Time for SADC to admit defeat in Madagascar as it has, effectively, in Zimbabwe
One sometimes wonders if the Southern African Development Community (SADC) should not simply give up the time-consuming and unrewarding business of trying to resolve political crises in its member states.
In Zimbabwe, after five years of intensive SADC mediation first led by then President Thabo Mbeki and thereafter by President Jacob Zuma, what have we got? Parliamentary and presidential elections that will be held on 31 July under essentially the same conditions as the violent and almost certainly rigged elections of March 2008 which prompted SADC’s intervention.
Maybe President Robert Mugabe will tone down the violence because he thinks he doesn’t need as much to beat the rather hapless Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai this time. But if so, that will be no thanks to SADC. Mugabe still has full control of all the ‘hard power’ in Zimbabwe, all of the security apparatus. And that apparatus is still fully partisan to Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union – Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF).
Likewise the public media – and that means essentially all the broadcast media and most of the papers – are also still fully and unashamedly biased towards ZANU-PF. The Zimbabwe Election Commission (ZEC) ostensibly has one or two independent commissioners. But ZANU-PF partisans outnumber them and the actual ZEC officials who will be conducting the election are pretty much the same as they were in 2008. That is assuming the ZEC does in fact conduct the election. The deep suspicion is that it will really be run behind the scenes by the army, as before, apparently.
Tsvangirai is fighting this election with both hands tied behind his back and his legs hobbled. Zuma raised hopes of meaningful change when he took over the job from Mbeki of mediating the Zimbabwe negotiations for SADC. He – and particularly his no-nonsense foreign policy adviser Lindiwe Zulu – talked straight to Mugabe and insisted on real reforms to level the political playing field. But in the end, one fears, they succeeded mainly in just irritating Mugabe. Last month, at Zuma and Zulu’s insistence, SADC leaders asked the Zimbabwe Constitutional Court – clearly just another Mugabe instrument – to postpone the poll to allow time for the many necessary reforms. It predictably rejected what was no more than a polite request.
SADC could do nothing about this humiliating rebuff because it is not prepared to really confront Mugabe and make him pay for his behaviour. It is showing the same reluctance to confront Madagascar’s de facto leader Andry Rajoelina. From 2009 when he ousted Marc Ravalomanana, SADC should have simply insisted that Rajoelina give up power. But it let him stay on as transitional leader. It issued firm declarations that he should allow Ravalomanana to return from exile in South Africa to fight the next elections. Yet it also inserted a mealy-mouthed escape clause respecting Madagascar’s judicial sovereignty, telling Rajoelina in effect he could arrest and imprison Ravalomanana if he returned, as he had been convicted and sentenced in absentia for alleged complicity in the shooting of protesters.
Since it could not muster the courage or conviction to do the right thing – which was to force Rajoelina not to run for office (in violation of SADC and African Union rules) and to allow Ravalomanana to do so – SADC then resorted to the so-called ‘ni-ni’ option. Ni-ni meant that neither of the two bitter rivals would run for office. In December and January they both accepted the ni-ni deal and the problem, from SADC’s perspective, seemed to be solved.
But then Ravalomanana put up his wife Lalao as a candidate for his political movement. And this prompted Rajoelina to renege on the ni-ni deal and to enter the presidential race too. And so did former president Didier Ratsiraka – along with about 40 other candidates. The trouble was that Lalao Ravalomanana and Ratsiraka had not met the legal requirement of at least six months of residence in Madagascar before the election. And Rajoelina also broke the law by missing the deadline for submitting his candidacy. But the electoral court accepted all three of them as candidates anyway.
Now SADC, and the African Union (AU) are demanding that the three candidates withdraw from the election and have vowed they will not recognise any of them if they are elected. They and the international community are also refusing to fund the poll and are even threatening to slap personal travel and financial sanctions against them if they don’t withdraw – something SADC and the AU never contemplated against Mugabe for all his greater sins.
Last week the International Contact Group on Madagascar, led by AU peace and security commissioner Ramtane Lamamra and SADC’s medidator Joaquim Chissano, visited Madagascar to try to persuade the three controversial candidates to withdraw from the elections. They evidently had a heated meeting with Lalao Ravalomanana and her supporters who refused to back down. Evidently the other two also refused. According to the Ravalomanana people, Chissano frankly told them that they really wanted Rajoelina to withdraw from the presidential race – and that Lalao Ravalomanana had to be ‘sacrificed’ to this objective.
If that is true, it would epitomise the disingenuous and frankly cowardly approach of SADC, confirming that it cannot confront the real problem, Rajoelina, as it has failed ultimately to confront the real problem in Zimbabwe, namely Mugabe. Threatening sanctions against the three erring candidates in Madagascar looks superficially to be a good thing, a sign that SADC and the AU are at last baring their teeth to enforce their decisions. But this tougher resolve is misdirected in Madagascar. If the three candidates pull out now, there will be no one to represent the Ravalomanana political movement in the election. Perhaps the same would be true of Rajoelina’s movement, although there are suspicions it has at least one other secret candidate in the race. Having failed to remove Rajoelina directly, SADC should back down, accepting Rajoelina, Lalao Ravalomanana and Ratsiraka as candidates.
This arrangement, though unsatisfactory, seems to be an acceptable compromise to the main rival camps; more particularly to Marc Ravalomanana who is the most aggrieved party.
The infringements by the three candidates are technicalities that SADC, the AU and the international community can surely afford to ignore – having condoned much greater violations by Rajoelina. It’s time for SADC to admit its impotence and let the Malagasy go ahead with an election most of them seem to want.
Peter Fabricius, Foreign Editor, Independent Newspapers, South Africa