Double Standards

2009-04-01 00:00

At the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) summit in Mbabane, Swaziland, on Monday, there was condemnation of the military takeover in Madagascar. The takeover that set in motion the decision to suspend Madagascar from Sadc pending early elections was denounced by Swaziland’s King Mswati III as “unconstitutional” and violating “basic principles, protocols and treaties”.

At first sight this is a refreshingly tough approach for the usually hesitant Sadc to take towards a member state. Should there be rejoicing? Yes, but only partly, for the organisation’s approach to Zimbabwe is as hesitant as ever. Robert Mugabe, responsible for destroying that country’s economy and beggaring its people, for using every possible dirty tactic to fix elections, for abusing the rule of law, and, in short, for flouting every democratic principle, was welcomed to the meeting. Far from denouncing the series of events that has brought Zimbabwe to this state, far from refusing to accept dealings with the chief architect of the mess, South Africa is offering its neighbour a line of credit, while other less financially secure member states have agreed to seek donor help to rebuild the country’s economy. The consensus in Sadc seems to be, also, that Western states should be urged to remove sanctions against Zimbabwe.

So why the double standards? Why is Sadc on one hand harshly condemnatory of Madagascar, and on the other indulgent towards Zimbabwe? Could it be that most Sadc members feel little connection to the island state, separated geographically, historically, culturally and in many other ways from continental Africa? Does that make it seem easy —and safe — for them to take a hard line?

And does the close relationship many leaders have with Mugabe make it difficult or impossible for them to look at him honestly or to muster the strength and the courage to deal with him appropriately? Until Sadc is able to fulfil its monitoring role towards all member states equally and with total impartiality, it must continue to lose the respect of thinking people in both Africa and the wider world.

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