John Campbell

Africa in Transition

Campbell tracks political and security developments across sub-Saharan Africa.

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Zimbabwe Elections: Impact on “African Solutions”

by John Campbell
August 8, 2013

Supporters of ZANU-PF party celebrate with a coffin wrapped in a Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) flag in Mbare township, outside Harare August 4, 2013. (Siphiwe Sibeko/Courtesy Reuters) Supporters of ZANU-PF party celebrate with a coffin wrapped in a Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) flag in Mbare township, outside Harare August 4, 2013. (Siphiwe Sibeko/Courtesy Reuters)

In the wake of Zimbabwe’s elections on July 30, the African Union (AU) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) have declared the elections, which gave Robert Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party a landslide victory, “free and fair.” Others, however are less convinced of the elections’ credibility.

Botswana’s government sent an election observation team of eighty to Zimbabwe. Based on its observations, Gaborone questions whether the electoral process and its result “can be recognized as having been fair, transparent, and credible” in the context of SADC’s guidelines and principals. Gaborone goes on to say that SADC “should never create the undesirable precedent of permitting exceptions to its own rules.” The Botswana statement concludes by calling for an independent audit of the elections and recommends that the issues arising from the elections be placed on the agenda of the next Summit of SADC Heads of State and Government.

Using SADC’s stated principles as its standard of judgment, Botswana finds the Zimbabwe elections wanting.

But, South Africa’s president Jacob Zuma, Nigeria’s former president Olusegun Obasanjo, the AU, and SADC election observers and numerous other African governments have all looked the other way and endorsed the Zimbabwe elections. Botswana, once again, is the democratic exception.

Sisonke Msimang, a South African journalist, provides a thoughtful, if also polemical, answer to the question of what the Zimbabwe elections mean for Africa: “This is what you call ‘an African Solution’?

She characterizes the AU and SADC reactions to the “shambolic” Zimbabwean elections that have rigged in Robert Mugabe and his Zanu-PF party as a “stark and embarrassing illustration of how wrong-headed the African solution to the Zimbabwean crisis has been.” The problem is not the principles, it is in their implementation.

She recalls that the Zimbabwe Global Political Agreement with Zanu-PF and MDC-T, the power sharing solution to the post-electoral violence in 2008, was made in Pretoria and by SADC. The diplomacy at the time made good sense. But for her, South Africa, SADC, and the AU have failed to follow through and enforce and implement those agreements and therefore to ensure democratic elections. And, she observes, this failure cannot be blamed on Washington or London.

“African solutions for African problems” was coined by former South African president Thabo Mbeki.

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