Friday, April 10, 2020

The SADC tea party heads for Zambia!

Fittingly, they call the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Summit ‘ordinary.’
Ordinary, indeed, were it not for the expenses involved to soothe bruised egos and to fill the tummies of under-performers.

African Heads of State love forming organizations and holding ‘summits’ in different countries: true tourists who have the tab picked up by someone else. They love these talk shops where nothing happens.

SADC should have been called ‘A.T. & T’ (Always Talking and Talking).

After Levy Mwanawasa’s analogy of Zimbabwe to the Titanic, I became hopeful that African leaders had started seeing the need to be honest with each other.

But, with hardly 10 days before the carnival started in Lusaka, I read, “Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa has dispatched a special envoy to Harare to repair relations with Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe…”

Zambia hosts the regional circus, dubbed ‘the 27th Ordinary SADC Summit of Heads of State and Government’ from the 10th to the 18th August. I am holding my breath that Mwanawasa does not retreat. I am hoping he continues with his crusade against Mugabe, mild as it may be, and, at last, allow us to actually count the number of teeth SADC has.

“To repair relations” sounds very ominous to me.

SADC, the African Union (AU) and countless other African groupings always brew highly commendable suggestions. They put forward attractive suggestions and always urge Africans to practice democracy and uphold human rights. During their talk-shops, they come up with a united front and show a great deal of prima facie caring. They are so very able to act as if Africans are no different from anyone when it comes to unity, democracy and good governance.

Unfortunately, during tea-breaks, some of them get on the phone to their deputies back home and demand the arrest of political opponents or judges and order the brutal putting down of any demonstrations that demand democracy and the repeal of oppressive laws.

Two days before the Summit, Malawi’s Bingu wa Mutharika sent his police to spring a raid and ransack the home of a judge because the judge had ruled against the government.

And a few days before the summit, SA President Thabo Mbeki shamelessly undermined his host’s efforts on Zimbabwe by circulating ‘a confidential report’ saying he is making progress in the Zimbabwe mediation talks. We all know this is utter nonsense; it is a ploy to force other presidents not to discuss Zimbabwe but to “give the talks a chance.”

These are the ‘Heads of State and Government’ who are sitting down and deliberating on the fortunes of the region and mapping its economic way forward and who ‘enforce’ accountability, democracy and good governance here.

At such gatherings, Africa has always provided SADC and the AU with good opportunities to prove that indeed African leaders have come of age. But as soon as they sign the protocols and leave the conference tables, they flout the set of rules, which they themselves had just suggested and signed and undermine their own efforts.

Is someone going to talk about the rule of law? Is anyone going to complain that Mutharika, Mugabe, Mswati and others’ behaviors are tarnishing the image of SADC? If not, why not?

Mbeki has been hovering over the Zimbabwean crisis for years and was at one time accused of making it impossible for Zimbabweans themselves to settle their problems.
Was it not these same leaders who gave Mbeki the assignment?

The prevailing situation in Zimbabwe provides African leaders, especially Mbeki, with an opportunity to show that they are real leaders with a purpose and who can take Africa away from its rotten past and misrule. There is also the situation in Sudan, Lesotho and DR Congo yet African leaders talk more and do less.

African leaders form many organizations to serve them and many of them are duplications of the others. NEPAD, ECOWAS, ECCAS, PTA, WAEMU, SEMAC, IGAD, SADC, COMESA, East African Community, etc. They were all formed to serve Africa but the participants, along with their presidents, wait for donated air tickets to enable them to attend these numerous meetings where they announce that they can’t do anything about particular problems because they have no funds.
The AU itself is a pathetic creation which is totally unable to sustain itself. The AU is not leading Africa but is itself being led by people, organizations, and situations outside Africa. Look how it failed Darfurians of Sudan! Like the countries that formed it, it squats there with a begging bowl hoping someone will drop a few coins for “its operations.” And yet most African presidents are richer than the donor organisations who give them the money. (Remember reports that the nation of Zaire – now DR Congo – once ‘borrowed’ money from its president, Mobutu Sese Seko?).

Because of SADC, Zimbabwe is caught in a very sorry and confusing situation.

For example, SADC put out minimum requirements to be followed by its member states when holding elections. They all approved and signed the recommendations, dubbed ‘The SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections’.
And last time Zimbabwe held presidential elections, it met only one of those 10 requirements: that of holding regular elections at intervals as stipulated in the constitution. When the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) hinted at not contesting, it was SADC that put pressure on it to contest, defeating their own pronunciations agreed upon at a ‘summit’ in Mauritius. This resulted in a split in the MDC.

Now, elections are coming Zimbabwe’s way again and the playing field is still not level. Neither Mbeki, who is chairing negotiations between the Zimbabwe government and the opposition, nor SADC, which supposedly ‘gave’ Mbeki the ‘mandate’ to do so, care to pressurize Mugabe about meeting SADC’s own election guidelines.

If the MDC, once again, participates in these silly elections and offer Mugabe an opportunity to steal yet another election, to whom will the MDC or the people of Zimbabwe run to complain about rigged elections? Won’t SADC tell the MDC that they should not have participated since the set up was such that free and fair elections could not be held successfully? This is how SADC leads the region.
It is my hope that SADC leaders wake up and show not only the rest of Africa but the world that they are leaders worth their positions. They represent more than their individual countries and there is no reason why we should lag behind in democracy and good governance when we have such a rich and diverse historical and intellectual background.

Every time we look at the past, we are talking about the future. And SADC must try to learn from its dismal impotence, failure and lack of purpose. I plead with our SADC leaders to please break with the past and be more responsible to the people. I urge them to look at how their countries and peoples have been good to them. They should just introspect for a while, and see how their roles are reflected on the wide-screen of history.

Our leaders attained their positions through different means and circumstances but they all have one thing in common: the obligation to serve their nations well.

SADC itself and the SADC leaders are not at all definitely sure of themselves. Leaders make decisions based on how another leader would react should they take certain positions. ‘Collective responsibility’ is not commendable. It kills debate and opinions.

Citizens of the region too are unsure about SADC and view it as a largely ineffective organ because of its inconsistency and inability to take and implement proper positions on important matters and for its failure to follow its own rules.
Leadership is not about making friends but guiding the nation.

Like in many countries of Africa, life in Zimbabwe is a struggle to survive on a day-to-day basis. Like almost everywhere in Africa, there is danger, hunger and violence. Desperately, we put our faith and hope in these men who are meeting in Lusaka and expect from them a show of concern and love for the motherland. It is our hope that the old mentality of long dead rulers, who failed and brutalized their nations, is only history that stands no chance of being resuscitated by our current leaders.

There is no time to reminisce simply because there is nothing in our combined past to get nostalgic over.

Africa and SADC are counting on those gathered in Lusaka to show us that they care about our countries as much as we, the so-called ‘ordinary people’, do.

And SADC leaders should redeem themselves by imposing punitive sanctions on Mugabe. Or, maybe, they should just stay home instead of continuously embarrassing us and the continent.

*Tanonoka Joseph Whande is a Botswana-based Zimbabwean writer.