Mugabe ill-prepared for SADC chair, say analysts

President Robert Mugabe already has too much on his hands to have time for Southern African issues, according to some political analysts in the region.

Robert Mugabe has troubles at home, so will he have time to sort out the SADC too?
Robert Mugabe has troubles at home, so will he have time to sort out the SADC too?

Mugabe, already under immense pressure at home, assumed the chair of the regional Southern African Development Community (SADC) block last month and will hold the position until August 2015.

However, political analysts point to a huge democratic deficit for the region under Zimbabwe’s iron-fisted ruler, who has used state security forces to crush dissent at home.

The pressure that Mugabe (90) is already reeling under at home cannot be over-emphasised, they say. With a failing economy that has maintained its meltdown since he controversially won a landslide victory in 2013, factionalism within his Zanu (PF) party, failing health and old age are all negatives that he has to contend with before he can shift focus onto the region.

“Zanu (PF) has a conference in December and power struggles bordering on the succession issue have reached fever pitch,” said South Africa-based political analyst Philan Zamchiya.

To remain in charge of Zanu (PF), Mugabe has to remain active on the political chessboard, where he is still busy manipulating the two factions in his party – one led by his deputy, Joice Mujuru, and another led by Justice Minister, Emmerson Mnangagwa. The two factions have of late thrown caution to the wind and begun to have a public go at each other using state-controlled media. Mugabe’s pleas for calm have fallen on deaf ears. Several politburo meetings have failed to rein in the fighters.

“Some people believe that Mugabe does not want to complete his term of office, but that is far from the truth. The old man is fighting to be nominated the party’s sole candidate for the 2018 presidential elections,” added Zamchiya.

“Mugabe wants to buy time for a transition that will leave power still in the hands of his family and that is why we have seen him prop up his wife Grace for top positions within the party.”

Grace Mugabe was recently nominated to head the Zanu (PF) Women’s Assembly and also to become a member of the party’s supreme decision-making body – the politburo. Her endorsement for each of those posts is set for the party’s December congress.

“The SADC should be getting involved in ensuring a smooth transition of power within Zanu (PF) because, unlike the past where it has been the opposition that has fallen victim, the factionalism in Zanu (PF) could soon deteriorate into gunmen versus gunmen, with each faction backed by the military,” said Zamchiya.

Dewa Mavhinga, chair of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, criticised the SADC for appointing Mugabe, considering Zimbabwe’s questionable human rights record.

“Choosing Mugabe as chair shows that the SADC has not yet come of age in demonstrating sincerity and respect for its set standards on democracy, respect for human rights and regard for the rule of law,” said Mavhinga.

“The SADC early warning systems should have picked up a looming crisis in Zimbabwe and within Mugabe’s Zanu (PF) party, which is set to deteriorate and cause a security crisis for the region. Zimbabwe still needs close monitoring by the SADC.”

As well as the fights within his party, Mugabe has a failing economy to deal with, after his most recent trip to China saw him come home with just a number of memoranda of understanding and no notable deal in place.

“The Zimbabwean economy is still on its knees and that creates another problem for Mugabe, who has to do something fast to resuscitate it,” added Mavhinga.

Under pressure to ensure human rights improvements across the region, especially in those countries with an unflattering rights record such as Angola, Lesotho, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe, Mugabe will fall low and resort to the same use of force he has used at home, said the analysts.

“Mugabe likes a military intervention, as we saw previously when Zimbabwe sent soldiers to the Democratic Republic of Congo, and that will impact negatively on any peaceful solution to safeguard human rights,” said Zamchiya.

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