Conditions to rejoin Commonwealth

ZIMBABWE has been encouraged to re-join the Commonwealth, and will attend the forthcoming Commonwealth Summit to take place in London between the 16th and 20th April 2018.
Whilst, on face value, this can be seen as desirable for both Zimbabwe and the Commonwealth, some questions can be raised about what will be the conditions for Zimbabwe’s return.

Ibbo Mandaza & Tony Reeler
Scholars

Zimbabwe was initially suspended from the Commonwealth in March 2002, but this followed an increasing acrimonious interaction between the Commonwealth and Zimbabwe, beginning with the Abuja Agreement in September 2001.

Apart from the concerns about the land settlement programme, the Commonwealth was also concerned about elections, beginning with an adverse report on the 2000 Parliamentary election. This was followed by another adverse report on the 2002 Presidential election, suspension by the Commonwealth Troika, and finally withdrawal from the Commonwealth in 2003. Fifteen years later, the first steps for re-admission are taking place. A matter of considerable concern in this process is the basis for this re-admission, and there are now eight circumstances that are indicators of serious and persistent violations of the Commonwealth’s political values.

These basically are the indicators that would lead to suspension or expulsion from the Commonwealth, and obviously are the conditions that must change if suspension is to be lifted.

These indicators are as follows:

  • The unilateral abrogation of a democratic constitution or serious threats to constitutional rule;
  • The suspension or prevention of the lawful functioning of parliament or other key democratic institutions;
  • The postponement of national elections without constitutional or other reasonable justification;
  • The systematic denial of political space, such as through detention of political leaders or restriction of freedom of association, assembly or expression;
  • A national electoral process that is seriously flawed;
  • The abrogation of the rule of law or undermining of the independence of the judiciary;
  • The systematic violation of human rights of the population, or of any communities or groups, by the member government concerned; and,
  • Significant restrictions on the media or civil society that prevent them from playing their legitimate role.

Now it seems evident that several of these indicators are still prevalent in Zimbabwe.

There is no more serious threat to constitutional rule than a coup, and, even if the international community is chary of calling it as such.

The intervention by the military in order to solve the internal affairs of the ruling political party would generally be called a coup.

Such events are usually the condition for suspension, as has been the case with Fiji, and not the basis for re-engagement. To this very important indicator could be added the systematic denial of political space, the systematic violation of human rights, and significant restrictions on the media or civil society that prevent them from playing their legitimate role.

So, it seems curious that there should be talks about Zimbabwe re-joining the Commonwealth when the most serious reason for suspending the country has just taken place, when the Harare Declaration has been serially violated since 2003 and Zimbabwe’s withdrawal, when there has been such a violent election (in 2008) that not even the African countries could accept the result, and when there has been an election (in 2013) that defied all political logic and was viewed with deep suspicion.

Thus, it would seem that Zimbabwe is being courted to re-join at a point when all indicators suggest that the Harare Declaration is still being violated.

The crucial issue is how this re-engagement should take place, and what conditions must be imposed in order for Zimbabwe to be seen as compliant with the Harare Declaration.

And the very big question to be asked is whether all of the problems go away merely if the country has a decent election.

We would argue that an internationally accepted election is only a necessary and not a sufficient condition for re-admission.

The deeper problems must also be addressed, and this must address directly the issue of whether those in power after a coup are best placed to deliver an election that is free and fair, and especially in the absence of substantial reform of the state. Furthermore, the increasing militarisation of the state does not suggest movement towards reform. Furthermore, the other indicators of non-adherence to the Harare Declaration need to be dealt with, and it would seem invidious that these could only be considered subsequent to an election.

We would argue that re-admission was only possible if all the indicators relevant to Zimbabwe’s violation of the Harare Declaration are taken together, and not in a piece-meal fashion.

Starting from the position that the most serious violation, the coup, is on its own reason for suspension or expulsion, we would argue that re-admission should be conditional on the disappearance of all indicators. Specifically, these indicators provide the bench marks for re-admission as follows:

  • Full adherence to constitutionalism and the constitution;
  • Absence of any denial of political space and no restrictions of freedom of association, assembly or expression;
  • A national electoral process that clearly has no flaws;
  • Full adherence to the rule of law and evidence of independence of the judiciary;
  • Absence of systematic violation of human rights;
  • Removal of any restrictions on the media or civil society that prevent them from playing their legitimate role.

These should be the bench marks for re-admission and the basis for any talks during re-engagement.

The haste with which the international community seeks to re-engage with Zimbabwe is very worrying, and the concerns of democratic Zimbabweans are that there appears no willingness to make principles the basis for re-engagement.

Zimbabwe has treated the Cotonou Agreement with contempt, undermines the SADC Treaty, and withdrew from the Commonwealth, all of this with apparent impunity.

Thus, when the new dispensation argues that it seeks re-engagement with the international community, and promises governance based on the rule of law, perhaps the right approach for the Commonwealth is to insist that all the indicators that are violations of the Harare Declaration are absent when Zimbabwe re-joins the Commonwealth.The Commonwealth had such an important role in bringing about independence for Zimbabwe, and, if this is now a “new independence” (as the President suggests), then let the Commonwealth ensure that this “new” Zimbabwe be totally compliant with the Harare Declaration.

Demand the whole package and not merely an election that might cure the coup.

Mandaza and Reeler are the co-convenors of the Platform for Concerned Citizens.

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