No support for Zuma

2010-11-30 00:00

LAST week, President Jacob Zuma and his team of mediators paid a special visit to Zimbabwe to help the parties to the Global Political Agreement of September 2008 resolve disagreements that have arisen over President Robert Mugabe’s unilateral appointments to key vacancies in the inclusive government that his Zanu-PF party co-leads with the two factions of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).

An enduring weakness of African multilateral diplomacy is the tendency to subject every major decision to the lowest common denominator. This tendency of broad consensus leaves very limited space for sufficient consensus among those willing and able to deal with problems at hand, such as in the situations in Zimbabwe, Madagascar and Sudan.

A week before Zuma’s trip to Zimbabwe, I was one of those who expressed shock at the cancellation of a meeting of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) troika comprising Zuma, President Armando Guebuza of Mozambique and President Rupiah Banda of Zambia, the troika chair. This meeting was planned to take place on the sidelines of the special summit of the regional organisation, SADC, which was convened to discuss the political situation in Madagascar (where a coup leader remains in power in spite of condemnation and isolation by SADC and the African Union [AU]), infrastructure development as the engine of developmental integration in southern Africa, and the processes of the economic integration.

The mini summit dedicated to receiving and processing a report by Zuma in his capacity as the SADC facilitator of the peace process in Zimbabwe did not take place, to my utter disgust, because the chair of the SADC troika, Banda, did not pitch up, ostensibly due to some pressing domestic affair. But Guebuza also failed to turn up for some other reason, leaving Zuma without the quorum needed to support him as the facilitator and the meeting was cancelled.

The troika thus sent an unfortunate signal to Zimbabwean political parties that the regional organisation is unconcerned about deepening fissures in the inclusive government and the impact that the rise in internal tensions will have on Zimbabwe’s reconciliation process. This also signalled the abandonment, at least for the moment, of the people of Zimbabwe when they needed the region to put more pressure on Mugabe’s Zanu-PF to desist from unilateral action as this undermines the very principle of political cohabitation and crafting an inclusive national agenda for economic rejuvenation and democratic transformation.

As is the custom in African diplomacy, Zuma did not speak publicly on the cancellation of the meeting. Privately, he would have been as dismayed and disappointed as I was at the dereliction of duty by the region’s top leaders. He may have even been angry at being left on his own to deal with the difficult Zimbabwe situation and that country’s octogenarian president who is best pressured by a collective rather than by individual presidents.

Zuma had earlier sent his team of facilitators to meet negotiators from all three parties in the Zimbabwean political settlement to find ways in which the simmering tensions could be arrested before they turn into violence on the ground. They would have come back with a good sense of where opportunities for amicable solutions lay and what issues would remain unresolved without the support of the troika. Zuma would have gone to Gaborone, Botswana, well armed with ideas of what he needed the troika to say and do in time for him to apply them when he visited Zimbabwe.

But as we now know, Zuma went to Zimbabwe without a specific statement of support from the troika when he needed it to avert the break-up of the inclusive government in Zimbabwe. It seems to me that, precisely for this reason, there are no prospects for major breakthroughs because troublemakers know that Zuma’s hand is weaker without the troika’s backing.

It is hard to see how Mugabe would be forced to reverse his unilateral appointment of regional governors, ambassadors and other key personnel. It is going to be very difficult for Zuma to convince Morgan Tsvangirai of the MDC to stop his court challenge of Mugabe’s appointments, which will precipitate a political meltdown in Zimbabwe. This underlines the need for change in African diplomacy towards a flexible mixture of broad and sufficient consensus as the basis of political interventions in troubled countries.

• Siphamandla Zondi is the executive director of the Institute for Global Dialogue, but writes in his personal capacity.

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