Wednesday, 25 January 2017
Opinion: Why nobody can oust Mugabe By CHRIS SAUNDERS and HENNING MELBER
President Robert Mugabe
The West African states effectively took a dictator to task after he refused to comply with the democratic will of the people to vacate office.
By using diplomacy in combination with the threat of military force they managed to convince former Gambian president Yahya Jammeh to surrender power and leave the country. This was after he was defeated in an election.
Why has the Southern African regional body been, in comparison, so ineffectual? Will it learn from Ecowas and become more interventionist?
Many countries in Southern Africa have not had free and fair elections; Zimbabwe is the most obvious example.
The SADC's credibility is at stake. At a time when the African Union is increasingly promoting legitimate governance, the question arises: how much longer can the SADC justify its inaction?
The Anglophone member states of Ecowas formed a military force, called the Ecowas Ceasefire Monitoring Group, in 1990. It has intervened in a number of civil wars and cases of instability in West Africa.
The SADC, on the other hand, has for years been attempting to organise a stand-by force which would fall under the stand-by force of the African Union.
It cannot be said that Southern Africa has not experienced the kind of civil wars that West Africa has had, and that there has, therefore, not been the need for such a force in the region.
Zimbabwe stands out as a case for intervention. In March 2002 Robert Mugabe's re-election as president was rigged and did not reflect the democratic will of the people. Then in March 2008 he lost presidential elections to his rival, Morgan Tsvangirai.
By all accounts Tsvangirai won the election, but Mugabe rigged the vote. A second round of voting was deemed necessary. But the ruling party's militia unleashed brutal state terror against the opposition and Tsvangirai pulled out of a second round to stop further loss of lives.
Instead of taking action against Mugabe, the SADC engaged in mediation. This led to a coalition government being formed.
Why did Ecowas act firmly against Jammeh while the SADC didn't against Mugabe? There are a number of reasons.
Zimbabwe is a much more important country in Southern Africa than The Gambia is in West Africa. Despite all his human rights abuses and repressive rule, Mugabe remains a widely respected liberation hero and is popular among large parts of the population in the sub-region and on the continent. He has been able to project himself as having not only liberated his country from colonialism but also as remaining steadfast against colonial influences. Above all, he managed to sell his land reforms as a necessary and just act of appropriating land from white farmers and giving it to blacks.
Another key factor is that the most influential SADC countries are led by liberation-era leaders who continue to regard Mugabe as one of their own.
Taking action against Mugabe would, therefore, always be controversial, and the consequences difficult to predict. In addition, Zimbabwe's army has remained loyal to Mugabe and is a force to be reckoned with. The SADC, therefore, played safe and did nothing effective.
Unfortunately, there seems little chance of the SADC following Ecowas's example and using the kind of intervention that led to Jammeh's ousting.
How long will it take before the SADC has the means and the will to remove rulers who have either been defeated in an election or who refuse to accept that their terms of office have come to an end? Will what has happened in The Gambia persuade the SADC to move towards more effective interventions to remove dictators and other illegitimate rulers?
It seems unlikely.