SADC taught a lesson by West Africa over stolen elections

sadc_reWest Africa has dismissed unity government proposals, favoured by the Southern African Development Community (SADC), as a bad idea, demonstrating how the regional bloc should have handled Zimbabwes stolen election.

The West African bloc ECOWAS has officially recognised Alassane Ouattara as the Ivory Coasts president-elect, after a disputed poll with the countrys decade long leader Laurent Gbagbo. Gbagbo has defied international demands to step down and yield to Ouattara. He has instead been sworn in for a new term as Ivorian president with the backing of the military, even though the electoral commission said the winner was Ouattara.

ECOWAS acting President, Nigerian leader Goodluck Jonathan, has now warned against efforts to forge a deal between the rivals, as was done in Zimbabwe and Kenya in recent years. Weve seen that these governments of national unity … it doesnt really work. Elections have been declared, somebody has won, so he (Gbagbo) has to hand over, Jonathan said.

The Nigerian leader also announced that the Ivory Coast has been suspended from the regional bloc, in a move that critics hope will isolate Gbagbo and his grip on power. The stalemate in the Ivory Coast has raised tensions in the country, prompting the African Union (AU) to send former South African president Thabo Mbeki to mediate. Mbeki was the former mediator in Zimbabwes political crisis and in 2008 helped craft the coalition deal that formed the current unity government. That arrangement has been slammed as nothing more than a convenient political life-line for Robert Mugabe, who declared himself the winner of the farcical one-man run off poll that followed the 2008 disputed presidential vote.

MDC leader Morgan Tsvangirai, who now wields almost no power as Prime Minister in the unity pact, this week said a coalition government in the Ivory Coast would set a bad example to other African countries. Im sure that will be the solution again – have a coalition as a solution. They already have a template for it. It is called go through the back door and still retain the power that you lost through the mandate of the people, Tsvangirai told the Reuters news service in an interview.

The unfortunate thing is that we are seeing this repetition of people losing an election and want(ing) to come back to restore their power position through the back door. It is not different from Kenya, it is not different from Zimbabwe, now we have got Ivory Coast, he said. Mugabe on the other hand has sent a congratulatory message to Gbagbo.

ECOWAS position has been widely welcomed and supported, with commentators saying it is exactly how SADC should have dealt with Zimbabwes political stalemate. SADC has faced intense criticism for allowing Mugabe to remain in power, despite losing the elections in 2008 to Tsvangirai. Analysts have said this tacit support for Mugabe is a serious threat to the entire region, because of the open dismissal of the will of the people.

Zimbabwean political analyst Professor John Makumbe said on Wednesday that ECOWAS position is admirable, and demonstrates clearly that SADC is just a toothless bulldog. He said this contrast between how the two regional blocs deal with stolen elections should be a serious lesson to SADC. But he expressed concern than SADC does not have the capacity to learn.

If you look at the dictatorships in Southern Africa, you will see it is the DNA of former liberation movements not to give up power, no matter what, Makumbe said. The analyst added that he hoped the strong West African attitude will also develop at the AU.

I would like to see the AU adopt this attitude, and maybe someone can develop a code of conduct that ECOWAS, and most definitely SADC, has to abide by, Makumbe said. He added: We can only hope that some of ECOWAS success can rub off.

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