PRIME Minister Morgan Tsvangirai was out in Sadc this week to lobby regional leaders to pressure President Robert Mugabe to implement political reforms required before free and fair elections could be held later this year, while trying to counter Zanu PF’s diplomatic manoeuvres to influence the incoming chairpersons of the regional body and its troika ahead of the crucial polls.
Report by Owen Gagare.
Although Tsvangirai was concerned about key reforms ahead of elections, Sadc diplomats say the critical part of his mission was to counter what appeared to be a diplomatic coup by Mugabe and his party in consolidating their relations with incoming Sadc chairperson, Malawian President Joyce Banda, and incoming troika chair Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba.
Banda takes over as Sadc chair in August and Pohamba comes in as troika chair during the same period on the cusp of do or die general elections.
The two would play a critical role on overseeing elections in Zimbabwe and influencing Sadc’s verdict on whether the outcome would be credible, free and fair, and be seen as such.
“While Tsvangirai’s mission is to lobby Sadc leaders to pile renewed pressure on Mugabe to implement the renewed pressure on Mugabe to implement the elections roadmap, the other key issue is that Tsvangirai wants to undercut Mugabe’s manoeuvres to ally himself to the incoming Sadc chairperson and head of the troika,” a senior Sadc diplomat said this week. “The issue is Banda, as incoming Sadc chairperson, and Pohamba, as head of troika, would have influence on political and electoral process in Zimbabwe, since they are coming during the election period. So it’s necessary for Mugabe and Tsvangirai to put their ducks in a row in diplomatic terms.”
Diplomatic sources say while Pohamba has always maintained a “mutually respectful” relationship with Mugabe, Banda – recently named the most powerful woman in Africa by Forbes magazine – initially appeared a tricky customer for Harare as she came into office in April last year against a backdrop of power struggles following the sudden death of Bingu wa Mutharika.
Sources say Mugabe and his loyalist initially assumed a cool attitude towards as she was entangled in the death of their close ally, Wa Mutharika, and she was also supported by Western countries and donors, before warming up to her. Banda had initially stirred a hornet’s nest among African leaders, including Mugabe, for barring Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, accused of war crimes, from attending an African Union summit in Blantyre in July last year before it was shifted to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, saying she feared the “economic implications” if he the meeting in Malawi.
Mugabe has always had good relations with Malawian leaders. After the storm around her rise and diplomacy subsided, Banda was last week invited to open the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair in Bulawayo. She was treated like royalty and judging by remarks she was totally charmed by Mugabe who gave her five-star handling from the moment she touched down at the Harare International Airport until she left.
Mugabe personally welcomed her together with Vice President Joice Mujuru, a host of ministers and service chiefs among other people, while her visit received generous coverage in the state-controlled media.
She was honoured with a 21-gun salute and inspected a guard of honour mounted by the Presidential Guard soon after arrival. During her stay, she was taken to the first family’s dairy farm, Gushungo Dairy. She also visited First Lady Grace Mugabe’s school and orphanage in Mazowe.
Banda was so impressed that she declared she would send a delegation to understudy the First Family’s highly mechanised dairy project, Gushungo Holdings, in Mazowe after touring the farm. She also endorsed the controversial land reform programme, hailing it as a success. By the time she left, it was clear she was now a converted Mugabe admirer, a move which fitted into Zanu PF’s diplomatic designs.
Soon after her visit, Tsvangirai was jolted into to venture into the region to update Sadc leaders on the situation in Zimbabwe in the run up to elections and lobby for support, sources say. Tsvangirai visited South Africa and met Sadc facilitator in Zimbabwe, South Africa President Jacob Zuma who also sits on the troika. He also met Sadc troika chair, Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete and was expected to Sadc chairperson, Mozambican President Armando Guebuza and Namibian leaders although this appointment was doubtful. Namibia deputises Tanzania on the troika and is going to take over as chair.
Following resurgent political violence and a crackdown on civil society groups,
Tsvangirai in February sent MDC-T secretary for international relations Jameson Timba, who also a minister of state in his office, to Botswana, South Africa, Tanzania, Mozambique and Malawi to brief the regional leaders on the situation in Zimbabwe.
While Tsvangirai on his current trip raised the need to implement outstanding reforms, mainly public media professionalisation, security sector realignment and the compilation of a clean voters’ roll, as well as the need for the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to be professional and efficient, sources say he was anxious to maintain the support of Sadc he has built over the years.
Tsvangirai had managed to get direct or tacit backing of key Sadc leaders from South Africa, Mozambique, although it mainly neutral, Botswana, Zambia before the coming in of President Michael Sata, Tanzania, Angola, Mauritius, Seychelles, and DRC, among others, he was beginning to lose their support because of his cosy relationship with Mugabe.
Although Mugabe had become isolated in Sadc, he continued to enjoy some support mainly from Malawi, Namibia, Swaziland, and Lesotho, from time to time. Zambia has supported or been against Mugabe depending on who is in power. Mozambique has been mainly neutral, while other countries across the divide shifted positions depending on the issues at stake.