It was sparked by illegitimate President Laurent Gbagbo’s insatiable appetite for power despite being rejected by the people at the polls.
Ecowas is doing what Sadc should have done in Zimbabwe in 2008 when President Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF stole the elections in March and June through a combination of manipulation and violence. Our regional block has neither teeth nor bark. It has not only failed Zimbabweans, but has also failed to act decisively in Madagascar and Swaziland where authoritarian rule and dictatorship have been institutionalised.
Gbagbo’s subversion of the will of the people has justifiably resulted in Ecowas, the African Union (AU), the United Nations (UN), the European Union and super-powers declining to recognise his presidency and isolating him and his government. Ecowas, through regional powerhouse Nigeria, has gone further by threatening military intervention to remove Gbagbo from power to pave way for Alassane Ouattara who polled 54% of the presidential votes in November.
Ouattara’s victory was confirmed by the country’s electoral commission and the UN observer mission, but rank madness set in when the country’s Constitutional Council headed by a Gbagbo ally annulled results in seven regions and declared the incumbent the winner with 51% of the votes. Since then the country has not known peace.
Both Gbagbo and Ouattara have been sworn in as presidents with the former operating from state house while the latter is holed up in a luxury hotel guarded by UN forces. This is a case of a state within a state!
The Ivory Coast crisis brought to the fore our own experiences under the leadership of President Mugabe and how Sadc as a regional grouping has failed to decisively and firmly deal with our situation, which remains a keg of gunpowder if institutional and democratic reforms are not undertaken.
Since 2000 the will of the people has been subverted by hook or crook by the former ruling Zanu PF party through the use of state machinery to coerce voters.
Elections since then have been disputed, especially by the MDC formations, and described as rigged through various means, among them constituency gerrymandering, use of a shambolic voters roll, political violence, and intimidation by state security agents and youth militia.
In the March 2008 presidential election, Mugabe lost the poll to MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai, but could not assume power after the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission said he had not won the legally required 50% plus one vote to become president. Strangely, the results of that poll were announced a month after the election, giving credence to MDC’s allegations that the results were cooked.
The subsequent run-off was a charade. Zanu PF unleashed an orgy of violence resulting in Tsvangirai pulling out of the race. Nevertheless, the poll went ahead and Mugabe won with over 90% of the votes and this time around it took less than 48 hours to announce the results and swear in the octogenarian leader.
Amidst all this cacophony, Sadc was conspicuous by its deafening silence. The great disappointment was then South African President Thabo Mbeki’s declaration that there was no crisis in Zimbabwe when the electoral commission was holding on to the March results. The late Zambian President Levy Mwanawasa and Botswana President Ian Khama were the only vocal Sadc leaders against Mugabe.
Instead of Sadc, through Mbeki and the AU, pushing for an inclusive government after Mugabe’s hollow victory, the regional bloc should have stood up to the 86-year-old leader and told him to his face to stand down.
Even with the formation of the inclusive government, Mugabe has refused to play ball in fully consummating the Global Political Agreement and Sadc is again aloof. Several summits have been held since January 2009 with very little having been achieved in resolving outstanding issues of the GPA, instead fresh problems continue to pop up.
South Africa, the regional power house, much like Ecowas’ Nigeria should have used its leverage to ensure that Harare plays ball.
The failure by Sadc to be decisive with Mugabe will ensure that Zimbabwe will drag the region into the doldrums — precisely the prospect Sadc sought to avoid in the first place.
The situation is not completely untenable. Sadc should pluck a leaf from Ecowas’s book and be more forceful in ensuring members do not deviate from the democratic path. But that may be asking too much.