As the political and economic situation in Zimbabwe continually deteriorates beyond the average citizen’s minimum threshold – as the suffering and over-burdened people increasingly become restive with each passing day – one wonders why the regional body sees it prudent to look the other way, as if oblivious to the ticking time-bomb, whilst awaiting the grave situation to explode into a full-fledged bloodbath before jumping into action.
Of course, this assessment might appear too farfetched to an outsider, but far from it, this has been the traditional hallmark of the lethargic Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) – which has become a huge embarrassment for the region’s people – as it has shamefully reneged on its founding principles as espoused in Article 4 of the SADC Treaty, which include solidarity, peace and security; democracy, human rights, and the rule of law; and peaceful settlement of disputes.
If we closely analyse the untenable devilish situation currently prevailing in Zimbabwe, it is quite obvious that the principles mentioned above are being grossly trampled upon by the government, and as such, posing a serious threat to the peace and security in the country – and by extension, the region.
Furthermore, by some cruel irony, Zimbabwe is the current chair of the regional body’s Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation (OPDSC) – established under Article 2 of the SADC Protocol on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation signed in Blantyre (Malawi) in August 2001 – which seeks to “promote peace and security in the region”, as well as, “prevent, contain and resolve inter and intra-state conflict by peaceful means”.
However, as the potentially explosive state of affairs in the country legitimately threatens to blow up anytime, one is left dumbfounded as to exactly when this regional body – and its organs – intends to spring into action. As one of its Article 2 stated objectives is to “prevent, contain and resolve inter and intra-state conflict”, should this not be the ideal moment to actively engage all major stakeholders in the Zimbabwean political, economic, social, and religious landscape, considering that, if not contained now, the status quo is potentially both a inter and intra-state threat?
This is far from an exaggeration – as other conflicts on the wider continent of Africa could have been prevented had action been taken whilst still simmering. A glaring case in point being the South Sudan war, that resulted from long-running tensions between the president Salva Kiir and his then-deputy Riek Machar – whom he eventually fired after accusing him of orchestrating a failed coup d’etat in December 2013 – leading to a conflict that has so far caused the death of over 383,000 people.
Could this war have been prevented? Most certainly.
These two antagonists had been at each others’ throats ever since the country attained independence from Sudan on 9 July 2011 – something that anyone with any sense of discernment could see would sooner, rather than later, culminate into a full scale conflict. However, the African Union (AU) – similar to its southern African younger sibling, SADC – deliberately decided to pretend as if all was well, and never intervened – possibly through the now disgraced and pathetic policy of regarding potential black spots as being purely “domestic or internal issues, which should be resolved by the country’s citizens on their own”.
What utter foolishness! Yet, even more foolishly is that these useless continental and regional bodies start running around like headless chickens – as my mother always loved to say – once the inevitable conflict eventually erupts, as they ‘discover’ that it is more difficult to resolve a crisis than to prevent it.
A similar case occurred much closer to home – when political tensions in Lesotho were threatening to blow over for years, the southern Africa regional body, true to character, merely stood by and did nothing, only deciding to act when everything finally exploded on 30 August 2014 after an attempted coup d’etat against the prime minister Thomas Thabane, after his decision to fire the Lesotho Defence Force (LDF) army commander Lieutenant General Tlali Kamoli, and replaced him with Brigadier Maaparankoe Mahao – a move regarded as unprocedural and politically motivated.
This ignited an already volatile atmosphere, which had started two years earlier in 2012, after inconclusive elections, whereby no party secured an outright majority – thereby, leading to an uneasy coalition, comprised of Thabane’s All Basotho Convention (ABC), Mothetjoa Metsing of the Lesotho Congress for Democracy (LCD), and the Basotho National Party (BNP) – in which, Metsing became deputy prime minister.
However, this coalition was a ticking time-bomb, due to the dangerous tensions between Thabane and Metsing – the former supported by the police, and the latter by the army – as the deputy prime minister constantly blamed Thabane of making important decisions without consulting the other partners.
As much as the Christian Council of Lesotho (CCL) tried to mediate between the two, no resolution was ever found – leading to Metsing withdrawing from the coalition, and forming an alliance with Pakalitha Mosisili of the Democratic Congress (DC) – the former prime minister, who had also failed to garner an outright majority in the 2012 elections.
These tensions reached the inevitable climax with Thabane’s firing of the army commander – which was nothing short of the proverbial ‘last straw that broke the camel’s back’ – culminating in the alleged attempted coup d’etat after the army had attacked police headquarters on 30 August 2014 – resulting in Thabane fleeing to South Africa, leaving Metsing assuming interim premiership of the tiny country.
An outbreak of violent clashes between different groups, and shooting between members of the military gripped Lesotho, which consequently resulted in the assassination of the new army commander Mahao on 25 June 2015
Only then did the regional body – SADC – decide to intervene – yet, these tensions had been clearly brewing in the public domain during the preceding two years, but those leaders in the OPDSC, ostensibly to “prevent, contain and resolve inter and intra-state conflict by peaceful means”, did absolutely nothing.
To make such SADC incompetence and uselessness worse was that this was not the first time Lesotho had been the scene of high levels of factionalism, political tension, and violent conflict, especially during and after elections since its independence in October 1966 – as similar scenes were witnessed in 1974, 1986, 1991, 1994, 1998, and 2007. Thus, why was SADC’s reaction so lacklustre?
Similarly, back home in Zimbabwe, during Robert Gabriel Mugabe’s iron-fisted tyranny, especially at the dawn of the new millennium, we cried out to SADC over his wanton brutal human rights abuses, and electoral fraud – especially, the chaotic and murderous land reform exercise, the beating up, maiming and killing of opposition supporters, and the torching of their homes, on top of a comatose economy that made it virtually impossible for anyone to sustain a decent livelihood – yet SADC turned a blind eye to a clearly explosive situation, choosing to side with the nonagenarian leader.
The then South African president Thabo Mbeki even had the audacity to claim that “there was no crisis in Zimbabwe”!
Yet, when their ally lost the 2008 presidential elections to the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) Morgan Richard Tsvangirai, thereby unleashing a heinous and gruesome reign of terror – which witnessed the killing of hundreds of the latter’s supporters – only then did SADC initiate mediation, that resulted in the formation of a Government of National Unity (GNU), with Mugabe retaining the presidency and Tsvangirai becoming prime minister.
As has become embarrassingly customary, SADC dismally failed in undertaking its responsibilities, in accordance with its own principles.
The list of SADC failures is endless – as the same occurred in conflicts in countries as the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Currently, in Zimbabwe a disturbing replica of the Mugabe-era scenario is underway – but, despite its grave and glaring errors of omission and commission of the early 2000s, SADC has chosen not to change its ways.
As Zimbabweans grapple with an ever-increasing brutal crackdown on the opposition and any forms of dissent, whilst over-burdened by an economic catastrophe that has obviously gone out of hand – due to institutionalized corruption and looting of resources, gross incompetence and mismanagement, as well as inconsistent economic policies – with clear signs of an inevitable conflict looming – the regional body has again typically and dangerously sided with the administration by paying scant regard to the people’s cries, yet parroting the tired and disproved ‘sanctions imposed by the West on Zimbabwe’ hogwash.
This is despite numerous clarion warnings and calls by such reputable multilateral organization as the United Nations (UN), on the violent crackdown on protestors and the opposition, alleged abductions of labour and political activists, and political bias in food aid distribution – all of which are a recipe for disaster.
The people of Zimbabwe are naturally a non-violent people – and would rather run away, than fight back, when confronted with brutality, as has been witnessed during savage suppression of demonstrations – but, the government has viewed this as a sign of weakness, and a licence for increased repression.
However, as with any human relations, there are limits to people’s tolerance thresholds – and SADC should, for a change, play a leading and responsible role in averting the situation deteriorating into an all-out bloody conflict.
We, as a peace-loving citizenry implore the regional body to finally pay attention to its own avowed principles, especially Article 2 of its Protocol on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation, which the leaders signed in Blantyre in August 2001, to “promote peace and security in the region”, and “prevent, contain and resolve inter and intra-state conflict by peaceful means”.
As much as Zimbabwe, ironically, is the current chair of the OPDSC, the regional body can still exert pressure on the regime to seriously engage in meaningful and genuine negotiations with all major political, social, religious and economic stakeholders in the country.
Similar to what transpired in Lesotho’s Multi-Stakeholder National Dialogue – burning issues such as, constitutional, parliamentary, judicial, security, economic, public sector, and media reforms should be seriously addressed within prescribed time-frames, as there is no place for wasting any more time.
The time for SADC to act as an organization that only caters for the selfish interests of the powerful is over. This organization was founded on the back of the Frontline States – whose main cause was the liberation of the majority of the oppressed and economically disenfranchised people of the region – yet, it has since tragically morphed into a mafia of tyrannical and corrupt leaders.
- Tendai Ruben Mbofana is a social justice activist, writer, author, and speaker. Please feel free to WhatsApp/call: +263733399640, or +263715667700, or calls only: +263782283975, or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.