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With Zimbabwe’s 2018 elections, SADC may want to regain its credibility

By Tanonoka Joseph Whande

The Gambia is today picking up the pieces after a dictator of 22 years was voted out by the people and fled to the sanctuary of another despot in Equatorial Guinea.

Tanonoka Joseph Whande
Tanonoka Joseph Whande

Like all dictators, the then president, Yahya Jammeh, flirted to deceive by accepting defeat then refusing to leave office.

As we know now, the Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) jumped in with all feet and managed to remove the dictator with no blood shed.

Regional organisations are very important, if they are faithful to their mandate.

The achievement the world saw from ECOWAS is exemplary in that regional organisations are there, not for the presidents, but for the people.

Created on May 25, 1963 in Addis Ababa, the Organisation Of African Unity (OAU) was a comforting and appreciated creation for the African leaders who found themselves in power.

They were, after all, the new kids on the block who had acquired independence for their countries and needed not only to stand together but to support each other.

Looking back, when these leaders stood together and supported each other, Africa was turned into the proverbial Dark Continent, not by colonialists but by Africans themselves.

Today, African countries are signatory to memberships of many continental and regional organisations, most of which duplicate others.

We have the Common Market For Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the African Union (AU), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the East African Community and many more.

Meanwhile, on the same continent, France has its Francophone countries in its own grouping and so does Britain with its Commonwealth countries in Africa.

A quick glance at the objectives and/or aims of Africa’s organisations shows unmistakable similarities yet positive results are far in between.

In the OAU, African leaders found strength in numbers as they tried to protect each other.

At its formation, the OAU’s aims were listed as, among others, “to co-ordinate and intensify the co-operation of African states in order to achieve a better life for the people of Africa; to defend the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of African states”; to eradicate“all forms of colonialism and white minority rule”.

Some of their aims are painful to revisit today. They pledged “to ensure that all Africans enjoyed human rights; to raise the living standards of all Africans and to settle arguments and disputes between members – not through fighting but rather peaceful and diplomatic negotiation”.

As of 2017 and having given birth to the African Union, Africa does not offer human rights to its citizens; it is still struggling to raise the living standards of its people and disputes within a country are dealt with by using deadly force. Conflicts between two African countries fester into military confrontations that affect entire regions.

On its part, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) states its objectives (Article 5) as “to achieve development and economic growth, alleviate poverty, enhance the standard and quality of life of the people of Southern Africa and support the socially disadvantaged through Regional Integration”.

If it sounds rather childish, it is only because it is childish in that there is an absence of any reference to the security, preservation and sanctity of the life of an individual African; it comes as an afterthought. Supporting “the socially disadvantaged” does not necessarily need regional integration, as such, but only needs that thing called ‘charity’, which I understand begins at home.

SADC goes on to talk about evolving “common political values, systems and institutions”. Then they say to “promote and defend peace and security; promote self-sustaining development on the basis of collective self-reliance, and the inter-dependence of Member States”.

They go on to talk about ‘regional strategies’, the ‘utilization of resources of the region’ and all those things that are far removed from the individual; things that do not put the spotlight on the villager who is the backbone of any regional cooperation.

SADC does not understand how lucky it has been to be established in a region that is war weary.

Do the people of Angola want to hear about armed conflict anymore?

And the people ofZimbabwe?

What about the people of Mozambique who are slowly re-living the horrors of internal armed conflicts?

To liberate their countries, several southern African countries staged some of the world’s fiercest warswhich lasted for years on end, taking with them men, women, the elderly, the infirm and our children.

In Zimbabwe, almost as many black civilians as guerrillas were killed because the white minority government had support not only from South Africa but from Europe and the west.

Zimbabweans, the so-called povo, have experienced it all and no longer listen to the rubbish from the Mutsvangwas, Mahiyas and all the rest of them.

Those who fought and survived Zimbabwe’s war of liberation do not want to ever see an armed conflict in our country again.

Our so-called war veterans cannot choose a leader for us again. Last time they did that, it lasted 36 years of misery and graves.

Angola, on the other hand, had a nightmare to independence – losing between 30,000 and 50,000 people and, after the Portuguese colonialists left, local politicians turned on each other and that war was vicious.

Independent in 1975, Angola is still coming across unexploded landmines.

Today, we are witnessing another violent flair-up of internal armed conflict in Mozambique – a country that suffered for its own independence then suffered more for the independence of both Zimbabwe and South Africa – losing thousands of its people, including its president, in the process.

Independent in 1975, Mozambique only officially declared itself landmine free in 2015.

Both SADC and the AU never appear serious in solving the region’s problems. Their failures come from their partiality – an affinity to support sitting Heads of State.

Africa is not a poor continent; it is made poor because it does not own what it has.

Africa is not deficient but only in its leadership.

The AU was just a change of name from the OAU – an attempt to camouflage a past, horrible image while pushing the same old rot.

The AU’s Principles – Article 4 (g) – still spouts the old OAU rubbish about “Non-interference by any Member State in the internal affairs of another”.

But in the very next line – Article 4 (h) – the AU states “the right of the Union to intervene in a Member State pursuant to a decision of the Assembly in respect of grave circumstances, namely war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity”.

Apparently, the AU and SADC are still not aware that Robert Mugabe committed genocide in Zimbabwe.

In keeping with its policy of protecting genocidal leaders, the AU recently voted to exit the International Criminal Court en masse, saying they, as Africans, were being unfairly targeted as opposed to dictators from other continents.

It is a luxury only unique to Africa for one murdering presidentto demand punishment for another murderer elsewhere as evidence of fairness.

On the other hand, in its ‘aims and objectives’, ECOWAS talks about “accountability, economic and social justice”.

It demands “recognition, promotion and protection of human and peoples’ rights in accordance with the provisions of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights”.

But ECOWAS, unlike the AU and SADC, dutifully acts and this is why that simple difference in these organisations is so important to thepeople oppressed by their own leaders in independent African countries.

Unlike SADC, ECOWAS actually jumps into the fray, highlighting the problem they are trying to solve.

SADC has yet another chance to regain its credibility during Zimbabwe’s 2018 elections.