MDC pull-out has wider implications

2008-06-25 00:00

A furious word-war has erupted over the pull-out of the MDC from the presidential run-off in Zimbabwe. Only time will tell whether Morgan Tsvangirai made the right decision and when he will judge it opportune to return to the hustings. It cannot have been an easy decision.

It has been observed in his favour that putting the lives of his supporters first can be seen as a noble choice, and the fact that time, the economy and the tide of history seem to be on his side, was certainly part of the political calculus.

In putting the ball back into Mugabe’s court, he has simultaneously put it into the courts of the Southern African Development Community (Sadc), the African Union (AU) and the United Nations (UN) and very effectively internationalised the issue of the Zanu-PF electoral mayhem and murder.

And in making such a move Tsvangirai and his party may also have done us all in Southern Africa, and perhaps in the whole continent, a great and lasting favour. For what Sadc, the AU and the international community have been effectively saying to the MDC is: “Gentlemen, this is Africa; make do with the situation and please just get on with this African-style election.”

By pulling out the MDC has clearly replied that this “African election” is not good enough. It is implicitly challenging the world, but in particular

SADC and Thabo Mbeki, and demanding to know why a third-rate standard of democracy for Africa should be tolerated at all.

As one commentator put it, it is unthinkable that Barak Obama would be arrested several times in the upcoming contest with John McCain, so why is it thinkable and indeed even thought normal in Africa? SADC leaders know that the answer is that it is tolerated and thought normal because they have allowed it to be thought normal by tolerating it for their own domestic political purposes.

Mbeki has consistently tried to thwart an MDC victory in Zimbabwe because such a victory would demonstrate that it might be possible for a ruling liberation movement such as the African National Congress (ANC) to be removed from power by an alliance of labour and business.

In countries such as Angola, elections would not be the first choice for the ruling party but they would, under duress, settle for “African elections”. However, Peter Fabricius has pointed out that the recent regional change in tack on the Zimbabwe crisis, even in Angola and Swaziland, suggests that these countries are now in the business of polishing up their democratic images, and let’s face it, they need some polishing.

There seems, then, to be a sea-change taking place with regard to democracy in our region. Politicians are being pushed, in some cases kicking and screaming, into accepting a higher standard of practice when it comes to elections and parliamentary democracy and even the dread notion that ruling parties with full struggle credentials can lose elections.

After all, the argument is hard to gainsay: why on Earth should Africa, whose leaders proclaim loudly that they want the best for their countries in terms of prosperity, peace and human rights, accept anything less than the best practice when it comes to elections?

Hopefully, we will look back to this refusal by the MDC to play the victim in this blood-soaked sham, as a turning point, when Africa and her people said that henceforth there would be no more elections characterised by rigging, intimidation and calls for governments of national unity when the ruling party loses.

No more “African elections”.

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