HARARE - President Robert Mugabe’s ascension to the chair of (Southern African Development Community) Sadc was a reward for staging a violence-free poll and a show of solidarity among African leaders, analysts have said.
Mugabe’s assumption of the Sadc chair comes amidst opposition disquiet over the way Zimbabwe conducted its elections last year.
Mugabe is set for coronation at a regional summit which will be held in Victoria Falls next month.
Piers Pigou, southern African director of the International Crisis Group, said he did not read too much into the appointment as it was part and parcel of the “theatre of African politics.”
“The ‘reward’ is also for ensuring elections were not violent, even if there remains profound questions about the deficits in the process, raised by Sadc and the AU, although not major enough for them to pull back from endorsement,” Pigou said.
He said the appointment, which will see him presiding over the continental body until August 2015 and subsequently as a member of the Sadc Troika until 2016, reinforced the importance of using AU and Sadc legal and policy frameworks as a departure point for engagement.
“An accommodation of Mugabe is regarded as the best way of containing him — better inside the tent than outside,” Pigou said.
Stephen Chan, professor of World Politics at School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, said this was a recognition for Mugabe’s role in African history.
“My view is that both Sadc and the AU, which signalled these appointments some time ago, wish to recognise Mugabe’s role in African history, but it also suggests that, should there be a succession process in Zimbabwe, it will likely be one of at least two years to allow for stable transition and to accompany Mugabe’s filling of these valedictory roles,” he said.
“Both Sadc and the AU accepted the electoral outcomes of 2013, despite the controversies involved; so, for these groups, no lines have been crossed.”
Pigou pointed out that Zimbabwe was not a signatory to the AU protocol on democracy and elections.
“The Sadc guidelines are just that — guidelines and they are not enforceable,” he said. “This gives space for both AU and Sadc to raise concerns but not necessarily to use them as a basis for not recognising the outcome.
“The absence of violence and a strong empirical base to follow up the multiple allegations of manipulation and fraud gave enough space for them to hide behind a sufficiently plausible verdict, ironically the MDCs were in the strongest position ever to boycott and there would be a whole different ball game if they had.”
He, however, doubted that this appointment would change the way the world sees Mugabe, who has held on to power for the last 34 years.
“Despite the election result, Mugabe still has a legitimacy problem both within Zimbabwe and internationally,” he said.
“Africa seeks a rehabilitative approach as opposed to a retributive one and has held the line on this, and in doing so has undermined efforts by some to demonise Mugabe as part of their objective to see the back of him. This has not succeeded and many of his detractors have been reduced to a position of ‘wait and see’.”