While the Zimbabwe crisis seems like a country-specific debacle, it highlights governance weaknesses across Africa.
Western leaders as well as at least one African head of state are calling for African regional actors to pursue a hard line approach towards Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, who was sworn in Sunday to another five year term amidst accusations of voter intimidation and election fraud.
Opposition candidate Morgan Tsvangirai and his party, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), are calling the election a sham. Meanwhile, Mugabe attends the African Union (AU) Summit through Tuesday in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. There, he reportedly faces little criticism from fellow African leaders.
While Kenya Prime Minister Raila Odinga says the AU should suspend Mugabe for perpetuating political violence to ensure his victory, other African heads of state greet the Zimbabwean dictator with hugs, the Associated Press reports.
In fact, the AP says an AU draft resolution fails to criticize Mugabe’s conduct in the campaign, despite assessing that the runoff “fell short of accepted standards.”
Tanzanian President Jikaya Kikwete congratulated the people of Zimbabwe and the AU mediators without specifically mentioning Mugabe. Hosni Mubarak, President of Egypt, spoke at the AU summit and failed to even mention the Zimbabwe crisis.
The actions of the AU and the Southern African Development Community (SADC), which has acted as the main mediator in the crisis, speak volumes about the challenges facing regional governance bodies.
The AU, SADC and the UN are all hoping for a negotiated power-sharing settlement between Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party and the MDC, much as the violence in Kenya was messily brought to a close. But do such power sharing arrangements guarantee a long-term settlement as opposed to a short-term papering over of unresolved disputes? The ongoing political stalemate in Ukraine, for example, suggests the latter.
The Zimbabwe state-run newspaper The Herald reports Mugabe, “was prepared to face any of his African Union counterparts disparaging Zimbabwe’s electoral conduct because some of their countries had a worse elections record.”
Part of the AU’s seemingly schizophrenic stance towards Mugabe is indeed rooted in the reality of imperfect elections in many of its member countries. The 2007 Global Integrity Indicators Scorecard for Egypt “confirmed the prevalence of collective voting, especially by the ruling National Democratic Part, damaging ballot boxes after voting.”
“Election monitoring groups documented several cases in which they caught unmarked ballot cards outside election centers that were to be marked in front of candidates.”
In addition, the Egyptian Higher Committee for Elections passes election-monitoring duties off to civil society and wields no power to impose penalties on offenders of voter fraud.
Similarly, the 2007 Integrity Indicators Scorecard for Tanzania notes the lack of a formal election monitoring agency and the fact that independent candidates still cannot run for office if they are not part of party lists; this in a country where the ruling party overwhelmingly dominates the legislature.
All of this adds up to an African Union rendered powerless to fully criticize Mugabe because Zimbabwe may more represent the rule, rather than the exception, in the AU’s neighborhood.
— by Mark Butman