Zimbabwe vote puts AU, SADC in the dock

Johannesburg - With many international observers barred from covering Zimbabwe's crunch election on Wednesday, the AU and SADC are becoming the eyes and ears of the world in a stern test of their credibility.

When Robert Mugabe's government released the list of roughly 50 countries and groups invited to observe this week's crunch presidential and parliament elections, there were few surprises.

It was, in essence, a handpicked list of nations - Russia, Venezuela, China, Sudan, Cuba, Belarus and Iran - not usually known for their commitment to democracy.

While all embassies in Harare will be allowed five observers, fully blown missions from the United Nations, the United States, the European Union and anyone considered hostile to Mugabe's attempt to extend his 33-year rule were blocked.

Hopes for a substantial and credible account of the election rest with the African Union (AU) and the 15-member Southern African Development Community (SADC).

But even before an early civilian vote earlier this month ahead of the election had been cast, the AU's 60-strong mission to monitor the vote appeared at risk of losing its democratic bona fides.

Amid the chaotic early vote for police and security personnel, serious doubts about the state of the electoral roll and rampant partisanship by state media, the AU expressed confidence in a free and fair vote.

"On the whole we got the impression that the preparations were satisfactory," said AU commission chair Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

That raised eyebrows across the continent. Mugabe's perennial challenger Morgan Tsvangirai went as far as to describe Dlamini-Zuma's account of events as "misleading".

For many, her comment had troubling echoes of the AU and SADC's performance in previous elections.

Peaceful and credible

Both declared a 2011 vote in the Democratic Republic of Congo successful, despite outside observers reporting a panoply of problems.

In Zimbabwe itself, SADC declared the recent constitutional referendum "peaceful and credible" despite the detention of prominent human rights lawyers and Tsvangirai allies.

"The reason you want international monitors is to have actors that are more likely to be neutral," said Judith Kelley, author of Monitoring Democracy, a book on election monitors.

"Both the AU and SADC are likely to enter this election with some bias because of their membership countries' affiliation with Zimbabwe."

But for SADC in particular, much is riding on its take on the vote.

The EU, after decades of playing bad cop, seems set to defer to SADC's verdict on the vote.

"We don't have the right to continue with [sanctions] if the elections are acceptable," Roeland van de Geer, the EU's ambassador to South Africa, said recently. "But it has to be clear that's true."

And in many ways these elections are of SADC's making.

Fed up with chronic instability and a flood of Zimbabwean economic refugees across their borders, the bloc forced Mugabe and Tsvangirai into a power-sharing government following the bloodshed of the 2008 vote.

Severe credibility test

It also forced both men to agree a new constitution which paved the way for the vote.

But SADC still has to prove it is dependable.

"The Southern African Development Community and the African Union face severe credibility tests," the International Crisis Group said in a report published on Monday.

"There is growing concern, however, that both organisations may opt for a narrow evaluation of the elections."

"If the vote is deeply flawed, they should declare it illegitimate and press for a re-run after several months of careful preparation or, if that is not possible, facilitate negotiation of a compromise acceptable to the major parties."

In the coming days as election reports are released, many will be closely monitoring the monitors.

Tommo Too 2013/07/29 10:59:14 PM
The AU and SADC have already failed thanks to Zuma. When he stabbed Zulu in the back he lost all respect. Now Zuma licks the shoes of Mugabe
Rustic 2013/07/29 10:59:57 PM
The SA Gvt arse-lickers are unacustomed to telling the truth, so they might stuff it up anyway.
jungleboy 2013/07/29 11:28:40 PM
Thec AU and SADC are powerless and useless. They will once again fail the people of Zimbawe abd once again proove that leadership on the African continent is laughable.
Jones Malwela Mosima 2013/07/30 12:20:23 AM
Robert Gabriel Mugabe, yah neh, i wonder what he has seen to be so extremely cruel like this.
Tsietsi Gagai 2013/07/30 12:36:07 AM
Tsvangirai n his handlers mus giv up. They lost de Chimurenga
Nathi Sibbs 2013/07/30 02:08:01 AM
There is no way Zanu will accept loosing elections, major reason being that it is a party that comited genocide of more than 20 000 civilians. To understand Robert Mugabe, Zanu and the politics of that country just read the following books: (1)Architects of Poverty by Moeletsi Mbeki, (2) Gukurawundi in Zimbabwe by Elinor Sisulu, (3)The Fear: Robert Mugabe by Peter Godwin and (4)Dinner with Mugabe Mugabe by Heidi Holland. If this is what as African we call leadership or heroes that are revealed by these books then we have a problem. The region has been hijacked by a dictator who kills his people, send millions into exile, destroy his economy and insults neighbour by calling them all sorts of names. Where in the world do presidents insults and kill thier citizen and remain in power through the barrel of a gun but Zimbabwe. Its a shame that reduces our continent took very bad.
Robert Gabriel Tsvangirai 2013/07/30 05:21:38 AM
Do the SADC leaders really know that if Mugabe is voted out of power its an indirect job creation plan in their countries. The recovery of the Zim economy is the recovery of SADC's economy. I think Zuma is happy with the wasting of her countries resources, petrol used to transport illegal immigrants who make it back to Jhb before the officials who have deported them, the food they provide to thousands in holding cells, the medicine. Wake up SADC uncle Bob is taking you for a ride
Teboho Mokotjomela 2013/07/30 05:46:58 AM
These begging organisations, AU n SADU r merely d stooges of Mugabe.
Thulasizwe Khumalo 2013/07/30 06:15:01 AM
The future of Zim is in your hands. If the observers are not allowed this tells me that Mugabe will win again. He has appointed his friends. But if you sit and cry no one will help you. It is time to stand up and do something. The time has arrived to fight this.
Kalahari Kgalagadi Safaris 2013/07/30 06:16:55 AM
AU + SADC = Africa . And africa will never do the right thing.