THE Zimbabwe crisis, one of the most dominant political questions on the continent for close to a decade, is disappearing from the radar of regional and continental diplomacy as leaders focus more on pressing issues such as piracy and resurgent terrorism.
A delegation from Zimbabwe civil society that travelled to the African Union summit to lobby for continental leaders to discuss Harare’s political stand-off went largely ignored, underlying how attention on Zimbabwe has faded.
The continent’s leaders discussed the International Criminal Court’s indictment of Sudan President Hassan Ahmad Al Bashir and terrorism activities that have spilled over Somalia’s borders into Uganda.
Analysts said the omission of Zimbabwe from AU discussions was not surprising, as African leaders rarely got actively involved in internal matters that did not include civil war.
The analysts warned against too much expectation when the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) meets for its annual summit this month. While Zimbabwe’s power-sharing problems would be on the table at the Sadc summit, it was unlikely that regional leaders would bulldoze a compromise between President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.
Sadc mandated then South African president Thabo Mbeki to facilitate mediation between political parties in Zimbabwe following disputed elections in 2008. Mbeki’s intervention resulted in the signing of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) in September 2008, paving way for the formation of the coalition government five months later.
Sixteen months on and with Mbeki having given way to Jacob Zuma to take over as the Sadc facilitator, there has been very little ground covered in terms of implementing the GPA, including democratic reforms critical to future credible elections and stability.
Fissures between Mugabe and Tsvangirai have continued growing at a time when Africa views Zimbabwe’s problem as solved, leaving little hope that a lasting solution will come from the continent. The unilateral re-deployment of several diplomats by Mugabe last week deepened divisions and mistrust between the coalition government partners.
Outstanding issues include: appointment of provincial governors, appointments of the Attorney-General and the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe governor, posting of ambassadors and the lifting of travel and economic sanctions imposed on Mugabe and members of his inner circle by the United States, the European Union and Australia.
University of Zimbabwe political science professor, John Makumbe, who was part of the civic society lobby to Uganda admitted that African leaders showed no interest in taking up Zimbabwe’s case at the AU summit.
A civil society roundtable discussion and the screening of a documentary on Zimbabwe’s ongoing rights abuses failed to excite interest at the summit, Makumbe, a sharp critic of Mugabe, said.
“We lobbied the AU members at the ministerial level,” said Makumbe. “We made presentations to the ministers, gave them DVDs and videos on the Zimbabwe situation. It was up to them to reach the Heads of State and Government on the matter, but the conclusion is that they are not even interested in the Zimbabwe situation as they did not put it on the agenda.”
Ministers from member states make up the Executive Council of AU and their meeting at Speke Resort Munyonyo in Kampala, where they drafted decisions and declarations of the AU assembly preceded the summit.
Makumbe said the AU’s position was “understandable” as it had instructed Sadc to deal with the Zimbabwe crisis.
“Sadc has been trying but failed,” said Makumbe. “What they should do is to hand over the issue to AU which would then put together a team to try and resolve the Zimbabwe crisis. Should the AU fail, then they would refer the issue to the United Nations Security Council. However, at the moment, the AU cannot take the issue out of the hands of Sadc as it is still trying to resolve the matter.”
Another political science lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe, Simon Badza, said the AU could have reached a conclusion that “the Zimbabwe situation is now water under the bridge”.
“The AU should not be seen as rushing the political parties (Zanu PF and the two formations of MDC) to implement the GPA as it is seen as unAfrican to push fellow leaders into doing something,” said Badza. “They (AU) have tried to avoid pressing the issue. They fear that if they do so, they may not move and there may be resistance to the pressure as some of the leaders are not used to pressure.”
Badza added that the appointment of the country to the AU Peace and Security Council could be recognition of the progress made in restoring peace in the country.
“Instead of misleading by example, Zimbabwe would behave better and inspire others,” Badza said. “This shows that Zimbabwe is no longer a critical issue as focus is now on Sudan, Somalia and Madagascar.”
Even at Sadc level, the apparition of the Zimbabwean crisis which had hogged regional meetings has receded and mostly vanished from vigorous debate.
Going through the communiqués released by the regional bloc in the last two years shows a pattern of a raging fire slowly dying down and the glow hardly noticeable. In January last year, Sadc issued a communiqué after an extraordinary summit in South Africa literally ordering the formation of the inclusive government with the contentious Home Affairs Ministry co-chaired.
Sadc also ordered the introduction of the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment 19, which gave effect to the formation of the inclusive government.
The regional bloc said the co-chairing of the Home Affairs Ministry was to be reviewed after six months by the parties with the assistance of the guarantors, Sadc, AU and the facilitator (at that time Mbeki).
However, over a year later, Mbeki is gone and the ministry is still co-chaired. A communiqué that followed a Sadc summit in Mozambique in January showed that the bloc was happy with developments in Zimbabwe.
“Summit also noted with appreciation the efforts of Sadc Facilitator in assisting Zimbabwe to fully implement the Global Political Agreement (GPA) and urged the parties to implement decisions made,” read the communiqué, ignoring sticky issues still affecting the progress of the coalition government.
University of Zimbabwe economics history lecturer, Kudakwashe Chitofiri, said Zimbabwe’s crisis could only be completely solved if foreign mediation remained in place.
“We have to establish the motivation for the disappearance of Zimbabwe from the radar,” Chitofiri said. “We still have a lot of outstanding issues and these need a regional body to conclude. I do not think that the country has the internal capacity to iron all the outstanding issues on its own.”
Analysts say Zimbabwe would only return to the spotlight if the coalition government announced firm plans for an election in 2011 as suggested by Zanu PF and the MDC-T.