AFTER its decade-long involvement in Zimbabwe’s protracted political crisis, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) gave the thumbs up to President Robert Mugabe’s victory in the July 31 elections at its Lilongwe, Malawi summit held over the weekend.
The development has left the West in a fix over how to proceed in its dealings with a new government that will be led by President Mugabe.
In the past, the West has imposed sanctions on the ruling elite in ZANU-PF as punishment for what they called human rights excesses.
But ZANU-PF has been like the proverbial cat with nine lives after the sanctions failed to break its back.
The formation of the government of national unity (GNU) in February 2009 with arch-rival, outgoing Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, became the launch pad for ZANU-PF’s rival.
The coalition afforded the party some breathing space, enabling it to reconnect with the grassroots.
The usually frosty relations with the West also thawed under the GNU.
The rivalry ensued once more after the European Union (EU), the United States and Australia refused to validate ZANU-PF’s July 31 poll victory as free and fair.
The EU, US and Australia have echoed the MDC-T’s concerns that the poll outcome was manipulated hence it was not an expression of the people’s will.
It is, however, the endorsement of the poll by SADC that is certain to trouble the EU and other western countries, which were unable to observe the elections and had to rely on the regional and continental blocs to make their own conclusions.
President Mugabe also received yet another boost after being appointed the deputy chair of SADC, which is now led by Joyce Banda, the President of Malawi.
While the SADC election observer mission declared the election “free and peaceful,” the West quickly condemned the poll results, breaking ranks with its earlier commitment to be guided by SADC’s assessment of the election.
Australia went as far as to call for a fresh election to be held as the will of the people had been suppressed.
Leaders from the US and the United Kingdom also expressed “grave concerns” over the fairness of the vote.
Interestingly, Tsvangirai has complicated matters for his backers by withdrawing his court challenge of President Mugabe’s landslide victory.
The West’s condemnation of the Zimbabwe election has not bothered SADC which proceeded to pass its seal of approval on President Mugabe’s victory at its summit held in Lilongwe, Malawi where the regional bloc stated its case against the West.
Only Botswana has stuck its thumb out for Tsvangirai, at odds with the position adopted by the rest of the SADC.
Banda, the incoming SADC chairwoman and Malawi President, fired a salvo at the West for imposing sanctions on Zimbabwe and urged for them to be lifted.
“SADC calls upon the international community to review their position on sanctions following progress being made in Zimbabwe. I believe Zimbabwe deserves better, Zimbabweans have suffered enough,” Banda said.
“The SADC also commends Zimbabwe for the peaceful manner in which elections were conducted and congratulates President Mugabe and his ZANU-PF party for their overwhelming win in the July 31 vote.”
In response, the EU’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, said economic sanctions against President Mugabe and ZANU-PF leaders imposed in 2001 to protest a decade of human and democratic rights abuses cannot be lifted unless the vote is deemed “credible, free and fair”.
Analysts said the EU might take time to normalise relations with Harare as it fears that the lifting of the sanctions would be an embarrassing climb-down for the bloc.
Rashweat Mukundu, chairperson of the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute, said the West was likely to play hard-ball in order to see the direction of ZANU-PF policies.
“Engagement will likely precede any lifting of sanctions, I do not see the West taking a cue from SADC but rather from what ZANU-PF does going forward. However, the West’s position is now weakened by SADC’s endorsement as President Mugabe now has Africa firmly on his side,” said Mukundu.
“The West now has the burden of setting and agreeing on new benchmarks with President Mugabe for the lifting of sanctions and as of now we can only guess what these will be.”
Charles Mangongera, a political commentator, said the West would hold its own, despite the endorsement of President Mugabe by the SADC.
“I do not see the West relenting on its isolation of President Mugabe and ZANU-PF. I think the question of President Mugabe’s legitimacy will be back on the West’s agenda and we are back to the same situation we had prior to the formation of the GNU in 2009,” he said.
Political analyst, Tanonoka Joseph Whande, based in Botswana, said SADC was created for the benefit of regional leaders, with no concern for its citizens.
“The SADC exists for the leaders, not for the citizens…Disband SADC and kill the African Union for no other reason than that they are not representative of people’s intentions; they are, instead, retarding Africa’s progress,” said Whande.