PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe, whose underwhelming one year tenure at the helm of the African Union (AU), has departed Harare for Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to attend this weekend’s AU summit at time the regional bloc is grappling with a political crisis in Burundi that has left dozens dead.
Tatira Zwinoira in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Mugabe’s elevation to the AU chair last year sent his spin doctors into overdrive with over-the-top declarations of the event as a diplomatic coup for Africa’s elder statesman and an endorsement of his capabilities as a leader.
However, one year down the line, Mugabe will hand over the reins bringing to an end what has generally been an unsuccessful stint given the general failure to deal with the continent-wide incidences of tension and violence including the Burundian crisis which is expected to take centre stage at the summit.
Burundi descended into violence and anarchy last year which resulted in dozens being killed in the aftermath of President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to run for a third term in office despite constitutional prohibitions which have two-term limits. He won the elections in July 2015 but the violence continued prompting the AU to consider deploying a peace keeping force to protect civilians.
Nkurunziza has however vowed to repel any military involvement by the AU, raising fears of a crisis in the Great Lakes region.
Mugabe and other heads of state will meet today as the African Union Peace and Security Council (PSC) to decide on the course of action to take on the Burundi issue, amid indications from government sources that Sadc countries have resolved to support the deployment of the African force to the troubled east African nation.
The Institute for Security Studies (ISS) think-tank which had a seminar in Addis Ababa on Wednesday said if the vote succeeded, it will set a precedent among African nations which the leaders might not be comfortable with.
“We’re not by any means sure that the general assembly vote will succeed (two-thirds required) many countries would not want to set such a precedent,” said Stephanie Wolters, the ISS’s Head of the conflict prevention and risk division
“It’s an opportunity for Burundi as well, because it’s a way of taking the Burundi issue and raising it to a level of greater interest: how does AU respond to countries where there has been a loss of rule of law and general instability caused by a mandate issue? We’ll see this more and more,” Wolters said.
During Mugabe’s tenure, the AU failed to bring peace to the traditional flashpoints on the continent. The veteran leader was generally mum as Burundi descended into violence and anarchy.
As Mumbengegwi admitted in his speech, terrorism continued to rear its ugly head in Kenya, Somalia and Nigeria among other countries where militant groups like Al Shabab and Boko Haram inflicted damage and loss of lives.
Closer to home, Lesotho was plunged into crisis following last year’s killing of that country’s former army chief Maaparankoe Mahao Mahao, who was aligned with former Prime Minister Tom Thabane. He was allegedly shot and killed by members of the Lesotho Defence Forces in his village home on the outskirts of Maseru.
In Mozambique, the conflict between the ruling Frelimo government and opposition Renamo resurfaced and continued throughout Mugabe’s tenure. Peace had been reached in Zimbabwe’s eastern neighbour back in 1991 but has been on the rise after Frelimo won elections whose results were disputed by Afonso Dhlakama’s Renamo party.