Shifting Western positions on Mugabe election!

mugabe in thotThe Observatory

PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe has been sworn-in, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the African Union (AU) have unanimously endorsed his new five-year term.

President Mugabe has used the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) general assembly meeting in Victoria Falls to further reinforce his legitimacy — as President of Zimbabwe.
What does this all mean for the Western countries? Where do they stand and has President Mugabe walked away with a victory past them?

The Western countries’ response to President Mugabe’s re-election can be considered in three categories.
The first is of those countries that have clearly rejected the outcome of this election and are insisting on a re-run of the elections — something more of a wish with less chances of seeing the light of day.
Australia finds itself in this audacious category. The Australians have indicated they will maintain the sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe until and unless there is a re-run of the elections.

The second group is of countries that have come out strongly and want to maintain sanctions on the country as they are also not convinced that the elections were “free and fair”.
This second group, unlike the Australians, has however, not asked that there be a re-run of the elections. They have simply proffered to keep the sanctions regime but without any clarity on how they propose the election question be addressed.

The United States is in this apathetic group. In fact, the US position is self-conflicting. Their latest statement says that they will maintain the sanctions because they do not perceive the elections to have reflected the wish of the Zimbabwe people.
In short, they are saying President Mugabe’s election is illegitimate. However, within the same statement, they go on to say that sanctions will be maintained and there is a possibility that they may be reviewed depending on how President Mugabe’s new administration behaves.
So, on one hand they are de-legitimising President Mugabe’s election but on the other hand they are going to evaluate his government’s approach in order to consider the lifting of sanctions.
This is typical multiple messaging. There is either an intentional lack of clarity or there is just no principled stance by the Americans — more like they are just “going-through-the-motions”, and desperate for a way out of this maze.

If the US feels President Mugabe’s re-election is illegitimate, then they may just simply need to make this statement and then build all their responses around that hypothesis. They must not make insinuations of illegitimacy and then also indicate that they will evaluate the nature and behaviour of that illegitimacy to see if it warrants a lifting of sanctions.
The third group is made up of the European Union (EU) states, including the British.

Although the EU has contested the elections — both process and outcome — of late they have become a bit more tolerant.  This is given their latest statement made by their foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton.
Her statements begin by congratulating the people of Zimbabwe on a peaceful election. The statement then goes on to “take note” of the Constitutional Court ruling, which substantiated President Mugabe’s election, after the MDC-T’s objections.

It also upholds the role played by SADC and the AU in the Zimbabwe elections and further indicates that the EU shares the concerns of irregularities as highlighted by the two African institutions.
The EU goes on further to “take note” of the recently concluded SADC summit held in Malawi; which among a whole lot of other things endorsed President Mugabe’s election.

The EU statement also says that the bloc looks forward to the final reports of the SADC and AU election observation missions. In conclusion the statement notes the EU’s desire to continue to support further reforms in Zimbabwe and also goes on to say, “our goal is to support the Zimbabwean people in achieving a more prosperous and democratic Zimbabwe, as a sure foundation for the full normalisation of relations between Zimbabwe and the EU”.

The EU position seems to be glaringly different from what we have seen with the first two groups I mentioned. The EU is being diplomatic but their intentions seem to be in the open.
This is a bloc that is working out diplomatic channels in preparation for re-engagement. One can sense the appetite by the EU to climb down from the last 10 years of disengagement and tension-stained relationship with Zimbabwe.

There are strong indications of either weariness with the Zimbabwean case or a genuine need to explore other less confrontational mechanisms of influencing positive change in Zimbabwean politics.
The statement, for all intents and purposes, sounds conciliatory and lays a platform upon which future EU-Zimbabwe relations can be constructed.

The EU is also appeasing the African institutions, the AU and SADC, by not disparaging the positions they have taken but seemingly rendering encouragement and support for them to move a step further.
I have also noted that, at his inauguration ceremony, President Mugabe hit hard at the US and the British. Maybe those are his traditional targets but it was interesting how he did not mention the EU by name.
Maybe there is a consciousness on his part of the easing EU pressure, which he also needs to nurture.

Remember the EU has also provided about one billion euros since the formation of the government of national unity in humanitarian aid.
In 2014, the EU is also due to restore direct government-to-government aid which was suspended under Article 96 of the Cotonou Agreement with African and Caribbean countries.
The landscape of President Mugabe’s interaction with Western countries looks set to change in his new five year term. The positions being taken by Western countries on his re-election are either unsustainable or already indicative of a shift towards re-engagement.

I don’t think the Australians will find traction in maintaining sanctions as there will definitely be no election re-run.
The US position is inept in the wake of evolving African political dynamics and President Mugabe’s elevation into SADC leadership.

President Mugabe will make all effort to ensure any Western defiance of his re-election does not remain a bilateral issue but will inevitably elevate it to the regional multilateral level. That will complicate matters for Western countries, which under such circumstances may see more benefit in relaxing their positions rather than sacrifice to face an African and SADC sub-regional avalanche of ideology-engrained resistance.
The EU already looks to be on board, at least from reading their middle-ground position which seems ready to tumble towards re-engagement.

Given all these developments, has President Mugabe finally got a grip of the Western countries, right in a corner where he wants them to be? Could this be the gradual shift towards the restoration of President Mugabe-West relations?

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