24 January 2009

Zimbabwe: SADC Summit This Week, No Surprises


THE failure of last Monday's Sadc meeting suggests that it would be premature to expect much from tomorrow's meeting of the regional grouping.

One reason is that Sadc seems to have established a pattern of non-achievement when it comes to the Zimbabwean crisis.

It has watched as the crisis spilled into neighbouring countries with devastating consequences and done little to respond.

The other is that it will be the fourth time that the grouping has met in order to resolve the crisis, which has progressively worsened with the failure of each summit.

Another African regional Sadc summit on Zimbabwe's political crisis next week is unlikely to break the deadlock over a power-sharing deal between President Robert Mugabe and the opposition -- nearly two years since the Thabo Mbeki-led mediation process began.

While the talks have centred upon resolving the sticking points to a transitional process, there is a likelihood that Zanu PF is preparing for elections.

Last year President Mugabe asked his party supporters to prepare themselves for another poll. The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission seems to be preparing itself for elections. This would fit in well with Zanu PF's reluctance to share power.

It seems to believe that another poll would settle the issue of who wields power once and for all, even though it is difficult to see how it can achieve a result in its favour unless it resorts to coercion.

Teachers and civil servants who have formed the bulk of the election officers in the past are disgruntled and might not be willing to volunteer again.

But there are critical indicators to the outcome of this week's meeting: Zanu PF has repeatedly breached the terms of the September 15 agreement that committed the two parties to demonstrate respect for democratic values and human rights; Morgan Tsvangirai's pessimism over Sadc's ability to break the deadlock; and Mugabe's pathological dislike of Tsvangirai.

These factors, combined with hardliners and election losers in Zanu PF, will conspire against this week's Sadc meeting succeeding.

The best that will come out of the summit is that it will urge the speedy formation of an all-inclusive government and point to the humanitarian crisis -- exemplified by the cholera scourge and food shortages.

The meeting should also draw attention to the on-going violence and collapse of the economy as sufficient grounds for the parties to forget their differences and put Zimbabwe and its people first. But then the parties have been aware of this during the past seven to 10 months.

Sadly, Sadc is unlikely to change its strategy or agree to refer the matter to the African Union because that would be an admission of failure -- something that on the available evidence Sadc is not prepared to countenance.

If Mugabe had his way, he would have proceeded to appoint a completely Zanu PF Cabinet. The only dilemma is that such a move presents him with a crisis of legitimacy. It is this quandary that has prevented him from taking this route all along.

Without a political settlement, Zimbabwe is unlikely to get financial aid crucial to reviving the collapsed economy. It will also not succeed in persuading the international community to lift sanctions imposed on Mugabe and his senior government and ruling party officials.

What is also clear is that the exclusion of civil society has contributed to the stalled negotiations. Politicians have demonstrated total lack of sensitivity to the massive suffering of Zimbabweans. There will be no surprises tomorrow in Pretoria.

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