How An Economic Union Has Changed African Governance, And What This Means For Zimbabwe

Written by Dana Sanchez

Regional intervention to safeguard democratic election results in The Gambia represents a paradigm shift in African governance, an exiled Zimbabwean judge said in a statement.

Benjamin Paradza, now president of the political party Zimbabweans United for Democracy, credits swift, decisive action by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) with getting Gambian dictator Yahya Jammeh to give up power to the legitimately elected President Adama Barrow.

“This paradigm shift means that it is no longer dictatorship as usual in Africa,” Paradza said. “There is new respect for people’s democratic vote and ECOWAS has set a new benchmark for African governance.” Paradza encouraged other economic organisations such as the Southern African Development Community to do the same.

“ECOWAS has raised the bar for the Mediation Unit of SADC’s Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation, whose mandate is to deal with conflicts within and among member states,” Paradza said. “SADC must learn from and emulate the authority and decisiveness of ECOWAS.”

If there’s a lesson to be learned from The Gambia, it’s that it takes some external persuasion to remove a dictator from power and allow a democratically elected successor to take over, Eddie Cross said in The Zimbabwean.

In the Gambia, it took the threat of military intervention by ECOWAS member countries led by Senegal and Nigeria. They were supported by the United Nations and by the African Union, giving legitimacy to the intervention.

Under pressure from regional military forces, long-term Gambian leader Yahya Jammeh flew out of Gambia into exile in what is considered an important victory for democracy in West Africa, Financial Times reported.

After seizing power 22 years ago in a coup, Jammeh lost a Gambian election in December to Barrow. After initially accepting election results, Jammeh changed his mind and refused to leave.

Removing Jammeh from power took African regional leadership from 16 ECOWAS countries standing up to him and insisting he respect the outcome of the election, Cross said.

ECOWAS member countries include Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo.

ECOWAS was the first to say Jammeh must go, Cross said. Then the African Union stood behind ECOWAS, followed by the U.N. Security Council and finally his own close colleagues.

“Forget Trump,” Cross said. “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.”

The situation was very different in 2008, when Zimbabwean opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai won 54 percent of the vote against Robert Mugabe’s 27 percent, Cross said.

Zimbabwean election officials were forced to do a recount of 25 constituencies and to fudge the presidential vote, Cross said. They could not change the outcome of any of the 25 seats, but the presidential vote was falsified, ballots destroyed and a rerun forced on the country. Mugabe came out with an 84 percent majority.

Then-president of South Africa Thabo Mbeki stood on the sidelines, Cross said. “He allowed the subterfuge in the silly belief that it would be better for South Africa and the ruling African National Congress party if Mugabe’s Zanu PF stayed 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.”

Almost a decade later, Mugabe, 92, is incapable of carrying out his responsibilities as head of state, Cross said. His party is divided, unable to make decisions or provide leadership. Zimbabweans are fleeing the country and South Africa is the prime target.

Yet very little leadership is forthcoming from the 15-member Southern African Development Community (SADC), Cross said.

SADC members include Angola, Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Swaziland, United Republic of Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

“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,'” Cross said. “The regional powerhouse (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.”