By Sij Ncube
HARARE, August 17, 2015 – AS Botswana President Ian Khama assumes chairmanship of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) this week, analysts expect him to be tough on President Robert Mugabe who stands accused of continued human rights violations and an unapologetic enemy of democracy.
Mugabe officially handed over the SADC chairmanship to Khama on Monday but political activists and analysts say Khama should move with speed to use his one-tenure in addressing human rights, democracy and corruption issues not only in Zimbabwe but other trouble spots in the regional grouping.
The Zanu (PF) leader has been hailed by the state-media he firmly controls for his alleged “successful” stewardship of SADC with the partisan The Herald proclaiming Monday in a screaming headline: From Agenda Item to Agenda Setter.
But critics of the 91-old Zanu (PF)’s leader maintain he largely ignored governance and democracy issues in the Zimbabwe and SADC, pointing out at the continued attacks, arrest, harassment and opposition leaders in Harare and elsewhere in SADC.
They point out Mugabe failed to deal with crisis in Lesotho where an opposition leader was gunned down in broad daylight while in Harare the whereabouts of journalist-turned political activists Itai Dzamara are still unknown.
According to the Media Institute of Southern Africa Zimbabwe, while other SADC countries are making strides towards entrenching democracy and enjoyment of fundamental rights, Harare is somehow still trapped in the old constitutional order with a raft of repressive media laws such as Access to Information Protection of Privacy Act, Broadcasting Services Act, Interception of Communications Act, Official Secrets Act and Criminal Defamation, among others, remaining firmly entrenched in its statutes.
The conviction and sentencing to imprisonment of freelance journalist Patrick Chitongo on charges of publishing The Southern Mirror without a registration certificate as required under AIPPA, is testimony to the criminalisation of free speech in Zimbabwe.
Maxwell Saungweme, a development analyst closely watching the political situation in Southern Africa based in Afghanistan, expects better articulation and leadership on democracy, human rights and anti-corruption drive.
He says civil society and opposition parties now have someone to meaningful lobby with on these key issues – democracy, corruption and human rights – unlike the case where Mugabe was the chair.
“It was impossible to lobby the regional block on these issues. I also expect better articulation of an economic agenda for region in which Zimbabwe will benefit,” said Saungweme.
Dumisani Nkomo, a Bulawayo-based political analyst, urged Khama to show more resolve to solve regional problems and attend to hotspots such a Lesotho, Swaziland and Zimbabwe where Mugabe and Zanu PF are accused of brazenly stealing the July 31 2013 polls.
“Khama needs to be tough on Mugabe who largely ignored the crisis in Zimbabwe during his SADC tenure,” said Nkomo.
But Rashweat Mukundu, the chairman of the Zimbabwe Democracy Institute, cautioned Zimbabweans against hoping to have Zimbabwe back on top of the agenda of SADC meetings and summits, saying as far as the regional grouping was concerned the crisis in Harare ended with Mugabe’s controversial victory on July 31, 2016.
“Khama may talk about Zimbabwe in broad and not direct terms. It will take dramatic and negative political developments in Zimbabwe for Khama to directly engage on Zimbabwe, otherwise Zimbabwe is a closed chapter in SADC and focus is on Lesotho,” said Mukundu.
He however, was quick to add that many Zimbabweans expect Khama, who has previously spoken passionately around governance and democracy issues, to steer SADC in the direction of free and fair elections, adding that citizens hoped to see the Botswana leader increase the role of SADC in monitoring electoral processes and that he makes such processes standardized.
Amnesty International in a statement Tuesday weighed in, noting that Zimbabwe has failed to align its laws with the 2013 constitution, allowing police to revert to old tactics to intimidate protesters.
“President Khama must use his new role as SADC chair to put pressure on the leaders of countries where human rights violations and abuses are prevalent,” the rights group stated.
“He should encourage them to show respect for human rights within their borders and appeal to other SADC leaders to ensure that member states that fail to respect human rights are fully held to account.”
In the face of increasing human rights violations across the region, Amnesty International called for the reinstatement and full effective and independent functioning of the suspended SADC tribunal.
The tribunal provided individuals and legal representatives of victims of human rights violations access to seek remedies and justice but SADC Heads of State suspended it in August 2014 without any consultation or justification.