Letting evil flourish

2008-04-16 00:00

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) faced its most critical credibility test at its summit on the Zimbabwe crisis over the weekend — and failed.

SADC’s call for a speedy announcement of the presidential election results and its appeal that should a run-off between Morgan Tsvangirai and Robert Mugabe be necessary, it should be conducted in “a secure environment”, were well-meaning, but hopelessly inadequate. The request is toothless. There is no hint of any penalty should Mugabe ignore it, as he surely will.

This is where the default lies. There is mounting evidence that the Mugabe regime is in the process of manipulating the electoral figures to steal both the presidential and parliamentary elections, in other words to retain political power through a de facto coup — and the SADC states are bound by their own founding treaty to try to prevent that.

Mugabe’s strategy of delaying the presidential count has been two-edged. It means that there have been enough leaks from the counting house to reveal what the real count was, and what strategies are being used to subvert it.

By noon on Sunday, March 30, 18 hours after the polls closed and with three-quarters of the count completed, police reports from the country’s 9 400 polling stations to the headquarters of the Joint Operational Command (the chiefs of the five powerful security services) indicated Tsvangirai was heading for a landslide victory with 58% of the vote at that stage to Mugabe’s 27% and 15% for Simba Makoni.

This triggered panic in the ruling Zanu-PF hierarchy, which summoned an emergency meeting of its Politburo. At a second meeting the next day it was decided to slow the count so as to massage the figures and allow for a run-off, at which massive security force deployments and intimidation could try to ensure a Mugabe victory.

The MDC, aware of this, promptly issued a statement claiming that Tsvangirai had won with a majority of 50,3%, a figure based on 90% of reports received from its own polling agents.

The MDC also called for a full audit of results, which took another three days and showed, according to further leaks, a final count of 54% for Tsvangirai.

At that point the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), under huge pressure from the security chiefs, froze the count, closed its command centre and moved to a secret venue where at Zanu-PF’s insistence a recount of 23 constituencies is now taking place with no opposition candidates, election officials or lawyers present.

The strategy seems obvious, and the SADC leaders must know this.

The key factor here is that the SADC Treaty establishing the organisation enjoins its 14 member states to defend the principles of democracy and ensure that free and fair elections are held. It also binds member states to align themselves with the principles set out in the Constitutive Act of the African Union (AU), whose Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance “prohibits, rejects and condemns any unconstitutional change of government”.

In other words, no coups.

Some may argue that there should be no interference in the affairs of a sovereign member state. That’s old fashioned. The Organisation of African Unity was reconstituted into the AU in 2002 to move away from that old passive doctrine that had tarnished the continent’s image by silently tolerating tyrants and military dictatorships. Article 4 of the AU’s

Constitutive Act proclaims the right of the organisation “to intervene in grave circumstances that include war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity, as well as a serious threat to legitimate order”.

Only last month the AU invoked this clause to intervene militarily in the Comores when the island of Anjuan refused to recognise the outcome of a national election.

Obviously any threat of military intervention in Zimbabwe is out of the question, if only because it would be logistically impractical. But what the SADC summit should have done was to couple its message to Mugabe with a warning that if its injunctions were not heeded, if the process of attempting to rig the elections and retain power unconstitutionally were to continue, the SADC member states would not recognise the legitimacy of the outcome.

They would not recognise the reappointed regime. Mugabe would find himself heading an illegitimate government unrecognised within its own region.

Such a warning, I believe, would have given him pause. It may well have been sufficient to prevent what now looks like a certain drift to a de facto coup.

Indeed, had SADC issued such an advance warning last year, when it appointed President Thabo Mbeki as its official negotiator — as this column suggested at the time — we may well have seen a much cleaner election campaign yielding a more conclusive result.

As it is, by my count eight of the 10 principles for conducting democratic elections set out in the SADC Treaty were violated.

Of course Mugabe may have ignored all such warnings and treated SADC with the same contempt he has shown Mbeki. But at least SADC would have emerged with some credibility, and the rest of Africa with it. The international community would have seen that there had been an effort to give substance to the fine words in the founding charters of these institutions of the hoped-for African Renaissance and that they are not just empty vessels floating on a cushion of hot air.

It might even have had a meaningful impact within Zimbabwe, where there are signs of cracks appearing in the Zanu-PF hierarchy and within the powerful Joint Operational Command, which comprises the security chiefs who have committed untold crimes against humanity and who are so fearful of the demise of their protector that they are prepared to commit more to keep him in State House.

As it is the whole world can see what is happening, and Africa’s image is in danger of returning to the derisory label of “the hopeless continent”.

Mbeki’s performance as SADC’s point man in this sad saga has not helped. His fatuous statement that “there is no crisis” in Zimbabwe, even as beatings, torture and intimidation of opposition supporters were taking place all around him as he stood on Zimbabwean soil, marked a new low.

More revealing still was a statement he made in London last week. “I must say that we have been very pleased with the manner in which the elections have gone,” Mbeki said. “For the first time the opposition parties had access to everywhere in the country.”

There is a damning admission in that. Implicit in Mbeki’s statement that this was the first time opposition parties had been able to campaign freely was an acknowledgment that he knew they had not been able to do so in the 2002 and 2005 Zimbabwean elections. Yet the ANC, the South African government and SADC observer missions, and Mbeki himself, all proclaimed those elections free and fair.

That tells you all you need to know about the craven inability to confront Mugabe, despite his wanton destruction of his country and his discrediting of the whole of Africa.

Which calls to mind the warning of political philosopher Edmund Burke more than 200 years ago: “All that is required for evil to flourish is for good men to do nothing.”

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