With South Africa taking over the leadership of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and Zimbabwe heading for yet another landmark election likely to be highly contested and equally disputed, it is only logical to remind both SADC and South Africa on the unfinished business that is Zimbabwe. Unfinished business given the investment made after the 2008 election in trying to resolve the political impasse that had emerged arising from an electoral outcome that was disputed. The formation of an inclusive government was spearheaded by SADC but only just the beginning of a consolidated democratic dispensation critical to the stabilization of the region.
While a new constitution is celebrated as a major milestone of the inclusive government of 2009 to 2013, the real benefits of that constitution lie more in its full implementation than in the mere existence of a document that is disregarded. In order for ensured sustained democratic growth, Zimbabwe needs more than half measures, more than cosmetic efforts to give an illusion of movement. As 2018 draws closer, the reality of Zimbabwe remains characterized by weak legislation and weak institutions supporting the country’s very weak democracy. Conversations by SADC on growing the region must centre on building strong institutions rather than focusing on politicians and political parties.
While individuals have been the key architects of weakening the region for political convenience, a focus on them alone while ignoring the need to build the necessary infrastructure for sustained development will only postpone the inevitable and not eradicate the persistent challenges facing democratic processes. As SADC meets for the 37th SADC summit in Pretoria, from the 19th to the 20th of August 2017, it must be reminded that another disputed election in the region will be yet another dent in the credibility of the institution and every effort must be made to strengthen democratic institutions and laws in countries with a previous record of conflict and dispute. While Zimbabwe is not the only country in need of the region’s attention, the fact that the region is yet to conclude its assistance towards strengthening democratic process suggests the need for further prioritisation.
Notwithstanding that some progress has been noted in some areas, the Election Resource Centre (ERC) opines that the national assembly by-elections held post 2013 have not settled irregularities that were noted by both local and regional election observer missions, particularly SADC. These uncompleted processes are likely to create similar problems that have characterised Zimbabwe’s previous elections, resulting in disputed outcomes.
NB: Below is an Extract from the REVISED SADC PRINCIPLES AND GUIDELINES GOVERNING DEMOCRATIC ELECTIONS (Adopted on 20 July 2015, Pretoria, Republic of South Africa):
RESPONSIBILITIES OF SADC MEMBER STATES HOLDING ELECTIONS
5.1 As a commitment to the SADC Treaty and the Protocol on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation, Member States shall undertake to implement interventions designed to promote democratic principles and practices. To this end, the responsibilities of Member States shall be to:
5.1.1 Make every effort to ensure the scrupulous implementation of the “Principles for Conducting Democratic Elections”, as contained in section four (4) of the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections, and in accordance with the constitutional processes of the country;
5.1.2 Facilitate the observation of the entire electoral cycle of their national elections by SEOMs, including the deployment of Goodwill Missions, Long Term Observers (LTOs), Short Term Observers (STOs), and pre-election assessment processes;
5.1.3 Establish impartial, professional, independent, all inclusive, competent and accountable EMBs staffed by eminent, non-partisan and capable commissioners, and efficient and professional personnel;
5.1.4 Ensure transparency, justice, and expediency in the resolution of disputes that arise from elections by such means as Codes of Conduct, Constitutional and Electoral Courts, or any relevant Court of law to arbitrate in the event of disputes arising from the conduct of elections;
5.1.5 Ensure that the EMB, or other legally designated institution, is independent and that it has adequate logistics, human, financial resources and contingencies made available for the entire Electoral Cycle, including the authority to recruit, train and build the capacity of permanent and temporary electoral staff.
5.1.6 Ensure that adequate security is provided to the entire electoral process including all political parties participating in elections;
5.1.7 Ensure timely accreditation of observers in accordance with national laws as appropriate;
5.1.8 Uphold the Principles of equal and universal suffrage in line with the provisions of the SADC Treaty and relevant SADC Protocols;
5.1.9 Guarantee and ensure a political environment that is conducive to the conduct of democratic elections;
5.1.10 Take reasonable measures to guarantee political parties and other electoral stakeholders, unhindered access to, and to communicate freely with, the media in line with the “Principles for Conducting Democratic Elections.”