PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe is battling for political legitimacy after most Sadc African countries and the wider international community did not endorse his presidency after winning the June 27 run-off.
Morgan Tsvangirai of the MDC withdrew from the run-off citing escalating violence against his supporters, but the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission went ahead with the poll arguing that the pull-out had no legal effect.
Many African leaders have refused to endorse Mugabe’s “victory”, while world leaders this week questioned his legitimacy and have called for both Zanu PF and the MDC to work for a prompt and peaceful resolution to the political crisis.
Sadc, the Pan-African Parliament, and the African Union (AU) observer missions in the run-off said the election was not in line with regional and international standards. The United Nations also condemned the polls.
African leaders, diplomatic sources said, admit that Mugabe was legally in power after his inauguration on June 29, but lacked legitimacy.
But key world leaders argued that the 84-year-old president lacked both legal and political legitimacy, with some of them saying he should leave office for Tsvangirai who won the first round of the presidential election in March.
However, there is consensus between African and world leaders on the need for a negotiated political settlement in Zimbabwe, but they differ on how to achieve it.
Some world leaders wanted talks to proceed and at the same time impose sanctions on Zimbabwe, while African countries oppose the move saying it would worsen the crisis.
Talks between Zanu PF and the MDC to resolve the crisis are already underway and were initiated by Sadc and mediated by South Africa President Thabo Mbeki. The AU, the UN and this week’s G8 summit in Japan endorsed the talks.
Botswana, Zambia, Kenya, Nigeria, Liberia, Uganda and Tanzania were some of the African countries to slam Zimbabwe’s presidential election outcome.
Zambia and Botswana have been key allies of Zimbabwe but both have spoken out against the outcome.
Botswana was the first country in Sadc to say it did not recognise Mugabe’s “victory” and requested the regional bloc to bar the country from participating in its meetings.
“As a country that practises democracy and the rule of law, Botswana does not, therefore, recognise the outcome of the presidential run-off election, and would expect other Sadc member states to do the same,” Botswana’s Foreign minister Phandu Skelemani said last week. “It is against this backdrop that Botswana urges Sadc to assume its responsibility by taking proactive steps that are consistent with its principles and objectives. It is, therefore, Botswana’s position that Zimbabwe should not be allowed to participate in Sadc meetings until such a time that they demonstrate their commitment to strictly adhere to the organisation’s principles.”
Mozambique, another key ally of Zimbabwe during the liberation struggle, has remained mum on the crisis, but its central bank this week said the political and economic turmoil has the potential to put the brakes on economic growth throughout the whole of the southern African region.
During the AU summit, Nigerian Foreign minister Ojo Maduekwe said his country did not recognise Mugabe’s legitimacy.
“It is our view that enduring peace could only be achieved in Zimbabwe if the country returned to the status quo before the presidential run-off,” Maduekwe said.
While many African leaders did not publicly speak out on the legitimacy of Mugabe during the summit, the continent’s longest serving president Omar Bongo of Gabon endorsed the former guerilla leader.
“He was elected, he took an oath, and he is here with us, so he is president and we cannot ask him more,” Bongo said. “He conducted elections and I think he won.”
Asked about calls by the international community to condemn Mugabe, Bongo who has been in power for over 40 years said: “Africans are able to decide for themselves. We have even received Mugabe as a hero.”
Lesotho Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and his Iranian counterpart Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also endorsed Mugabe’s presidency.
Mosisili on Wednesday said: “It is high time countries and states respect the sovereignty of other countries. Whoever is saying it does not confer legitimacy on the government of Robert Mugabe, who is he or she to do that?”
Mosisili said that any government in Zimbabwe had to have the support of the armed forces.
“I don’t care who rules Zimbabwe but he must be acceptable to the armed forces because he needs their support, but even they must respect the will of the people,” he said.
But Mbeki, long seen as Mugabe’s closest ally, this week reportedly told Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda during the G8 summit that there was no legitimate government in Zimbabwe, and that was why a government of national unity was needed.
On Monday, the Zimbabwe crisis dominated a meeting between G8 leaders and the presidents of Algeria, Ethiopia, Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal and Tanzania.
After the meeting, Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete said the AU was concerned by the Zimbabwe situation. He said although “many leaders” in Africa had “expressed their dissatisfaction at the way things happened in Zimbabwe”, they differed with G8 leaders on the way forward.
The G8 leaders this week said they would take financial measures against Zimbabwe.
Britain, France and the US were last night expected to push for the UN Security Council to adopt a sanctions resolution on Zimbabwe. But the Russian delegation is reportedly not comfortable with such a resolution.
The three countries have since said they do not recognise Mugabe as a legitimate president and wanted Tsvangirai to takeover on the basis of the March 29 presidential election result.
Other permanent Security Council members — Russia and China — were likely to veto the proposed resolution.
The UN deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro on Tuesday said Mugabe’s government was elected illegitimately and as such there was need for dialogue.
“It is clear that Zimbabwe will have to go through a political transition bringing together its people around a common project,” she told the UN Security Council. “It will also need a process of national healing and reconciliation that should include wide-ranging and participatory national consultations.”
By Constantine Chimakure