THE African Union (AU), which had appeared to have taken a backseat in Zimbabwe’s affairs soon after the signing of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) more than four years ago, has sprung into action, upstaging the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in shadowing the local elections.
The AU had been conspicuous by its silence since September 2008, when the continental body, along with SADC, brokered the power-sharing agreement, which only came into effect four months after it had been signed in the wake of the inconclusive polls held in the same year.
Since then, the AU had been removed from the Zimbabwe crisis, relying on SADC to keep the situation in check, a role the 15-member regional bloc has been executing through Jacob Zuma, the South African President, and his facilitation team.AU’s silence, even as the GPA partners were tearing each other apart to the point of threatening to pull out or collapse the coalition altogether had led critics into questioning its commitment to the resolution of the Zimbabwe crisis.
But after the Constitutional Court ruled in June that the country should go for elections by no later than July 31, the AU came out of the woodworks and has, since then, been asserting itself more and more although political opinion has been divided over its impartiality.
First, it was the African Commission chairperson, Nkosazana Dhlamini-Zuma, who broke her silence on Zimbabwe, saying the AU would respect the court’s decisions.
“The courts have said the elections must take place. And so do we listen to the courts? Or do we not listen to the courts? I thought a lot of you have always been talking to us about the rule of law and respect for the judiciary,” she was quoted saying last month.
“So I don’t know. The Zimbabweans must sort it out, whether they listen to the judiciary and go with what the judiciary has said, or whether they ignore it.”
Her statement was sweet music to ZANU-PF’s ear. The party had been desperate to win external support for its election push. But it did the exact opposite for ZANU-PF’s arch-rivals who were still hopeful at the time that SADC would succeed in pushing for reforms in Zimbabwe before the make-or-break elections.
For the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) formations, Dhlamini Zuma’s statement was at variance with the position taken by SADC, which had advised the GPA partners to seek a two-week extension of the polls at the Constitutional Court to allow for more reforms.
In fact, in light of the Constitutional Court ruling President Mugabe had proceeded to proclaim the election date without consulting his partners in the inclusive government, resulting in tampers flaring up over his unilateralism.
A half-hearted court application by Justice Minister Patrick Chinamasa to comply with SADC’s advice proffered at its June 15 summit held in Maputo, Mozambique was, however, dismissed — effectively setting the country on course for the elections.
Now the AU has stirred another hornet’s nest after Dhlamini-Zuma said the continental body was satisfied with Zimbabwe’s preparations for the elections.
“Those who came earlier said all was well and as of now everything is proceeding well. Nothing gives us any cause for concern,” she said.
This has riled the MDC-T led by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai which has raised allegations of electoral fraud and the possibility of violence among other contentious issues.
With the SADC facilitation team now silenced following the censure of the South African facilitation team’s spokesperson, Lindiwe Zulu, after President Mugabe had protested to Zuma over what he said was her usurping of the facilitator’s role, the regional body has become overshadowed by the AU.
Tsvangirai is peeved by the AU, particularly Dhlamini-Zuma, whom he says is biased in favour of President Mugabe’s party.
The MDC-T leader argues that his views were ignored by Dhlamini-Zuma who went on to claim that none of the GPA parties had raised allegations of vote rigging when she met them last week.
Sindiso Moyo, a political commentator based in South Africa, said Zulu had been a thorn in the flesh for both President Mugabe and ZANU-PF and that had created diplomatic tensions with the southern neighbour.
“The bigger brother AU had to act to avoid a standoff between Harare and Pretoria….definitely SADC has taken a backseat at the moment,” said Moyo.
Khanyile Mlotshwa, another political commentator, said it was still early days to conclude that SADC had taken the backbench.
“SADC observers have been in Zimbabwe for some time now and I am sure they file reports daily and SADC is closely following events. President Mugabe’s rapping of Zulu was just a sign of what comes with megaphone diplomacy. SADC learnt a tough lesson there. However, I don’t think it had much of an effect,” said Mlotshwa.
Rashweat Mukundu, chairperson of the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute, said the regional bloc had taken a wait and see approach and had not necessarily been overrun by the AU ahead of the election.
“SADC is playing a wait and see game, more so giving ZANU-PF a long rope to hang itself. SADC election conditions remain, but are also couched in encouraging language, hoping that ZANU-PF takes heed. SADC’s mandate was from Shamal Sheik AU summit and the AU is keen to demonstrate that it is engaged on Zimbabwe.
I am in no doubt that the AU is synchronising its actions with SADC and the verdict on the Zimbabwe will likely be read from the same page,” said Mukundu.
With SADC and the AU now behind the poll preparations thus far, ZANU-PF’s rivals now have nowhere to run to.
What it means is that unless something dramatic happens to discredit the poll outcome, which is unlikely, SADC and the AU are likely to accept the result as a true reflection of the people’s will and may not brook any rejection of the poll outcome from any quarter.
This will put the spotlight on the international community, which will either accept the poll outcome or continue with its isolation of Zimbabwe.
Analysts say fatigue has set into the international community because of the long-drawn Zimbabwean crisis to the extent that MDC-T’s former backers were now concerned more about achieving stability in Harare than who would eventually win the elections.
As such, indications are that the international community could go along with the opinion of SADC and the AU.
In May, the European Union (EU), which imposed sanctions on the country in 2002 said it will work with a Zimbabwe government chosen by the people through free and credible elections.
EU managing director for Africa, Nicholas Westcott, said they will respect the will of the people of Zimbabwe, since the people’s choice should be given priority over petty interests.
The United States, which also imposed sanctions on the country, has echoed similar sentiments.
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