IT has been a good few weeks for Southern African Development Community (Sadc), at least as far as the region’s leaders are concerned.
Opinion by Simon Allison
But nothing was a bigger cause for celebration for the assembled regional leaders at the recent summit in Lilongwe than President Robert Mugabe’s convincing victory in Zimbabwe’s elections, which provide exactly the kind of stability the organisation craves for.
The recent Sadc summit was, by all accounts, a joyous affair. For the region’s leaders gathered in Lilongwe, there was plenty to celebrate.
In Madagascar, progress is tentative but encouraging. A special electoral court has made a couple of tough but necessary decisions, telling incumbent president (and 2009 coup leader) Andry Rajoelina that he can’t run for office again. Nor can Lalla Ravalomanana, wife of deposed president Marc Ravalomanana.
Both had submitted their candidacies in blatant violation of the terms (in Rajoelina’s case) and the spirit (in Lalla’s case) of the Sadc mediation deal which made the elections possible.
The court’s decision echoed what Sadc has been telling the two parties all along, and hopefully paves the way for a slightly less contentious presidential election pushed back to October 25 — there will, at the very least, be a new family in charge.
There’s positive change too in the Sadc secretariat, which appointed a new executive chair to replace the outgoing Tomaz Salomao. Tanzania’s Stergomena Tax takes the hot seat, the first woman to ever hold the position.
With Malawi’s Joyce Banda taking over the Sadc chairship, this means that the top two positions in the organisation are both held by women — for all its flaws, Sadc is doing a fine job of promoting gender equality at the highest level.
But the loudest cheers were reserved for Sadc’s greatest success: the remarkably smooth and mercifully bloodless Zimbabwean elections. As I have argued before, a convincing Mugabe victory — by fair means or foul, the fewer questions asked the better — was the best-case-scenario for most southern African leaders, who have consistently favoured stability and maintaining the status quo over political reform.
After more than three decades in power, Mugabe is about as status quo as it gets.
In its final communique, Sadc was unequivocal in its stance on Zimbabwe, expressing its satisfaction with the “free and peaceful” elections; commending Zimbabwe’s government for keeping that peace; congratulating Mugabe and Zanu PF on their victory; and calling for all sanctions on Zimbabwe to be lifted with immediate effect. All this despite the fact that Sadc’s observer mission has yet to submit its final report.
In fact, Sadc were so enamoured with Mugabe at this summit — the same Mugabe who had so casually dismissed Sadc at the last such gathering, saying it had no power and that Zimbabwe didn’t need it — that he was appointed as deputy chair, meaning that the major 2014 meeting will be held in Harare and Mugabe will be chairperson next year.
There was a whiff of the irregular about Mugabe’s appointment. According to Salomao, Mugabe was chosen because he was next in country alphabetical order. This doesn’t ring true, suggesting that Sadc might have been making some kind of solidarity statement by giving Mugabe the high-profile position.
“The formula to explain the jump from M for Malawi to Z for Zimbabwe, scaling many other member states, was not immediately clear,” Business Day’s Nick Kotch observed drily.
The biggest surprise of the weekend, however, came from Mugabe himself, who delivered a good-humoured apology to “that idiotic street woman” Lindiwe Zulu. In the run-up to the elections, Zulu had dared to question Zimbabwe’s readiness for the polls, and Mugabe had lashed out at her with some very public insults.
As a result, Zulu received a very public dressing down from South African President Jacob Zuma, which was perhaps exactly Mugabe’s intention — the Zulu incident showed the world exactly whose side Zuma was on.
This is all now just water under the Beitbridge.
“I love you, Ms Lindiwe, I love you, I don’t hate you,” said Mugabe, although Zulu was not actually in the room at the time. “It was a time when everyone was campaigning and one can do anything in order to win the elections,” he explained. (One can indeed, especially when Sadc is on hand to rubber-stamp the results).
Speaking to Stephen Grootes of the Midday Report (and Daily Maverick), Zulu outlined what happened.
“At the Sadc summit in Malawi, one of the meetings where I wasn’t in attendance, I was informed that President Mugabe raised the issue and indicated that there were certain things that were said which shouldn’t have been said. But on the following day of the summit, my President (Zuma) also took me to President Robert Mugabe where, if I may say, we closed that chapter.
“I think that in as far as President Mugabe is concerned, in this particular instance, honestly, he acted like a statesman because there was no pressure whatsoever on him to do that. I was pleasantly surprised because it had been something that had not been sitting very well with me.”
As a politician, this, perhaps, is Mugabe’s greatest gift (and the reason he is still in power). Somehow, he can humiliate Zulu only to have her call him a statesman; he can threaten to withdraw from Sadc only to be feted by his fellow leaders; he can collapse his country’s economy only to make the opposition look like the incompetent bad guys.
After all these years, he’s still calling the tune — and we’re still dancing to it.
Allison is a South African freelance journalist based in Hargeisa, Somaliland. He specialises in Middle Eastern and African politics. He has lived in Egypt, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.