A combined African Union (AU), Southern African Development Community (Sadc) and President Emmerson Mnangagwa trio-solution to the entangled, Zimbabwean problem will not yield the correct result. In particular, Mnangagwa exhibits little humility, commiseration and empathy for the suffering Zimbabweans.
From February 10 to 11, African Heads of State and government from 55 countries across the continent met in Ethiopia.
On the day before, Sadc received a briefing from Mnangagwa concerning the disproportionate use of force by the country’s security forces that began on January 14.
This brutal force resulted in at least 17 extra-judicial killings, no less than 17 cases of rape or sexual assault and in excess of 1 000 tortures.
Considerably, more needs to be done, yet the AU and Sadc are a long way from being seized with Zimbabwe’s political and socio-economic mess.
The AU and the 16 countries that make up Sadc are now perceived as nothing, but a useless bunch of fortune seekers who have, for a long time, refused to come clean on Zimbabwe’s human rights violations.
Firstly, the African Heads of State and government posed for photos, made many announcements in Addis Ababa, yet Zimbabweans are crying out for meaniful intervention in their troubles.
A few elements merit consideration
Mnangagwa sent an envoy to Kenya with a special message to galvanise support for his side of the story and move to blow the West or anyone who opposes him out of the water —the Mnangagwa “regime change” brief. Naturally, he’s a politician and has been quick to blame non-governmental organisations, the MDC, civil society and unnamed foreign funders of alleged regime change. Unfortunately, this public relations (PR) plot doesn’t put him in a favourable light.
Nothing tempts international reporters like a chance for breaking news. So when news of dialogue emerged, he seemed to dangle this as a turn for the best.
Beyond doubt, Mnangagwa knew that any news mentioning dialogue would be promoted organically, heavily and with significant reach just before the Sadc meeting would hear updates on the crisis in Zimbabwe.
While in Ethiopia, Mnangagwa’s media interviews were designed to show foreigners a single side of the story. He talked down news of rape victims as “stage-managed”, however, what he communicated on camera seemed like orchestrated PR falsifications.
Despite Mnangagwa’s incendiary rhetoric and PR spin-offs, it’s important that the general population decides for themselves the key distinction because his one-on-one France 24 interview revealed his deficiencies, disadvantages and drawbacks.
In today’s world, a political leader cannot bypass TV broadcasts, print media or social media. The France 24 broadcast allowed him a totally unfiltered opportunity to speak.
While Mnangagwa may tout alleged “regime change” agendas to win favour from the AU and Sadc, he knows that his government’s communications will need to improve significantly to win over funders.
Outright lies cannot be considered as spin; he must tell the truth. What country would wish for a President that is unchallenged in these modern times?
Millions of Zimbabweans are angry; angry because they feel Mnangagwa has twisted the truth with regards to perpetrators of the brutal violence witnessed recently in Zimbabwe to imply the exact opposite of what they witnessed or watched unfold.
At the same time, he has now confessed to his followers that he did deploy the soldiers to silence protesters, so who did the hatchet job?
Mnangagwa promised to track down rape victims in hiding, redeploy soldiers on new protesters, and yet failed to articulate himself convincingly to balance his poor PR job to foreign investors.
He will further alienate and isolate himself from Western lenders and further harden attitudes and perceptions about a “new dispensation”.
Deepening this brutalisation-redeployment-strategy is a propagandising and dishonest State narrative, which amplifies distortions in the Zanu PF political agenda.
The trajectory of events indicates for now, that Mnangagwa is pushing Zimbabwe fast and further into isolation.
Problem two: AU is ineffectual
Who wields authority at the AU is vital to identify since the organisation appears unable to fulfil its pledges to the African people. Now, skepticism and doubt exist among Zimbabweans on the capacity of the AU.
Just how little the AU is able to influence respect for human rights among member States was clear even before the meeting of Heads of State and government ended.
After its 32nd ordinary session, protection guarantees for the people of Zimbabwe has narrowed their strategic choices.
It will hardly improve with AU chair Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, partially because Cairo prefers the AU to remain neutral despite escalating crises on the continent.
Neither will Zimbabwe see their women’s voices heard; the number of female Heads of State and government is not increasing, with almost all main AU and Sadc photographs portraying an all-male cast. The photo-spreads have at least one reality divulged; no women at the helm of African politics.
Problem three: Sadc club
Sadc is yet to truly understand and empathise with Zimbabweans.
The Sadc Heads of State and government have accepted Mnangagwa’s pontification and embraced his characterisation of the Zimbabwe crisis. They are overwhelmingly united in their rejection of the people of Zimbabwe after a tumultuous January and brutal military crackdown following fuel price-induced protests.
This was clear in its February 11 statement, read by Sadc chairperson and Namibia President Hage Geingob, that it listened only to a single view, stating “internal groups, in particular NGOs, supported by external forces, have continued with efforts to destabilise the country”.
As one Zimbabwean put it, “Sadc always clamour[s] for African solutions to African problems”, claiming it had morphed into a dictators’ club, leaving citizens looking to the “US and the West for solutions to African problems”. As a result, there is a fast growing perception that South African President Cyril Ramaphosa in particular, is demonstrating ingratitude for the past solidarity the people of Zimbabwe gave South Africa during its anti-apartheid struggle.
Sadc appears unable to live by its key objective; “enhance the standard and quality of life” and to make significant strides to remove human rights abuses in the region, including in Zimbabwe.
Zimbabweans on social media found time for humour in the Sadc and US statements; those opposing the ruling party say the Sadc statement was “written by presidential spokesperson George Charamba and edited by Information deputy minister Energy Mutodi”, adding that “both the Sadc and US statements were penned here in Zimbabwe.
The US extended its sympathy with grieving families, saying in a February 12 statement by US Department of State deputy spokesperson Robert Palladino: “We extend our condolences to the families and friends of those killed or injured”, setting a different tone to the meeting Mnangagwa had with five US Senators on April 7, 2018.
The US added a call for “all sides to come together immediately in national dialogue. The dialogue process must be credible, inclusive, and mediated by a neutral third party.
In order for such a dialogue to succeed, the government of Zimbabwe should end its excessive violence and intimidation, immediately release the civil society activists who have been arbitrarily detained, and hold security force members responsible for human rights violations and abuses accountable. We also reiterate our call for the government of Zimbabwe to enact promised political and economic reforms.”
Foreclosing on inclusive, sincere, and transparent national dialogue would be disastrous for the country. Even the European Union (EU) requested Zimbabwe to “set up a consultation framework for a peaceful, democratic and participatory national debate, a multi-stakeholder dialogue to address the national crisis.” It is vital to emphasise that any process that excludes Zimbabwe’s worldwide Diaspora from the very start, particularly its Diaspora women, would be an abominable flouting of Zimbabwean citizens’ rights.
Social media was abuzz naturally during the crackdown, and government received criticism for not allowing “the whole story” to get out by shutting down the Internet.
Fortunately, the people of Zimbabwe desire to seek the truth.
Progress will require the reconsideration of Mnangagwa’s flaws.
Zimbabweans should lower their expectations of AU and Sadc because it will not usher in a new era, free from human rights violations.
The true test for Zimbabwe is in scheduling candid, unpretentious, and unambiguous talks without delay to earnestly address the country’s fundamental elements to get it back on the right track. It will be imperative not to exclude the Diaspora from the very beginning of any process that attempts to move Zimbabwe forward, in particular the worldwide Diaspora women.
Excluding them will make inequalities persistent and detrimental to the country’s future; it’s impossible for the legacy of Zimbabwe’s future to actualise without all categories of Zimbabweans being included; to have dialogue that is in the true interests of all of the people of Zimbabwe.
Today, Zimbabwe is vulnerable and should consider a sustainable future with less dependence on South Africa.
Without Mnangagwa acknowledging his flaws, egregious mistakes and security sector failings, he’ll continue to exterminate “cockroaches”.
With thousands of internally-displaced people in hiding, fleeing or detained, what is needed is for the instant release of detainees, including the smooth transfer of minor children to their legal guardians, and women to their dependents and families.
An immediate end to “any act of intimidation and harassment against all human rights defenders in the country, guarantee in all circumstances their physical and psychological integrity and ensure that they are able to carry out their activities without hindrance” as said by the EU. The Mnangagwa-led government must “conform to the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the UN on December 9, 1998, especially Articles 1 and 12, and ensure in all circumstances the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the international human rights instruments ratified by Zimbabwe.”
All leaders and stakeholders must be well-prepared to adequately address the risks inherent in a dialogue process, negotiating challenges and seizing the opportunities ahead.
Besides, a country does not have a future unless its children have a future.
Pearl Matibe has geographic expertise on US foreign policy, think tank impact, strategy and public policy issues.