PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe’s call for Africa to immediately withdraw from The Hague-based International Criminal Court has put him under the spot on whether his African Union (AU) chairmanship would be of any value to Africa.
For a continent plagued with problems of all sorts, ranging from hunger to civil wars, Mugabe’s 35-year-experience as the Zimbabwean leader was expected to bring value to the 54-member block.
Having been present at the establishment of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) whose formation was spearheaded by African statesman who included the late Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah and the late Tanzanian President Julius Mwalimu Nyerere, most people thought Mugabe would play a critical role in driving Africa back to its founding values, that include the promotion of democratic principles and institutions, popular participation and good governance.
But Renewal Team spokesperson Jacob Mafume said Mugabe belonged to an era when OAU was a club of presidents whose focus was to fight colonial rule and not to promote democratic values and accountability to the continent.
“It was meant to be a ceremonial club without obligations to its people with the purpose of merely defeating colonialism,” Mafume said.
He said Mugabe’s blasting of the ICC shows that his thrust was on sovereignty and African solidarity, and not on rights of the African people. He said the Zimbabwean strongman would be a liability to the continent as he had no regard for human rights issues but focused more on African solidarity.
Apart from promoting peace, security and stability on the continent, one of the AU’s founding values is promotion of people’s rights in accordance with the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and other relevant human rights instruments.
But six months down the line after Mugabe assumed AU chairmanship, his stance has created new debate on whether his AU chairmanship could be of any value to Africa, or he is set to poison the whole continent and force it to move generations into its dark past.
“Now it has grown to be a union of not only heads of state, but the people as well. It has adopted human rights charters and African courts which Mugabe does not support. The AU court in Tanzania is not working yet he complains about ICC. It needs an energetic young leader whose eyes are in the future rather than in the past like Mugabe,” said Mafume.
“We need a common position on Africa, on development and trade, on emigration to Europe and the emerging new forms of slavery and trade in humans. We need a position on terrorism and rising Islamic fundamentalism. We need to stem the tide against democracy by head of States who need more time in power. Mugabe has no moral authority to deal with these issues.”
Mugabe, who has ruled Zimbabwe for seven presidential terms, at the just-ended 25th AU summit in South Africa, sparked controversy when he said there was nothing wrong with a president seeking a third term even against the Constitution if the people liked him.
The utterances on ICC, apart from poking fun at other countries, particularly South Africa, claiming that they were still colonies, has put him on the spotlight.
Most think his attack on the ICC is self-serving.
Many people had thought Mugabe would use the continental grouping to put Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza — whose country is sliding into anarchy caused by his intention to run for a third term — under check.
But the summit is over and the opportunity to put other leaders with the mentality of Nkurunziza on the radar has been lost.
“People are dying in Burundi, but he (Mugabe) simply cracks jokes. Africans are drowning in the sea trying to get to Europe yet he says nothing,” Mafume said.
Political analyst Eldred Masunungure said while he admitted that Mugabe had inherent qualities required to stir the continental body, age had eroded his leadership skills over time. He said he doubted if the Zimbabwe strongman still had the mental and physical stability to hold the rotational post.
For a country which has been regarded as a pariah State for over a decade, the AU post could have helped Mugabe redeem the country’s fortunes on the international scene.
Masunungure said although in a way the AU could be right on its calls to pull out of the ICC, it was a necessary demon in the absence of domestic remedies to the continent’s unending problem.
Mugabe, he said, as a veteran leader, should have called for reforms to the Rome Statute than its complete nullification.
“Mugabe should advocate for reforming of the ICC, not its dissolution. Mugabe as the President of Zimbabwe and Sadc and AU chairman, can do a lot for himself by supporting reforms to the ICC that its annulment,” Masungungure said.
“The ICC has potential. That it targets Africa might not be very true because it is Africa itself that hands its leaders to the ICC. The solution is to reform, not to annul it.”
MDC-T spokesperson Obert Gutu said: “Robert Mugabe has a very chequered political history; especially in matters to do with election management. His brand is damaged. He is perceived as an intolerant dictator who wants to hang onto power until he meets his maker. Surely the AU deserves better.”
Like Masunungure, Gutu said Mugabe’s age made him a liability and not an asset to the AU.
Mugabe has gone around the continent soon after his appointment, but is yet to solve
39a single crisis in any African State.
Burundi could have been an opportunity for him to salvage his legacy as the remaining African father, but he compounded the situation by somewhat seemingly endorsing a third term for Nkurunziza at a time street protests against the incumbent were rising and people dying.