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Unpacking Zimbabwe’s plea for SADC Aid

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On Monday, 30 March 2009, SADC leaders converged at Lozitha Royal Palace in Mbabane, Swaziland to consider a US$10billion economic recovery aid package for Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe was represented at the extraordinary summit by President Robert Mugabe of ZANU-PF and Finance Minister Tendai Biti of the MDC.

On the face of it, this was a very unusual meeting; the size of the aid needed and the targeted potential donor (SADC) made the whole affair strange. Firstly, Zimbabwe needs about US$10 billion in its begging bowl; SADC simply does not have that kind of money to throw around. Mozambique, like several other SADC countries, relies on donor funds for more than 80% of its own national budget needs. Most of the SADC member states themselves are beggars to whom another beggar, Zimbabwe was now turning. The only country with some financial muscle to speak of is South Africa. However, at the end of the meeting South Africa pledged just US$30 million to be disbursed in batches of $10 million over the next 3 months.

The extraordinary summit, as expected, failed to come up with the much needed aid. Instead, the summit did three highly significant things. First, it pledged support for Zimbabwe’s fundraising efforts. Second, the summit ‘urged the developed countries to lift all forms of sanctions against Zimbabwe as these sanctions will undermine the country’s and SADC efforts to normalise the situation in that Member State’. And, finally, the summit ‘established a Committee of Ministers of Finance comprising South Africa, Zambia, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Botswana, Zimbabwe as well as the Executive Secretary of SADC to coordinate SADC support to the Zimbabwe recovery process.’

It was clear from the outset that SADC would not have the kind of money Zimbabwe was asking for, so that could not have been the main objective of the extraordinary summit. This was, l submit, not just another fundraising summit. It was a carefully planned manoeuvre by President Mugabe and ZANU-PF to neutralise the MDC and steal the limelight. It was a desperate attempt on the part of ZANU-PF to revive its propaganda and disguise it as a SADC position. Such a revelation would explain why President Mugabe travelled to Swaziland in person. How, one might ask, would a SADC summit that fails to give aid neutralise MDC?

We need to understand that the inclusive government in Zimbabwe is made up of rival political parties that are already looking to the next elections and scheming accordingly. Zimbabwe’s economy is in the intensive care unit and urgently needs to be revived. The only way to revive the economy is to get aid from external sources. The party that secures aid, and therefore revives the economy will get the credit in the eyes of the electorate. It is common cause that MDC is widely viewed as having friends in the international aid community and that ZANU-PF has burnt all bridges with the international donor community. Therefore, ZANU-PF’s political challenge would be how to secure aid without giving credit to MDC. And this is where the SADC Summit comes in.

The SADC Summit’s true purpose was to get SADC to collectively accept and endorse ZANNU-PF’s rhetoric and propaganda that Zimbabwe’s economy was destroyed by the ‘cruel sanctions of developed nations’ and that continuation of such ‘sanctions’ would undermine any efforts by Zimbabwe and SADC to normalise the situation in Zimbabwe. The SADC Communiqué at the end of the Summit embraced this view and by so doing achieved two things; it explained both the past failure of Zimbabwe’s economy and the potential future failure to revive the economy as a direct consequence of sanctions. We all know very well that this is nonsense. The so-called sanctions that exist are travel restrictions targeting ZANU-PF politicians that were put in place for reasons not yet addressed; reasons such as absence of rule of law, wanton human rights abuses and bad governance.

The SADC Summit Communiqué further proclaimed support for Zimbabwe’s fundraising efforts and immediately set up a ‘Committee of Ministers of Finance comprising South Africa, Zambia, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Botswana, Zimbabwe as well as the Executive Secretary of SADC to coordinate SADC support to the Zimbabwe recovery process.’ This is a classical diplomatic coup that ZANU-PF pulled. It means MDC is no longer responsible for fundraising for Zimbabwe, but instead, SADC has that mandate, and necessarily, MDC cannot claim to have rescued the country and brought it back from the brink of collapse. Looking to elections ahead, l can predict ZANU-PF will be quick to dismiss the contribution of MDC and give all credit to ZANU-PF and the SADC Coordination Committee tasked with fundraising in Europe and the United States. The mandate of the SADC Coordination Committee is to ‘visit major capitals in Europe, Asia and America as well as major financial institutions to mobilise support for Zimbabwe’s economic recovery programme.’

The other purpose that the SADC Summit serves for ZANU-PF is that it gives ZANU-PF opportunity to save face and justifies going to the west to beg under some twisted logic that in fact ZANU-PF has not changed its stance, but rather, it is the west merely lifting sanctions. It would be interesting to find out from ZANU-PF what became of their glorified ‘Look East Policy.’ One would have expected China to be the knight in shining armour riding to Zimbabwe’s rescue. The problem with President Mugabe and ZANU-PF is that they are in denial. They are in denial about the huge role they both played in destroying the economy through mismanagement, cronyism, corruption and use of knee-jerk reaction policies such as the ill-fated look east policy. They are in denial that they have failed to deliver and as such must necessarily step aside and allow fresh brains and fresh blood to try new policies. Therefore, the driver who refused to take directions from anyone and landed us in this ditch, still insists on (ostensibly) driving us out of the ditch, and again, believes he knows the right direction! God have mercy on us.

The unfortunate part of it all is that for the past ten years of struggle for democracy in Zimbabwe, ZANU-PF has managed to run circles around SADC with the result that SADC has become a mere appendage of ZANU-PF unable to independently and objectively come to the aid of the people of Zimbabwe. Quite ironically, the same SADC, in the same Summit Communiqué, had quite strong language for Madagascar where a military coup took place two weeks ago. SADC leaders said they, ‘condemned in the strongest terms, the unconstitutional actions that have led to the illegal ousting of the democratically elected Government of Madagascar and called for an immediate restoration of constitutional order in the country’. SADC suspended Madagascar, with immediate effect, from participating in any of its organs until it returns to normalcy. Talk of double standards!

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