THE decisive action taken by Ecowas against Yahya Jammeh’s attempts to cling on to power in Gambia despite losing an election has set “a new benchmark for African governance to which Sadc must now conform”, Zimbabweans said at the weekend.
They said the extent of Sadc countries’ complicit in the oppression of Zimbabwe was revealed in the manner in which regional leaders remained silent as the regional block’s counterpart in West Africa successfully pushed out Jammeh.
Apart from Botswana which issued a statement last week declaring that it no longer recognised Jammeh as the leader of Gambia, Sadc leaders behaved as though there was no crisis in the West African country.
Zimbabweans said Sadc, which failed to deal with an almost similar situation in Zimbabwe in 2008, must learn from Ecowas.
“We need an Ecowas in southern Africa!” tweeted prominent lawyer, Fadzayi Mahere, as she, like many Zimbabweans, “watched events up in the Gambia with envy”.
Exiled former High Court judge, Justice Benjamin Paradza, said Botswana must be applauded while Ecowas had “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.”
“Sadc must learn from and emulate the authority and decisiveness of Ecowas,” said justice Paradza in a statement issued Sunday.
“So far, Sadc has not said a word about the events in The Gambia and that is worrying. It is difficult to imagine what is going on in the minds of those running Sadc and their silence is not helping at all,” said Justice Paradza.
He added, “If Sadc is for the people, now is the time to come out and openly say so, otherwise Sadc will continue to look like a club that is meant to perpetuate the repressive regimes that have come out of former liberation movements.
In 2008, Mugabe lost the first round of the Presidential elections to Morgan Tsvangirai of MDC-T but kept his job through a violent run-off poll which claimed over 200 opposition supporters.
Despite glaring evidence of state subversion on the poll outcome, African leaders led by Sadc, stampeded Tsvangirai into a unity government.
But the hybrid administration turned a monumental farce after Mugabe retained a partisan security apparatus, judiciary and civil service structure while denying his coalition partner any state power.
The let-off allowed the wily leader to regroup and reclaim lost support from the opposition, something which allowed him to eventually elbow his rivals out of government corridors in the 2013 elections.
In sharp contrast, Ecowas acted decisively against similar attempts by Jammeh with Gambia’s neighbours such as Senegal and Nigeria first to volunteer troops to drive the disgraced leader out of office.
Just like Mugabe, Jammeh tried to sneak back through a desperate attempt to contest the poll outcome through the courts while railroading parliament into granting him a three month extension of his tenure which could have allowed him time to purge those opposed to his continued rule.
PDP leader Tendai Biti accused Sadc of supporting Mugabe to preserve the current stranglehold on power by former liberation movements.
He said this was apparent on 13 April 2008 at Mulungushi (training centre, Zambia) conference where Sadc leaders prescribed a run-off election in Zimbabwe when Mugabe was still clinging to results of the Presidential election.
“This is largely due to the disproportionate presence of liberation movements who are loyal to the ideology of patronage and hegemony as opposed to democracy,” Biti said.
Biti said this was different with West African states, among them Ivory Coast Senegal, Ghana, Nigeria where liberation movements were no longer in power.
“West Africa now understands democracy…Sadc remains largely the bastion of autocratic liberation movements,” he said.
Former Regional Integration Minister Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga who was co-negotiator during the formation of the GNU, said SADC could have dealt differently with the 2008 tensions in Zimbabwe.
“West Africa has moved from where we are; its now using baseline values on what a proper election means,” she said.
“They are not messed up by liberation ideology. With Zimbabwe, unfortunately that was not the issue. They (Sadc) were not dealing with the issues in Zimbabwe; they were saying ‘how do we protect one of our own’.
“They were coming from a point of saying how do we protect the legacy of the liberation of Zimbabwe.”
She said it was time the region had a new generation of leaders who did not place their camaraderie ahead of democracy.
Opposition RDZ leader, Elton Mangoma thought differently, saying Zimbabwean circumstances were far different from those of Gambia where Jammeh had conceded defeat.
“Ecowas had a stronger case because the incumbent lost the election and conceded defeat before a second thought,” he said.
“Emotionally speaking citizens are justified to demand that Mugabe could have been pushed out but he could return via the courts of law.
“In short Sadc, had a weaker legal case to flush out Mugabe but morally justified.”
The former energy minister said Sadc has always been reluctant to send troops to flush out rogue neighbouring leaders.
While Mugabe has had a loyal military which has steadfastly shielded him from angry masses, the case was not the same with Jammeh whose military commander said he was not going to command any of his charges to fire a bullet in defence of the former Gambian strongman.
Jammeh left Gambia Saturday night for exile in the Equatorial Guinea.