By Charles Jackson
The huge gains made towards the attainment of democratic governance on the continent of Africa after years of military and despotic civilian rule, is now witnessing a reversal to the days of old.
A typical example is the situation unfolding on the Zimbabwe political landscape, where the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) and its leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, have withdrawn from the presidential run off, citing security concerns. The elections are scheduled for June 27.
In a strongly worded statement issued June 22, to announce his withdrawal, the opposition leader pinpointed key reasons for his action: the continuous widespread brutal attacks and arrests being carried out by the state security against him and his supporters; the deployment of Zanu PF militias and the war veterans to man checkpoints in the streets; the blocking of opposition rallies, among others.
The opposition leader Tsvangirai revealed statistics that are indeed worrisome. The leader said since the epoch of the “retributive agenda”, 200,000 people have been internally displaced, over 85 MDC supporters killed. Additionally, he said over 20,000 homes have been destroyed and over 10,000 injured and maimed.
“Given the totality of these circumstances, we believe that credible election, which reflects the will of the people, is impossible. We remain unreservedly committed to free and fail elections in the country, but the conditions prevailing as of today do not permit the holding of a credible poll,” the opposition leader noted in his statement.
The opposition announcement has cleared the way for President Robert Mugabe to continue his 28-year rule, despite mounting condemnation from even loyal African allies. Mugabe has ignored repeated calls to stop the attacks and allow a plain level playing field in the presidential run off.
The call mainly from individual African leaders seems to have fallen on deaf ears. One of them, Angolan President Eduardo dos Santos, a staunch Mugabe ally urged Mugabe to end “all acts of intimidation and violence,” Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa said that the runoff must be postponed. Mwanawasa, who currently holds the rotating chair of the Southern African Development Community and has long been among Mugabe’s most outspoken critics in the region, said Zimbabwe, had failed to meet minimum election standards.
Mwanawasa voiced frustration that he had been unable to reach South African President Thabo Mbeki, the region’s designated mediator in the Zimbabwe crisis, and criticized Mbeki for not sharing information. Mbeki is increasingly isolated both abroad at home for his appeasement of Mugabe and his refusal to flex South Africa‘s economic muscle against his neighbor.
In Tanzania, a parliamentary committee endorsed the government tough stance on Zimbabwe and denounced the state sponsored violence against the opposition MDC just a week before the election run off.
In the midst of these regrettable developments, opposition leader Tsvangirai appealed to the United Nations, the European Union and the Southern African regional bloc and the Africa Union to intervene.
Though the international community continues to condemn the political violence in Zimbabwe, no decisive effort is being made to remedy the situation. The African Union, (AU) a regional body clothed with the authority to intervene has remained largely insensitive and become a mere position issuing statement body.
The continental body should intervene now to save lives. Similar elections violence led to the civil conflict in Liberia in the 1990s where ECOWAS intervened. Africa cannot afford another slaughterhouse on the continent.
The AU did a perfect job when the organization invoked its Constitutive Act 4(h) to intervene to restore law and order in Anjouan early this year. It can be recalled that in March 2008, African Union forces including troops from Sudan, Tanzania, Senegal, with logistical support form Libyan, France and United States invaded the island of Anjoaun and toppled the rebel leadership Mohammed Bacar, who has been seeking independence from Comoros.
Mohamed Bacar seized control of Anjouan in a 2001 military coup. After his term expired in 2007, he held his own elections in which he declared himself the winner. This election was viewed as illegal by Comoros and the African Union.
Today, the island had held its first free and fair elections. The chairperson of the AU Commission Jean Ping, recently commended the international community and the AU, particularly the peace and security arms for the support in restoring peace and demoracy on the island.
Though the situation in Zimbabwe may be different from what happened in the Anjouan, the degree of violence in Zimbabwe points to more dangers ahead. If the situation is not brought under immediate control, there is possibility that the political turmoil could lead to a full-scale war. Infact, during one of his campaign rallies, Mugabe threatened to wage war if he loses the election.
In a few days time, exactly June 30, the AU will hold its annual summit in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. Though this year’s summit will be held on the theme, “Meeting the Millennium Development Goals on Water and Sanitation,” the situation in Zimbabwe should claim the attention of the Heads of State and Government during the summit.
The AU has the power to move swiftly to contain any looming catastrophe on the continent. Under its Constitutive Act 4 (h) and (m), the AU has the right to intervene in a member state pursuant to a decision of the Assembly in respect of grave circumstances, namely; war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity; the AU can also intervene in a situation where democratic principles, human rights and the rule of law and good governance are under siege like what is unfolding in Zimbabwe.
When the AU was transformed, the Heads of States and Governments gave the august body the teeth to bite unlike its predecessor OAU, whose hands were tied under the unpopular non interference in the internal affairs of sister countries clause. Most despot rulers relied heavily on this infamous clause and subjected their people to widespread human rights abuses. The AU should implement the Anjouan’s situation in Zimbabwe to save a dying nation.
Mugabe once hailed as a hero of African independent movement and lauded early in his rule for campaigning for racial reconciliation. But in recent years, he has been accused of ruining the economy and holding onto power through fraud and intimidation.
The people of Zimbabwe are going hungry in what was once the region’s breadbasket, with the world’s highest inflation rate putting staples out of reach.
Mugabe’s failed economic policies are widely linked to the collapse of the key agriculture sector after he embarked on violent seizures of farmland from whites. Contrary to his claim that the farm seizures were intended to benefit the poor blacks, many of the farms instead went to his loyalists, including the war veterans and militias. This is the time for the African Union to act and not to sit on the fence.
Charles Jackson is a former Knight Fellow, Stanford University, California. He is a researcher on African issues. Contact him at email@example.com