression cannot be justified on the grounds that colonialists once oppressed us.

For Mkapa and his colleagues who supported the flawed Zimbabwean elections of 2000 and 2002 there is no denying that African countries still need to forge relations with rich nations and conform to attendant conditionalities. In fact, the adoption of new electoral standards fits into that paradigm. Sadc will never be a zone of peace and stability unless it has elementary rules on governance that the rest of the world can recognise.

Mauritian Prime Minister Paul Berenger, whose country has reaped huge benefits from exporting textile products to the United States under the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa), knows about the contagion effect of bad governance on trade. His summation of prospects of free and fair elections in Zimbabwe – albeit too optimistic – is revealing.

“And with free elections due in Zimbabwe next year, we can already start preparing for the normalisation of relations between Sadc, the European Union and the United States,” he told the assembled heads of state on Monday.

Free and fair elections in Zimbabwe are possible if regional leaders drop their doublespeak with Mugabe who has found solace – not to mention obduracy – in solidarity from fellow Sadc heads. They attack the West and heap plaudits on the octogenarian Zimbabwean leader while negotiating with the same Western countries for trade and aid.

None of the Sadc leaders have joined Mugabe in shouting “to hell with the West”. None have spurned the IMF or World Bank. And even Mkapa was measured in his remarks on land reform.

Agoa has provided duty and quota-free access for a wide range of products from African countries that meet United States political and economic requirements. To qualify, countries should satisfy minimum governance standards as set out in the Act. The Act also allows exporters to source raw materials for their exports to the US locally or regionally. The US has allowed African countries to import raw materials from non-Agoa countries including Zimbabwe, but this preferential condition expires on September 30. Benefiting countries are scheduled to negotiate new preferential terms with the US.

About 10 members of Sadc are signatories to Agoa while Zimbabwe has been excluded. Member states have derived immense benefits from the textile and clothing industry. In Lesotho, more than 40 000 jobs have been created as a result of Agoa.

Countries in the region are also negotiating with the European Union for development aid – including Mkapa’s Tanzania. Mkapa, during the negotiations will have to attend the “lecture” on good governance and democracy.

But this is not a Western conspiracy to emasculate African governments. Patrick Mazhimaka, deputy chairperson of the Commission of the African Union (AU), spoke at the regional summit of the envisaged partnership between the AU and regional bodies like Sadc.

“In this regard, a protocol on relations between the African Union and Regional Economic Communities (RECs) is soon to be concluded which will usher in a new dimension of co-operation between the AU and the RECs,” said Mazhimaka.

“It has been necessary, indeed imperative, to establish co-ordination and co-operation mechanisms to ensure the promotion of good political, economic and corporate governance, human rights, the rule of law, humanitarian concerns and a democratic culture.”

That was a lecture to African demagogues by a senior official of their own mother body. Hopefully some of them were listening.