Who's surprised? The Southern African Development Community (SADC) held yet another summit on Zimbabwe that was indecisive, inconclusive and soft on Robert Mugabe.
Days after the weekend summit, political analysts are still trying to figure out what happened.
There had been considerable hopes that the SADC summit, held in Johannesburg on Saturday and Sunday, would result in firm measures to press Mugabe to stop political violence against Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
Those high expectations were as a result of the SADC's special meeting on Zimbabwe in Livingstone, Zambia, on March 31. SADC's three-nation troika on security met about Zimbabwe and at that meeting Mugabe received surprisingly harsh criticism from South Africa. The communique issued at the end that meeting was especially blunt in urging Mugabe to stop all political violence and arrests of opposition members.
So many thought that the SADC summit in Joburg would maintain that pressure on Mugabe to end political violence and to take steps to free the press and create a climate conducive to free and fair elections.
No such luck. SADC, yet again, returned to its "softly, softly" approach to Mugabe. No reprimands were issued. No orders were given. The SADC summit merely "noted" the strong statement from Victoria Falls but noticeably declined to endorse that statement.
SADC throughout its history has steadfastly avoided criticism of veteran leaders and Robert Mugabe, 87, and in power for 31 years, is the most veteran of them all. So the SADC leaders returned to form and issued such a gently worded statement that Mugabe can carry on as he pleases.
“The fact that the summit said little about the regional body’s position on the issues raised in Livingstone regarding the polarization of the political environment and the resurgence of violence, arrests and intimidation makes it no different from previous summits which have failed to come up with clear resolutions to the Zimbabwean crisis,” said Judy Smith of the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria.
Smith said the Johannesburg SADC summit made two key omissions as “no timelines were set and no statement was made as to what would happen should the parties not move faster or slower” to fully implement the agreement which brought about the power-sharing government with Mugabe's Zanu-PF and Tsvangirai's MDC in 2009.
“Well, while the Livingstone deliberations may have been cause for optimism that a more vocal approach would be taken, the truth is that all past communiqués issued by SADC have had the same ‘soft tone’ on Zimbabwe," said Smith.
She said it was unfortunate that SADC had few mechanisms at its disposal to enforce compliance with decisions made by the regional body, “the most obvious of which seem very unlikely to be employed in the case of Zimbabwe — namely expelling or sanctioning a member state.”
SADC will consider Zimbabwe again at its annual summit, which will be hosted in Luanda by the incoming chair of the body, Angola, in August.
Smith said that South Africa was ready to see the Livingstone decisions endorsed during the Johannesburg summit but other SADC members were reluctant to come down hard on Mugabe.
“I think the SA team is committed to resolving the crisis, but it is seriously hampered by an apparent reluctance to come out strongly on Zimbabwe from all SADC member states. We have to be realistic about what we can expect from an external facilitator or from a body such as SADC without the internal consensus ... on the current state of affairs in Zimbabwe,” Smith said.
Robert Mugabe, on the other hand, is pleased at the outcome. Mugabe has a track record of getting what he wants from SADC and the Joburg summit is no exception. The state-owned Herald, which acts as the mouthpiece for the Mugabe regime, celebrated the results of the Johannesburg summit.