African solutions have little care for the poor folks

OPINION – African solutions to problems like Zimbabwe will fail so long as leaders think only of their own electorates

The final communique from the SADC summit called for Zanu-PF and the MDC to form a unity government promptly and to divide equally control of the disputed home affairs ministry that supervises the police. The communique did not set out how the home affairs ministry will be shared.

Tsvangirai rightly rejected SADC’s proposal. Zanu-PF already controls the defence ministry. If this is equitable power sharing in the true sense, the MDC ought to have full control of the police.

There are four naked realities in SADC’s failure to break the power sharing deadlock in Zimbabwe. First, the mantra about "African solutions to African problems" is vacuous. Yesterday’s summit was attended by only five leaders from the 15-nation bloc. SADC once again failed to resolve the Zimbabwe crisis, which has dragged on for eight years in its midst. Nor did it formulate concrete measures to deal with the Democratic Republic of Congo’s unfolding humanitarian crisis and conflict between government troops and rebels.

For as long as the political calculus of African leaders remains unchanged they will pay lip-service to the idea of "African solutions to African problems". African politicians respond to factors that can win or lose elections.

If there is no domestic electoral price to pay they can easily ignore or be indecisive about perceived foreign problems. This has been the case with the Zimbabwe crisis. No African leader has lost an election because they did not resolve the Zimbabwe crisis. African opposition parties and civil society need to make the resolution of African crises election issues in their respective domestic constituencies – only then will incumbent African politicians be motivated to act decisively.

Second, in spite of the MDC’s majority in parliament and Tsvangirai amassing the most votes in the first presidential election round, Zanu-PF still regards the MDC as a subordinate party. Zimbabwean political culture, which is largely the product of Zanu-PF, does not allow for the accommodation of rival political parties unless they are willing to be junior partners.

Third, the lack of a majority of bona fide democrats amongst African leaders is crippling the march of democracy on the continent. In southern Africa, Angola staged less than free and fair elections in September while Zambia’s presidential election last month was disputed. Swaziland is governed by an absolute monarch.

The moral authority and political will for these countries to act as enablers of democracy in Zimbabwe are simply non-existent. And while other Southern African countries have held relatively free and fair multiparty elections in recent years this does not make them democracies.

The enactment of laws in line with the general will, protecting human rights, respecting the rule of law and good governance are some of the other important ideals identified with substantive democracy, which the majority of Southern African countries flout regularly.

Fourth, Tsvangirai accused SADC of lacking the "courage and decency to look Robert Mugabe in the eyes" and instruct him to share power fairly with his party. However, it is more accurate to state that SADC lacks the institutional capacity to deal effectively with regional political crises. SADC was originally created as a regional economic development body – not a political community. While SADC has declared democratic norms and standards in recent years there are no punitive measures in place to guarantee that they are respected.

Meanwhile, back in Zimbabwe the queues for food, transport and worthless money lengthen and meander. There is no stomach for civil strife in the country. Few feel lucky. The lucky ones are those who manage to emigrate. The Guardian (UK)