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Southern Africa needs more substantial ‘did it’ moments


Babatunde Fagbayibo is an associate professor of law at the University of South Africa.

The deepening of democracy in southern Africa will require more than scattered, superficial moves. A significant first step should be an increased sense of obligation on the part of democratic states within the region, led by South Africa, to call out bad behaviours of errant member states.

Jonathan Moyo’s laughable and delusional crusade to present a revisionist version of Robert Mugabe’s calamitous regime is one that should ordinarily not form part of any serious consideration.

However, we cannot totally discard his rantings as it may just help in providing a window to a rigorous psychoanalytical and socio-political study of the role of African intellectuals, whose service to dictatorial regimes helps legitimise and normalise brutality. Such study is, however, beyond the scope of this piece.

In an interview with the SABC, Jonathan Moyo had made an observation that is now more noted for its grammatical blunder than its potential to provide a platform for a serious change across the Southern African region. In that interview, he noted:

As we say in southern Africa, if Zimbabwe did it (sic), why can’t Malawi did it (sic), why can’t Zambia did it (sic), why can’t Mozambique did it (sic), and in the end, everybody will did it (sic).”

While the statement was made to show the illegality of the removal of Robert Mugabe, it also points to something fundamental: “Why can’t everybody did it in terms of removing illegal and suppressive regimes across the sub-region?” In other words, if we flip Moyo’s warped statement around, and appropriate it for genuine advancement of democratic governance in southern Africa, perhaps we could have a befitting and truly beneficial “did it” moment.

Except for a few countries (such as Mauritius, the Seychelles, Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa), most countries in the southern Africa sub-region are either illiberal democracies or outright suppressive regimes. The Southern African Development Community (SADC) has essentially pitched its tent with suppressive regimes (in Zambia, Swaziland and Democratic Republic of Congo) by remaining silent in the face of a frontal onslaught on democratic rights.

SADC is in good company as other regional organisations such as the African Union (AU), East African Community (EAC), and Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) do very little in terms of advancing democratic rights in their respective regions.

Recent events in Zimbabwe and Angola are far from the expected democratic consolidation in the region. In both cases, the predatory and kleptocratic ruling parties are still in firm control of the levers of power, albeit there are minor traces of how things should be. In spite of new Angolan president João Lourenço’s actions, there remains some reluctance in terms of making sure that the Dos Santos family and other cronies face justice.

In Zimbabwe, the new regime is very clear about the consolidation of the influence of the Zanu-PF faction that removed Mugabe. Emmerson Mnangagwa has resorted to a diarchical system of government, as a means of cementing the role of the army as an integral force in the socio-political dynamics of the country. The possibility of having free and fair elections in Zimbabwe later this year remains in the balance.

The deepening of democracy in southern Africa will require more than scattered, superficial moves. A significant first step should be an increased sense of obligation on the part of democratic states within the region, led by South Africa, to call out bad behaviours of errant member states. Botswana was able to show this through its constant criticism of the Mugabe regime. Botswana’s efforts, however, made little impact as it lacked the power of a regional hegemon, with South Africa’s silence and support of the Mugabe regime particularly undercutting its potential influence.

South Africa has also been curiously silent about the deteriorating democratic situations in Zambia and DRC. Hopefully, the new president, Cyril Ramaphosa, will be able to change South Africa’s problematic, or what some scholars have referred to as schizophrenic, approach to democratisation issues in the sub-region.

Second, SADC will have to reassess its lack of relevance in the dynamics of democratisation across the region. Unlike the role the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas) played in removing the illegal regime of Yahya Jammeh in The Gambia, SADC has largely relinquished its role to external actors (The Commonwealth in Zambia), the Army (in Zimbabwe) and civil society (in the DRC).

At its 37th Summit in August 2017, SADC literally endorsed the illegitimacy of Joseph Kabila’s government in the DRC by agreeing that he should remain in power until December 2018. In changing this unfortunate course, the active role of democratic states will be required in implementing mechanisms aimed at “naming and shaming” and the suspension of member states that violate stated democratic principles.

Finally, recent events in southern Africa have shown the central role civil society can play in advancing democracy. Although efforts and results are varied, civil society in South Africa, DRC and to some extent, Zimbabwe, have proved that sustained campaigns of resistance can be efficacious. The lesson for civil society is the need to ramp up grassroots mobilisation of activists, increase lobbying at the SADC level, and enhance networking measures across the region.

Jonathan Moyo’s fear of “did it” moments is one steeped in an unenlightened, elitist self-interest, a factor that has been the root cause of a democracy deficit across the continent. To break free from such feudalistic modus operandi, southern Africa, nay Africa at large, will require more substantial “did it” moments, one that consigns Jonathan Moyo and his ilk to the much deserved garbage heap of history. DM


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