IT’S like a dog barking up the wrong tree. That’s how critics have described the Southern African Development Community (Sadc)’s decision to set up a presidential team to lobby the West for the removal of sanctions against Zimbabwe. The critics say Sadc should instead be pushing President Robert Mugabe to implement critical democratic reforms.
Sadc recently appointed Presidents Jacob Zuma of South Africa, Rupiah Banda of Zambia and Hifikepunye Pohamba of Namibia to engage the United States and European Union to lift sanctions but analysts say the regional bloc’s snail’s pace in ensuring democratic reforms in Zimbabwe could hamper their efforts.
The Western governments insist that further to the formation of a unity government by Mugabe, MDC-T’s Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara of MDC, tangible reforms should be registered before sanctions are lifted. Erstwhile rivals, Mugabe and Tsvangirai, have been locked in a power tussle with MDC-T blaming the 86-year-old leader for delaying the full implementing of the global political agreement (GPA) by, among other things, refusing to appoint provincial governors while Zanu PF argues that sanctions remain the major sticking point in the agreement. Zanu PF has said full implementation of the GPA should be done simultaneously with the lifting of sanctions.
Sadc was instrumental in the formation of the fragile coalition government last year, ending a decade-long economic recession largely blamed on Mugabe’s maladministration.
Analysts said Sadc has a challenge to ensure equitable sharing of executive power by Mugabe and Tsvangirai as well as dealing with other pressing issues like the Democratic Republic of Congo’s civil war and the political unrest in Madagascar. The removal of sanctions against Zimbabwe, observers say, is a secondary issue because the delayed resolution of the GPA sticking points is more pertinent.
South-African based regional coordinator for Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, Dewa Mavhinga, said the Sadc presidential team was set up to pander to Mugabe’s whims and had no intention of resolving Zimbabwe’s political crisis.
He said the sanctions issue was used as an excuse by Mugabe to avoid critical democratic reforms.
“Sadc leaders must focus on ensuring that Zimbabwe holds a credible election, free of violence and in which Zimbabwe’s security apparatus plays no part,” said Mavhinga. “In this regard, Sadc should be setting up a presidential team to supervise future Zimbabwe elections to ensure full compliance with Sadc principles and guidelines on the conduct of democratic elections.”
He said if the sanctions are removed, Mugabe was likely to further demand that the externally-based radio stations close down before he appoints provincial governors and resolves the appointments at the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe and the Attorney-General.
University of Zimbabwe political science lecturer Simon Badza chided Sadc for misplacing priorities. He said the Southern African regional body had no power to push for unconditional lifting of the punitive measures, at a time when Mugabe — Africa’s oldest leader — and his Zanu PF party could not adhere to the spirit of unity underpinned by the GPA.
“When Western powers imposed sanctions against Mugabe and his cronies, they were pushing for their interests. It’s clear that the Western powers would like to see more democratic reforms first before they lift the sanctions. Sadc is focusing on the wrong issue,” said Badza.
At a recent Sadc summit, the regional heads of state and governments reiterated calls on the West to remove sanctions on Zimbabwe.
Washington, the EU, Australia and New Zealand slapped targeted sanctions against Mugabe and his lieutenants for alleged human rights violations and failure to respect rule of law. Part of the sanctions include an assets freeze and travel ban on Mugabe and top aides as well as a ban on weapons trade to Zimbabwe. The US passed the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act (2001) which mandates American officials to vote against financial aid from international financial institutions to Zimbabwe until democracy and the rule of law are restored.
The West has maintained that the sanctions would remain in place until there is an end of violence, a return to rule of law and credible media reforms are achieved in the former Southern African breadbasket. A process to write a new constitution has been marred by violence and intimidation by the military who want to coerce Zimbabweans to support Zanu PF’s views.
Badza said those who imposed sanctions were sovereign states with their own foreign policies to serve their interests and would not listen to Zuma, Pohamba and Banda.
“African diplomacy has its own ways of dealing with things; African leaders believe there should be an African approach to solve African problems, but I think Zuma is not going to succeed,” he warned.
“The US and EU want to see changes in Zimbabwe. They have a wait and see attitude and then they will consider whether to lift the sanctions or not.”
Badza said the West did not need to be told by Sadc about the political and economic situation in Zimbabwe because they have their own people in the country.
Last week, German ambassador Albrecht Conze told the press that continued violence in the constitutional outreach exercise hampered the EU envoys from recommending the lifting of the sanctions. He said those behind the politically motivated violence wanted the sanctions to stay. Copac suspended public hearings in Harare and Chitungwiza following violent clashes that left one person dead and scores injured.
“They (West) will be convinced by a stable political and economic situation. Those who imposed the sanctions want empirical evidence of critical reforms; certain behaviours of political parties have to change first. Therefore, Sadc should get their priorities right. Sadc must be vocal about the tense political situation in outreach meetings,” said Badza.
Kudakwashe Chitofiri, a political scientist, suggested that Sadc could win the sanctions war if they approach the West with positive results of genuine reforms.
“Sadc must be seen making significant progress before calling for removal of sanctions. Why can’t Zuma engage Mugabe on the democratic reforms and then rush to the West to plead for the lifting of sanctions,” he said.
Chitofiri said the regional bloc was ineffective in dealing with the obstinate Mugabe who shows no signs of being moved by the group.
“Sadc has come up with many deadlines regarding the ironing out of the GPA outstanding issues,” he said. “That indicates the block is ineffective to solve our problems so we need more from Sadc than stage-managed deadlines that are never met.
“In my opinion, there is not much progress to meet critical political reforms in Zimbabwe. More needs to be done to convince those responsible for sanctions to ease them.”
At the August Sadc summit in Namibia, Zuma set a one-month deadline to resolve outstanding issues to the GPA but nothing has been achieved. During the EU-South Africa summit last month, Zuma also lobbied the EU to lift the sanctions but he was told by the president of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy, to deal decisively with the Zimbabwean situation.
New York-based Human Rights Watch recently said Zuma’s intervention has done little to force Zanu PF to observe the rule of law or stop it from engaging in political violence.