ZIMBABWE’S pariah state status, earned during the era of the late president Robert Mugabe over his draconian rule and electoral theft, could now gain momentum after the country held contentious polls that have been condemned for the first time by the regional bloc Sadc.
The Southern African Development Community has been Zanu PF’s solid line of defence in sanitising controversial elections held since the emergence of the main opposition MDC in 1999. The party has since metamorphosed into the Citizens’ Coalition for Change (CCC) led by Nelson Chamisa.
However, for the first time, Sadc condemned last week’s elections, opening the floodgate of condemnations by other election observer missions.
Led by former Zambian vice-president Nevers Mumba, the Sadc Electoral Observer Mission (SEOM) said the elections violated Zimbabwe’s constitution, Electoral Act and was also in breach of the regional bloc’s Principles and Guidelines for Democratic Elections.
“Our goal was to observe the process(es). If the process was flawed, the result cannot be legitimate,” said a forthright Mumba.
The European Union, British government, United States government, Comesa and the Commonwealth have also condemned the elections, highlighting the risk of Zimbabwe’s complete international isolation which could render the country pariah state.
As a pariah, Zimbabwe will remain fixated in relations with countries such as Russia, Belarus and Iran which have also been warming up to diplomatic ties with Harare.
Political analyst Vivid Gwede told The NewsHawks that the biggest challenge Zimbabwe faces at this stage is shaking off the pariah state tag.
“If nothing is done to correct the crisis of legitimacy emerging as a result of the elections, Zimbabwe will struggle with the consequences for the next five years, including isolation,” Gwede said.
“It is difficult to see how re-engagement and re-admission into such bodies as the Commonwealth will happen in this fraught context.”
Since taking over power in a military coup in 2017, one of Mnangagwa’s major goals was international diplomatic re-engagement.
The international community, particularly the United States, had repeatedly called for the respect of human rights and an end to violence and impunity as some of the conditions for normalising relations with Harare.
The Zimbabwean government has, however, been found wanting time and again when it comes to respecting democracy and ensuring that citizens enjoy free expression and association, among other civil liberties.
When Mnangagwa was catapulted to the top office in 2017, before consolidating power through the disputed 2018 elections, he expressed lofty ambitions to re-engage the international community, amid optimism that Harare would turn a new leaf.
With the international community willing to disregard the coup which ousted long-time ruler Robert Mugabe, who presided over decades of authoritarian kleptocracy, Mnangagwa set an agenda to end decades-long isolation by the community of nations, especially Britain and the United States.
This objective is now in peril after Wednesday’s disputed polls.
State spin-doctors coined the term “new dispensation” and “Second Republic” soon after Mugabe was deposed as a demonstration that his regime was breaking with the past. That has not happened.
During his inauguration in August 2018, Mnangagwa said re-engagement would be one of the thrusts of his administration.
“Through the engagement and re-engagement policy, we are opening a new chapter in our relations with the world, underpinned by mutual respect, shared principles and common values. We look forward to playing a positive and constructive role as a free, democratic, transparent and responsible member of the family of nations,” Mnangagwa said.
“My government, cognisant that the world is not one basket and encouraged by the goodwill and support we have received to date, will continue to accelerate the international engagement and re-engagement policy, underpinned by mutual respect, peaceful development, shared principles and common values.
Zimbabwe looks forward to playing a positive and constructive role as a free, democratic, transparent, prosperous and responsible member of the family of nations. We are committed to strengthen dialogue, cooperation and partners.”
In 2019, it emerged that Harare had entered into a US$500 000 deal with a United States-based lobby firm to canvas for the removal of targeted sanctions imposed on top Zanu PF officials.
Brian Ballard, the man who was regarded as the most powerful lobbyist in Washington at that time due to his links to the then US president Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign and the 2020 re-election bid, was paid handsomely by Harare for the tough task of re-engaging with Washington on behalf of Mnangagwa.
The mission failed because of continued human rights abuses by Harare, including the 1 August 2018 killing of six unarmed civilians and the January 2019 murder of civilians by members of the security forces.
At international fora such as United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) as well as at the Davos Conference, Mnangagwa has always been at pains to explain that the Zimbabwean government needed to be re-admitted into the international community as a “new dispensation”. However, his talk failed to match the walk.
In a 2021 journal titled Zimbabwe’s Foreign Policy under Mnangagwa, scholars Henning Melber from the University of Pretoria, and Roger Southall based at the University of the Witwatersrand captured this aspect.
“Under the presidency of Mnangagwa, Zimbabwe’s foreign policy is characterised by the desire to ‘re-engage’ with the West with a view to securing the removal of sanctions and encouraging investment.
“In this, it has received the backing of the African Union and Southern African Development Community states. Simultaneously, the violence of the Mnangagwa regime has reinforced the reluctance of the West to remove sanctions, and Zimbabwe has even begun to test the patience of its neighbours,” wrote the academics, adding: “The government has placed renewed faith in the ‘Look East Policy’, but China is seeking to match its investments with tighter control.”
The Harare regime’s quest to rejoin the Commonwealth is also at stake due to violence against citizens and the violation of principles of the grouping’s Harare Declaration.
The declaration was announced in Harare on 20 October 1991 during the 12th Commonwealth Heads of States and Government Meeting.
The Harare Declaration reaffirmed in principle that member countries must: “believe in the liberty of the individual under the law, in equal rights for all citizens regardless of gender, race, colour, creed or political belief, and in the individual’s inalienable right to participate by means of free and democratic political processes in framing the society in which he or she lives; “recognise racial prejudice and intolerance as a dangerous sickness and a threat to healthy development, and racial discrimination as an unmitigated evil; “oppose all forms of racial oppression, and we are committed to the principles of human dignity and equality; “recognise the importance and urgency of economic and social development to satisfy the basic needs and aspirations of the vast majority of the peoples of the world, and seek the progressive removal of the wide disparities in living standards amongst our members.”
In the last visit by the Commonwealth delegation, led by assistant secretary-general Professor Luis Franceschi, it was made clear that assessment of Zimbabwe’s fitness to rejoin the bloc will be based on how far the country has upheld these principles.
However, due to the flawed elections held last week, Zimbabwe’s suitability to join the Commonwealth has become a big challenge.
Crisis Coalition of Zimbabwe chairperson Peter Mutasa said it would be dangerous for the Commonwealth to re-admit Zimbabwe into the bloc in its current state of repression.
Mutasa cited violence against citizens ahead of the polls as Mnangagwa’s biggest letdown.
“It is unfortunate that Zimbabwe seeks to be readmitted (into the international community) at a time the government is deepening authoritarian rule. The constitution is basically suspended and all rights and freedoms are taken away,” Mutasa said.
“All institutions of the state meant to engender democracy are manipulated and pushed into a partisan agenda. Political violence and persecution are heightening.”
He added: “It would be naive and counter progressive for the Commonwealth to ignore all these and unconditionally readmit Zimbabwe. This will seriously diminish the respect people have on the Commonwealth. It will also greatly undermine the local efforts that, at great risk, citizens are putting into making the Zimbabwean government accountable,” he said.