Forget Trump, we in Africa were watching the Gambia and the drama there as African leadership for once, stood up to a bully and a tyrant and insisted he respect the outcome of an election and leave office on the day his tenure expired.
First ECOWAS came out and said he must go; then the African Union, the Security Council of the UN and finally his own close colleagues. When the Chief Justice said he could not rule in favour of his staying in power I thought that it was over – but he went on to declare a state of emergency and he got Parliament to extend his tenure by six months, it was not enough.
In 2008, when Mr Mugabe was defeated by Mr Tsvangirai who got 54 per cent of the vote against the vote for Mr Mugabe of 27 per cent, the situation was very different. First the Army and other Security Chiefs simply told the President that he could not accept the result. The Registrar General was instructed to do a recount of 25 Constituencies and to fudge the Presidential vote – they could not change the outcome of any of the 25 seats, but the Presidential vote was simply falsified, the ballots destroyed and a rerun forced on the country.
Standing on the sidelines was the President of South Africa who had steered secret talks for two years to get the country to this point. He knew what was going on but stood back and allowed the subterfuge in the silly belief that it would be better for South Africa and the ANC if Zanu PF remained in power despite the electoral defeat. No question of principle, no respect for the will of the people, no regard to the rule of law – just the precedence of self interest.
We went on to go through a violent and totally distorted runoff election for President and hey presto! Mr Mugabe came out with an 84 per cent majority; he was sworn in after just 4 hours and rushed off to the African Union summit in Egypt where he expected to be lionized as the victor. Mr Mbeki remained silent. In Egypt Mr Mugabe got the shock of his life – his African colleagues said they could not recognise his election and he was forced to fly home where the South Africans resumed their secret talks to get Zimbabwe back on track.
The results were that Zimbabwe signed the “Global Political Agreement” and the GNU began in February 2009. This farce was observed by 29 African leaders and was orchestrated by Mr Mbeki who was himself summarily dismissed from his post by the ANC later that week. African leadership, SADC leadership did not exactly cover itself with glory in this sorry tale of deceit and subterfuge.
The failure of southern African leadership was perpetuated in the next four years as regional leaders failed time and time again to intervene in Zimbabwean affairs and insist on fulfillment of the “Global Political Agreement”. The result was another sham of an election where Zanu PF simply rolled over the opposition and reassumed power with a two thirds majority. The political, economic and social crisis that Mr Mbeki sought to resolve came back in full strength.
Three years later, the economy has crashed 25 per cent; domestic debt has risen to unsustainable levels fuelled by falling revenues and high levels of expenditure. Confidence is at an all time low and poverty is now being exacerbated by poor service delivery, collapsed health services and continued decline in the productive sectors of the economy and employment.
It is now clear to all but the blind and incapable, that Mr Mugabe is at the end of his life and is no longer capable of carrying out his many responsibilities as Head of State. Deeply divided and unable to agree on anything, his Party is unable to make any decisions or provide leadership. Without leadership or direction, the ship of State is headed for the rocks and destruction. People are fleeing the country again on a scale that resembles 2007/8. They are going anywhere that they can find shelter and work and South Africa remains the prime target.
This is clear to all and yet only the President of Botswana, among all 14 Heads of State in the SADC region has had the courage to speak out on the obvious – “it is time that Mugabe was retired”. The regional power house (South Africa) with the capacity to exercise real influence in Zimbabwean affairs are doing and saying nothing. Totally preoccupied with their own problems they will only take action when this situation implodes and threatens the stability of the region, by then it may simply be too late.
The Gambia confirms one major lesson for all of us – if a dictator, who has been in complete power for 37 years and had built up a system that is designed to protect the incumbents and his close colleagues at all costs – including the destruction of the country itself, is to be persuaded to leave his post and allow someone else to take over, it takes some external power to get the job done. In the Gambia it took the threat of military intervention by ECOWAS States led by Senegal and Nigeria. They were supported by the UN and by the African Union, giving legitimacy to the intervention.
In our case no one is prepared to take the required action to achieve change. In 1976 it was the Americans who brought change when it looked as if Mr Smith would just carry on fighting a senseless war. In 2007 when our economy was crumbling and inflation was at world record levels with tens of thousands of refugees pouring into South Africa every month, it was Mr Mbeki.
If no one is prepared to take the required action then what do the people of Zimbabwe do? Right now they see as the only option, flight to greener pastures wherever that might be. Do you really expect them to take to the streets when the authorities here threaten physical violence and imprisonment? Do you really expect them to sacrifice their families and personal security in a futile attempt to change the direction of the country?
If we are not prepared to go to war, then flight is the only option if our neighbors will not intervene with real hard power. Mr Mugabe and his colleagues will not listen to anything else, even when the Americans were dealing with Mr Smith and his colleagues, it took the exercise of real hard power by the South African Government to secure the agreements necessary to end the war and bring in democracy.
Are our regional leaders prepared to take the risk of a complete collapse here before they take action? We have 18 months to the next elections, if Mr Mugabe maintains the farce that he will be the candidate for Zanu PF he will destroy his Party and what is left of the future of his family. If he gets his colleagues in the security services to support his electoral bid simply because they want to protect their privileged lifestyles and future and is again allowed to get away with the electoral farce that Zimbabwean democracy has become, then he condemns his country and all its people to a life of destitution and hunger.
Surely somewhere and somehow, sanity will prevail. The events in the Gambia show that this is possible, but only if regional and African leadership is exercised.
Eddie Cross is MDC MP for Bulawayo South. This article first appeared on his website www.eddiecross.africanherd.com