Africa is not one country…yet

Southern Africa has been patiently waiting for its Egypt moment ever since the North African uprisings erupted, first in Tunisia and then spreading, like wild fire, across the Arab world.

SADC have a rare opportunity to make a clean break in Malawi, Zimbabwe and Swaziland.
SADC have a rare opportunity to make a clean break in Malawi, Zimbabwe and Swaziland.

It has been a rather impatient wait in Southern Africa, however. Meanwhile, the obvious question is being asked: why can’t Zimbabwe beget a Tunisia or an Egypt? It seems the right question to ask. One can sense the growing fatigue around the Zimbabwe crisis.

At press conferences, workshops, retreats, meetings and any other occasion where the Zimbabwe question arises, the same thing seems to be discussed over and over again.

Why can’t Zimbabweans just take matters into their own hands and demand the change they desire instead of hosting the vast amount of pity parties as they do in Johannesburg, Washington, Luton, Toronto, London all over the world pretty much?

In South Africa, for example, the xenophobic violence that broke out in May 2008 may have had that undercurrent; do something tangible about your circumstances back home and you will not have to steal our resources here. It is something that has refused to die despite assurances from authorities.

During that time of the xenophobic violence, Zimbabwe was looking ahead to a run-off election after the tension-filled March 2008 election had failed to thrust a clear winner forward. And then the Movement for Democratic Change’s larger faction’s leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, pulled out of the race citing personal security and increased violent behaviour from his rival, President Robert Mugabe.

A different outcome

Notwithstanding the latter, the criticism for Tsvangirai’s decision to pull out was brutally honest but also quite harsh. Had Tsvangirai accurately read the masses’ mood and not pulled out of the June 2008 election run-off, the critics thundered, things could have turned out differently for Zimbabwe.

After all, he had already won the March poll, albeit without a sufficient majority. All that was needed then was to mobilise sufficient votes to become the clear winner in the run-off.

Admittedly, the chances of a democratic transfer of power occurring after that were slim, especially with the way the security sector led by service chiefs was behaving at that time – and still behaves to this day! But at least he would have had some sort of legitimacy, like Alassane Quattara in Ivory Coast, something to work with and to use in demanding thorough and more decisive action in Zimbabwe.

To be fair, the strategy of pulling out from the election was designed to make Zimbabwe ungovernable. In retrospect and upon reflection from the Arab experience, it is clear that only people power alone is sufficient to make a country ungovernable.

However, the climax of Zimbabwe crisis in December 2008 is what brought to being the Government of National Unity (GNU), a last ditch attempt at saving a collapsing country using the MDC’s contacts and influence.

False sense of unity

But the problem with negotiated outcomes such as GNUs is that they create a false sense of unity in deeply polarised societies made up of a profoundly wounded – physically, emotionally and psychologically – people. Their true nature is that they are fierce power contests whose aim is for the parties involved to make repeated attempts at swallowing each other in a bid to obtain influential control and authority of government.

There is absolutely no unity whatsoever embedded in them. Hence, this explains the slow pace of targeted reforms across spectra of critical issues that need to be addressed before another election is even considered.

And then there was a country called Malawi which, on July 20, woke up to angry protests about fuel, forex, electricity and water shortages, high unemployment rates, escalating cost of living, increasing intolerance and blatant tribalism led by the head of state, president Bingu wa Mutharika.

A huge turn-out by the masses in the streets of Lilongwe (capital), Blantyre (commercial capital) and Mzuzu unsettled a regime which, as all this was going on, was arrogantly lecturing Malawians on what they were experiencing.

Finally, North had finally met South. Or so we thought. It is not yet clear whether there was a directive from the presidency or not, but not too long into the mass protests, a trigger- happy police force began to fire live rounds at the protestors. 19 people were killed. The police claimed it had shot people engaged in criminal activity.

A number of civil society leaders and journalists were either harassed or arrested. And there was nobody on the streets the following day! But Mutharika has been given until August 16 to respond to a petition issued to his office for his action in solving current crises besetting Malawi. If he does not respond satisfactorily then he’ll find Malawians out on the streets again on August 17.

Nothing to celebrate

Ironically, SADC is expected to be meeting in Luanda, Angola around that time and celebrating its 19th anniversary, if there is anything to celebrate at all. But yet again, hopes will be pinned on the body to act more decisively in insisting on the impartial enforcement of a roadmap to Zimbabwe’s next elections, the crisis in Swaziland and emerging challenges in Malawi, this on top of several issues outstanding already.

Quite critically, therefore, SADC needs to realise that its repeated failures in failing to solves problems in member countries will result – as we write elsewhere in this briefing – in the exportation of certain crises into the rest of the region.

It is also an opportunity for SADC to prove that it is not a remarkable failure as its counterpart, the Arab League, which has sunk it oblivion as numerous crises unfold in Libya and the rest of the Arab world. Perhaps regional civics also need to revise their strategies and match them with the specific needs of countries in need of them. As it stands – in SADC at least – solutions to both the Zimbabwe and Malawi crises will have to be different. – Levi Kabwato, Media & Communications Officer in the regional office

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Post published in: Africa News

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