Sadc must use Ecowas way to tackle Mugabe

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\n HARARE – Following Ecowas’ sustained pressure that has forced Gambia’s former authoritarian leader Yahya Jammeh into exile in Equatorial Guinea after his crushing poll defeat, analysts and opposition parties said yesterday Sadc must abandon its cautious diplomatic approach and dissuade leaders such as President Robert Mugabe from subverting elections.

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\n This comes after Ecowas sent 7 000 troops into Gambia on Thursday, forcing Jammeh to relinquish power in the face of onslaught from West African States to recognise his election defeat to opposition coalition leader Adama Barrow, who was forced to hold his inauguration as president in Dakar, the capital of Senegal.

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\n Sadc throughout its history has steadfastly avoided criticism of veteran leader — Mugabe, 92, and in power for 36 years — and even conferred legitimacy on the nonagenarian by continuing to recognise him as head of State and by advocating the formation of a coalition government to ensure the extension of his occupancy of State House, even after opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai beat the Marxist leader in a March 29, 2008 election, but fell short of enough votes to avoid a June run-off.

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\n Rather than seeking to uphold the will of the people, Sadc leaders fell into line behind Mugabe — in effect positioning themselves in agreement with the view that there is a malevolent white racist conspiracy to oust Mugabe and re-colonise Zimbabwe, led by Britain and the US.

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\n Mugabe has adroitly capitalised on British denunciations of his policies to present himself as a victim of neo-colonial bullying.

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\n As Zimbabwe lurches into ever deeper trouble amid very real fears about vote-rigging and subversion of the electoral process in the forthcoming 2018 polls, analysts said yesterday it was time Sadc learns from Ecowas and abandon its softly-softly approach which has been criticised as ineffective and tantamount to appeasement.

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\n If the next Zimbabwe election is seriously flawed, it is imperative that the entire regional community responds immediately and all states refuse to recognise the results, analysts said.

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\n The crisis that erupted after the March 29, 2008 elections, when it became clear Mugabe was bent on defying evidence of his defeat at the polls by Tsvangirai, was an important moment for Sadc but betrayed the regional bloc’s impotence.

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\n “It is rather sad that the person who had the highest votes in the 2008 (Zimbabwe) election was forced to become a junior partner in a coalition government,” Gladys Hlatywayo, an analyst said.

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\n “In the case of Gambia, Ecowas was clear in terms of its objective; they were negotiating and putting pressure for Jammeh to go.

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\n “Sadc might have given us a breathing space given the enormous challenges the country was facing in 2008 but they did little to solve the crisis in a sustainable manner.

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\n “Eight years later, Zimbabwe still faces the same challenges.”

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\n Analysts said Sadc has provided substantive moral and political support for the Mugabe regime, which has encouraged it to behave with impunity.

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\n With the Zimbabwean economy in freefall; law and order in the country breaking down alarmingly; and with presidential elections due next year, Mugabe faces the real prospect of being defeated again at the polls by a coalition of opposition parties.

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\n But as checkmate day approaches for the 92-year-old leader, his administration is predictably going to ridiculous ends to stem the tide.

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\n Since Mugabe’s crushing defeat in the 2008 polls, he has committed to clawing back his authority through a number of strategies including the deployment of terror and the use of judicial intimidation against the opposition; widespread torture and intimidation attested to by both national and international human rights bodies and using threats by the state and sections of the paramilitary youth movement.

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\n He has also re-organised Zanu PF structures to ensure the promotion of a provincial leadership committed to a strategy of coercive mobilisation; constantly harassed the independent media, and imposed legislative interventions to consolidate the monopoly of the ruling party over the electronic media.

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\n Analyst Maxwell Saungweme said it was a good move that Ecowas was able to rein on a losing head of State who wanted to cling to power.

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\n “This is positive and refreshing. Though this succeeded in this case, it’s not a sustainable way of asserting people power.

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\n “Citizens of a country must be able to reclaim their vote if politicians intend to steal it. A citizen cannot depend on foreign forces to address internal issues.

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\n “I have heard people trying to draw parallels with Zimbabwe and Sadc. This approach worked in this one case and must not be expected to work everywhere.”

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\n MDC spokesperson Obert Gutu said Africa is moving away from the era of “Big Man politics” to the era of democracy centred on the people having the right to choose their leaders in free and fair elections.

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\n “Jammeh and Mugabe are basically cut from the same political cloth, both of them are rabid and diehard dictators,” Gutu said.

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\n “They are yesterday’s men. Such tyrants are now an anachronism on the African continent. If Sadc had properly and democratically intervened on the side of the people in Zimbabwe in March 2008, Mugabe would be history by now.

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\n “Unfortunately, Sadc was more concerned with protecting Mugabe’s political reign that they effectively aided and abetted the Zanu PF regime to trash the people’s will.

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\n “After losing the March 2008 presidential election by more than 74 percent to …Tsvangirai, Sadc should have put its foot down and called upon Mugabe to hand over power.

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\n “Right now, Zimbabwe is a political and socio-economic hellhole thanks to Sadc’s incompetence and indolence.”

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\n Opposition PDP spokesperson Jacob Mafume said Ecowas has put Sadc — which betrayed its mandate to promote respect for human rights and the rule of law, subverted the democratic processes and abandoned the people of Zimbabwe — to shame.

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\n “Ecowas has shown that it is a community for the people and not a community for the leaders,” Mafume said.

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\n “… Sadc seems to view democracy as a debatable notion only to be practised when it’s convenient. In other times, they pretend that regional security is by keeping ruling parties in power.

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\n “In 2008, had they taken a decisive and bold stance, then Zimbabwe would be a better place and the region would have benefitted as a whole. Sadc is led by leaders who are dwarfs in giant robes,” he said.

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\n New York-based Human Rights Watch senior researcher for southern Africa, Dewa Mavhinga, told the Daily News that generally Ecowas was more decisive and committed to its principles than Sadc, as the Jammeh case confirms.

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\n “Ecowas did not hound Jammeh out of office; it simply stood up to dictator and defended its values.

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\n “This is unlike Sadc which had strong principles for free and fair elections but is unwilling to defend them and was too cowardly to stand up and insist on those values in Zimbabwe in 2008,” Mavhinga said.

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\n Analyst McDonald Lewanika said Ecowas continues to be a breath of fresh air and encouraging sign for the respect of people’s will and democratic practice on the continent.

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\n “The lesson for other regional bodies like Sadc is clear, they must stop negotiating with power thieves and dictators when their people reject them or decide to go another route.

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\n “The will of the people is supposed to be sacrosanct and Sadc should be able to defend it and associated threats to life to the end,” he said.

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\n He said in Sadc, old loyalties and institutional cronyism takes precedence over democratic practice.

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\n Stephen Chan, a professor of world politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London told the Daily News there are no parallels of any decisive sort with Sadc.

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\n “The situation in The Gambia was one where the electoral commission declared a clear winner in an observed election, and where the president at first accepted the results — seemingly with good grace,” Chan said.

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\n “None of those conditions have pertained elsewhere. The Nigerians were particularly incensed about Jammeh’s change of mind, as the peaceful transition to (Muhammadu) Buhari in Nigeria depended on (former Nigeria President who served from 2010 to 2015) Goodluck Jonathan’s concession of defeat.

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\n “For a while, it seemed Jonathan was indecisive about this.”

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\n Chan said the other key player in case was Senegal, which surrounds The Gambia — itself a freak of colonial history where the people on both sides of the border share the same ethnicity, language and religion.

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\n “But Senegal is huge and The Gambia is tiny and in strategic military terms, being long and narrow, is indefensible in any military sense.

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\n “So, when 7 000 Senegalese soldiers in light armour crossed the border, the 2 500-strong Gambian army — which has never been tested anywhere — realised that all posturing was ridiculous and abandoned the president,” he said.

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