By Alex Bell
SW Radio Africa
27 January 2014
Botswana has become the first Southern African nation to criticise the regional bloc’s endorsement of Zimbabwe’s disputed elections, with President Ian Khama moving to break rank with fellow SADC leaders over the polls.
In an interview aired on Botswana’s national television station, BTV, Khama said the Zim elections were neither free nor fair. He also announced that Botswana will no longer participate in any SADC election observer missions, because the leadership bloc appears to have let Zimbabwe “off the hook”.
SADC has faced serious criticism for endorsing Zimbabwe’s 2013 polls in the face of widespread reports of irregularities, witnessed not only by Zimbabweans, but also observer missions from across the region.
For example the main opposition party in South Africa rejected the endorsement of Zimbabwe’s elections by the SADC Parliamentary Forum observer mission, saying the polls were not free, fair or credible. The Democratic Alliance (DA)’s Masizole Mnqasela, who was part of the mission, refused to sign off on a report that moved to endorse the polls.
Another observer, Elias Bila, who was representing the Federation of Unions for South Africa (FEDUSA) as part of the Southern African Trade Union Coordination Council observer team, called the poll outcome “a fraud.” He also said the polls were not credible.
This was also the position of yet another regional observer team, the Southern Africa Regional Civil Society and Social Movements observer mission. That mission, organised by the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition and Zimbabwe Solidarity Forum, said in its preliminary report that “these elections were heavily compromised and fall far short of meeting the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections.”
Botswana had initially rejected claims that the poll was credible, and in early August called for an audit of the results. But a final decision was later voiced by SADC, with its main observer mission saying the polls were generally free and peaceful.
“I want to correct the word fairness… the SADC observer statement said the elections were free and peaceful, they never used the word fair… that’s why we asked for an audit of the Zimbabwe election,” Khama said on BTV.
He continued: “SADC has set itself guidelines for the conduct of free and fair elections and, therefore, it’s incumbent on all of us in SADC to conform to those set of guidelines and if there is a breach of those guidelines then we have to say, ‘Fine, we have breached these guidelines; what now happens? What do we do about it?’
“And in Zim, we sent 80 plus or so observers and almost every one of them said there were irregularities in that election, and there were. I am convinced of it…So, do we say Zimbabwe is an exception to the SADC guidelines?”
Khama has long been considered to be cut of a different cloth to that of his fellow Southern African leaders, and has previously been critical of the situation in Zimbabwe when his counterparts were prepared to ignore it.
His latest comments are now being commended as an overdue but welcome position, which should be echoed by other regional leaders. Dewa Mavhinga, a senior researcher in Africa Division at Human Rights Watch, told SW Radio Africa that Khama’s position is “fantastic.”
“At long last a key leader has come out strongly to show what a charade the SADC election observer missions have been. It is a position that is welcome and one that should be emulated by others,” Mavhinga said.
He said South Africa, the SADC appointed mediator in Zimbabwe, was the main disappointment in the Zim situation, because its position led the way for the overall endorsement of the polls.
“As the mediator they should have been forthright and upfront with Mugabe that what happened was not genuine. It had serious irregularititess that didn’t meet the SADC guidelines and principles,” Mavhinga said
Khama meanwhile, when asked if he was comfortable with alienating Botswana by being the only African nation calling for an audit of the Zim polls, said: “ I am very comfortable; I would sleep better at night knowing that I have taken that stance.”
The Botswana leader also moved to break rank with African Union (AU), stating he was against an AU resolution that sitting heads of state must not be tried by the International Criminal Court (ICC).