Mugabe’s Sadc pullout threat ‘cheap rhetoric’

PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe’s threat last Friday to pull Zimbabwe out of Sadc if the regional body continues to put him under pressure to hold free and fair elections is impractical and in any case likely to be resisted by citizens due to the bloc’s immeasurable importance in the country’s survival and development.

Report by Brian Chitemba

Analysts say apart from immense economic benefits that Zimbabwe derives due to its integration to Sadc, Mugabe is ironically still in office due to a power-sharing deal brokered by the regional body in September 2008 which saw the formation of the inclusive government after his re-election claim was widely rejected due to violence and intimidation.

Mugabe claimed to have won the June 2008 presidential run-off which his rival Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai boycotted after a reign of terror perpetrated by the military and Zanu PF militias on the country in their survival bid.

Mugabe seems to have conveniently forgotten, analysts say, that Sadc is the same organisation which, by brokering the Global Political Agreement (GPA), which rescued and restored legitimacy on him following accusations of gross human rights abuses and election rigging.

Mugabe told Zanu PF supporters last Friday Zimbabwe could pull out of Sadc due to what he described as “stupid things” done by “ordinary, stupid and idiotic people” within the regional bloc.

“Sadc has no power,” Mugabe said. “Let it be known that we are in Sadc voluntarily. If Sadc decides to do stupid things, we can pull out.

“For now we have a Sadc that has good sense. Although from some quarters there was a stupid, idiotic woman saying elections cannot be held by July 31. Did such person ever think as an independent country we would take such utterances which were stupid and idiotic?”

Mugabe’s ranting, analysts said, was cheap rhetoric from an old and tired politician who seems to have run out of options to ensure political survival except desperate measures.

Academic Kudakwashe Chitofiri said Mugabe’s utterances were “mere politicking” because Zimbabwe depended on Sadc for economic survival and other things.

“The only thing these utterances have managed to do is to further alienate Zanu PF and Mugabe from South Africa in general and the African National Congress in particular, as well as other countries in the region,” said Chitofiri.

“Isolation from Sadc means isolation from the AU and basically we will be a lone ranger with no semblance of legitimacy.”

The threats stemmed from a tough Sadc stance on Mugabe’s unilateral proclamation of election dates last month under the guise of complying with the July 31 election controversial deadline ordered by the Constitutional Court.

Sadc has been insisting that Zimbabwe only holds elections after necessary reforms were implemented to pave way for free and fair polls.

However, Godwin Phiri, an analyst, said Mugabe’s words should not be taken lightly given that he seems to have the courage of his convictions and a record of acting on his threats.

“We have seen some really ridiculous, ad hoc decisions and policies being made even at funerals in the past, which have left the country isolated,” said Phiri.

“I would not be surprised if Mugabe and Zanu PF attempted to pull out in order to force the regional body to accept their electoral skullduggery. It would be a suicidal move but with Zanu PF you can expect anything, including suicide. This is a party that is prepared to cut its nose in order to spite its face.”

In 2003, Mugabe unilaterally pulled Zimbabwe out of the Commonwealth after the organisation extended the country’s suspension from the group following rampant human rights abuses and lack of democratic reforms.

In a surprise move, Mugabe angrily pulled out, saying Zimbabwe did not need the Commonwealth because it had “Sadc and the African Union (AU) as our mentors, not the Commonwealth”.

Now that Sadc is insisting on the same things as the Commonwealth demanded –– particularly adherence to the Harare Declaration – Mugabe is now contradicting himself by threatening to leave the regional bloc even if analysts say that would be unrealistic and unsustainable.

Analysts say, in any case such a decision, given that Zimbabwe is integrated to the region, cannot be legitimately made by Mugabe alone but by Zimbabweans through a referendum or some other consultative process.

Unlike the Commonwealth, which is a grouping of former British colonies and has no direct economic benefits, Sadc is critical with more than three million Zimbabweans holed up in neighbouring countries after fleeing the economic meltdown caused by Mugabe’s bankrupt policies mainly since 2000.

Zimbabwe is a landlocked country and largely depends on ports such as Durban in South Africa, Walvis Bay in Namibia, Beira and Maputo in Mazambique and Tanzania’s Dar es Salaam for its vital imports.

Analysts say pulling out of Sadc could lead to Zimbabwe re-negotiating trade pacts and deals for usage of the ports with individual countries in Sadc, something which could prove economically disastrous.

Political commentator Blessing Vava dismissed Mugabe’s Sadc pullout warning as an “empty threat” saying Zimbabwe has no capacity to go it alone in political and economic terms.

He said Zimbabwe cannot afford further isolation, especially in the region, because member states depend on each other on economic and security issues.
“Pulling out of Sadc is different from the Commonwealth in many aspects,” Vava said.

“If you look at how the regional bloc is structured, Zimbabwe cannot afford to survive without Sadc and its neighbours in particular. For instance our economy is indirectly sustained by countries in the region mainly South Africa from where most our food is imported. Besides, South Africa is Zimbabwe’s biggest economic partner and the region is our source of economic and security survival as a nation.”

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