AU/SADC endorse coups, can they be trusted to monitor elections?

As Zimbabwe heads towards crucial harmonised elections in a few months time, one wonders if our regional bodies are competent enough to be monitors and observers, as they have, of late, tarnished their images by endorsing a recent military coup d'etat in this country.

The African Union (AU) and Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) ostensibly reject the unconstitutional removal of governments – whether by the military, armed militants, or civilians.

Nevertheless, these same organization shocked the world when they blatantly violated their own principles by not only endorsing, but also praising, the November 2017 military intervention – which took over all state institutions – in Zimbabwe, and resulted in the forced resignation of then president Robert Gabriel Mugabe.

Although, I have never been a fan of Mugabe, and was one of his loudest and staunchest critics – due to his brutal tyrannical rule, which was characterised by gross violation of human rights, skewed electoral landscape, and warped economic policies that destroyed the lives of millions of Zimbabweans – the respect for democratic values and the rule of law have always been on the top of my principles.

As such, no matter how tyrannical a leader is, I always believe that only democratic means, which are in conformity with the rule of law, should be used in changing the government.

Endorsing and praising the military removal of a government, no matter how unpopular, sets a very dangerous precedence that could ignite the unstoppable and unextinguisheable flames of coup d’etats throughout Africa – a continent that already has an unenviable history with this scourge.

Furthermore, if Zimbabwe’s military gets it into their heads that they can get away with coup d’etats, what is to stop them from removing the next democratically elected government?

In fact, if the ruling ZANU PF party is to lose the forthcoming elections, who is to say the military will not intervene again, in order to ‘preserve the legacy’ of the liberation struggle?

The AU and SADC have only themselves to blame if they have just set a ticking time-bomb in the Zimbabwean political landscape – introducing a system of coup d’etats that was alien to the region, and only associated with west Africa.

As both the AU and SADC have clear guidelines and principles on the conduct of democratic elections, how does this balance with the endorsing and praising of coup d’etats on the continent?

Coups are anything but democratic, and are the very opposite of democratic elections – thus, how can these two regional bodies subscribe to both?

Is that not a serious case of schizophrenia?

Can then, such schizophrenic organisations be trusted to monitor and observe the forthcoming harmonised elections in Zimbabwe – or any other country, for that matter?

How can the people of Africa, and the region, believe that organisations that have no problem with the unconstitutional removal of a government are capable of distinguishing between undemocratic and democratic elections?

Maybe, that explains and gives a clearer picture as to why these two bodies endorsed very contentious and controversial elections that have been held in Zimbabwe in 2000, 2002, 2008, and 2013.

Whilst, the rest of the civilised world viewed these elections as not credible, as characterised by atrocities – such as the murder, torture, abductions, illegal arrests and beating up of opposition supporters – as well as, oppressive laws that made the electoral playing field grossly biased in favor of the ruling party, the AU and SADC saw nothing wrong and declared them free and fair.

In fact, targeted sanctions were imposed on Zimbabwe by Western countries after the 2002 elections, as a consequence of these human rights abuses.

To add insult to injury, the 2008 elections resulted in the defeat of incumbent Mugabe to the late opposition’s Morgan Richard Tsvangirai – who was, however, alleged to have failed to secure the majority 50+1%, leading to a very violent election run-off – the most violent election in Zimbabwean history.

The very military that removed Mugabe in 2017, in a coup that the AU and SADC supported, was at the forefront of this brutality – ironically, to keep Mugabe in power, even if he had clearly lost an election.

Although, Tsvangirai subsequently withdrew from the run-off, due to the violence, Mugabe proceeded with a one-man election, resulting in a charade that both the AU and SADC did not find anything wrong with.

The resultant  negotiations between Mugabe and Tsvangirai, and the subsequent formation of a Government of National Unity (GNU) can never be attributable to the AU or SADC, as it was purely a Zimbabwean solution to a grave situation, which threatened to boil over.

If anything, the then South African president Thabo Mbeki said that there was no crisis in Zimbabwe, as he would have supported whatever action Mugabe decided to take – even if it meant the inhalation of the entire opposition.

As Zimbabwe faces another crucial election this year, the country’s electoral laws have not been aligned to the constitution – in gross violation of the very guidelines and principles on democratic elections that the AU and SADC claim to subscribe to.

These include, but not limited to, the provision to all political parties fair and equal access to electronic and print media, and the eradication of all forms of political violence and intimidation, which are still rampant in the country.

Yet, these two bodies have not questioned the failure of Zimbabwe to conform to these principles and guidelines.

In fact, the AU and SADC have had an unsettling and sickening appeasement policy towards the country – allowing the ruling junta to do as they please – even removing each other through the barrel of the gun – just waiting to jump into action, and acting as saviours, when the situation boils over.

I may even be wrong, because, when Mugabe was under house arrest and the military had taken over every government institution in November 2017, these bodies did not see any need for urgency, as they took their sweet time, even in calling for an emergency meeting.

That is the reason that the people of Zimbabwe ended up telling the AU and, especially, SADC to keep out of the country’s affairs – during the coup – as these bodies could no longer be trusted, since they had ignored Zimbabweans’ pleas for help against Mugabe’s tranny for years.

The people of Zimbabwe still do not trust the AU and SADC to be credible enough to monitor or observe the forthcoming harmonised elections – and other countries should also be wary of these organisations.

It is so disheartening that the only people we are forced by circumstances to turn to, and trust, are actually the last people we should be trusting – our erstwhile colonisers and their allies.

However, for whatever ulterior motives, these are the people who have, at least, been fair and have been bold enough to ensure that justice and human rights are respected in Zimbabwe, as well as that peaceful, free and fair elections are conducted.

They have been the only ones to stand up and take some form of action – be it, condemnation, and targeted sanctions – should these basic democratic values be violated.

Where are our brothers and sisters in all this, whilst we are being oppressed by our own, and we end up turning to the ones who once enslaved us?

Is the AU and SADC not ashamed?

What happened to the former spirit of liberation, human rights, democracy, and equal and fair suffrage to the people, which the forerunners to these bodies had – namely, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), and the Frontline States?

Were they not fighting for the ordinary people – not the leaders?

They have failed us, as they have watched us been battered, butchered, and brutalised in all manner, yet stood by whoever was in power, and not the people.

They do not know what democracy and democratic change is all about, as they can unashamedly support violent elections, and military coup d’etats – endorsing them without bating an eyelid.

Therefore, how can they continue observing or monitoring our elections?

We do not need the AU and SADC anymore!

° Tendai Ruben Mbofana is a social justice activist, writer, author, and speaker. He is the Programmes Director with the Zimbabwe Network for Social Justice (ZimJustice). Please call/WhatsApp: +263782283975, or email: [email protected]. Please also ‘Like’ the ‘ZimJustice’ page on Facebook.

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