Shout loudly but carry a small stickPosted: April 5, 2008
While the world waits to see how the outcome of the Zimbabwean presidential election unfolds, one can’t help but wonder what the world’s action (as opposed to what will evidently be a vociferous reaction) will be if Robert Mugabe disregards the actual results and attempts to continue his now 28 year reign of Zimbabwe.
My thoughts begin with reference to the first-of-its kind intervention of African Union troops in the Comoros less than two weeks ago. While there are very large differences between this situation and what may unfold in Zim, I think the situation bears analysing.
The Comoros is a small three-island (Grande Comore, Anjouan, and Moheli) archipelago off the coast of East Africa. Home to just over 700,000, the three islands have suffered through 20 coups or coup attempts since independence from France in 1975. In 2001 a new constitution was agreed upon that, in theory, saw central military power give way to a dispersed-democratic system that endowed each of the islands a significant amount of autonomy and control over local affairs. Oversight of the union of the three islands would rotate between the Presidents of each of the three islands. But things haven’t quite gone as planned.
Mohamed Bacar, who became President of the island of Anjouan in 2001, saw his re-election in June 2007 rejected by the Comorian central government, as well as the African Union, on the grounds that the elections weren’t held with the approval of the Central government and were fraught with voting irregularaties and initimidation. And so despite his supposed 90% approval rating, Bacar was told to exit forthwith.
Months of failed negotiations, threats and bravado led the Central Comorian government to forego sanctions on the Island in favour of a “military solution.” That solution included the arrival of over 1,300 African Union troops (specifically Tanzanian and Sudanese), who on March 25th 2008 joined forces with Union government forces to overthrow Bacar and his rebels. Less than 24 hours later, Bacar’s forces had been routed, Bacar was seeking exile in Mayotte, and the problems caused by a power-hungry leader who had overstayed his welcome seem somewhat solved.
And so with this quick solution to the Comorian conflict, one might ask what else the African Union may in fact be able to do on the Continent. And more important, why they don’t take such forceful actions more often.
Evidently, the Comorian example is aided by the fact that Bacar’s forces were extremely weak and numbered only 500. An easy target. But given that what he was accused of doing – illegal standing as president of Anjouan and a desire to secede from the union – in the context of a Continent that has far worse perpetrators of human-rights violations, you have to ask why they’d spend their time messing about in the Comoros while Robert Mugabe has blatantly ignored both electoral justice and human rights since his first “democratic” election in 2002; while the Sudanese government of Al-Bashir sponsors horrific crimes against humanity in Darfur; and while strongmen such as Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo live in impunity despite their Mugabe-like actions.
And as we now wait to see the results of Presidential elections in Zimbabwe – a country that thanks to Mugabe is on the verge of economic and social collapse – one would be excused for doubting that even if Mugabe resorted to his old tricks and used violence and coercion to maintain his grip on power, both the African Union and the West would shout loudly but carry no stick.
While a military solution in Zimbabwe would be catastrophic, a direct and piercing diplomatic/economic solution brokered by the AU would not. Consistent pandering to Mugabe as the last of the great African revolutionaries does nothing for the people of Zimbabwe nor for progress of human rights on the Continent as a whole. The AU has now shown that it’s willingness to intervene if the conditions are right, now it may be forced to choose if it is willing to intervene if the reasons are right.