In 2017, the African Union (AU) exposed its monumental failure as an institution confirming the prevailing reputation that it is weak and ineffective after it let Zimbabweans down, once again.
In a matter of days, the continental body had managed to contradict its own mandate, walked away from its initial position condemning the coup d’état, to outright denial of its occurrence. It then aligned itself with an imposed, illegitimate military dictatorship against the interests of the people of Zimbabwe whom it is supposed to protect.
What happened in Zimbabwe in November of 2017 was a military coup d’état which the AU acknowledged even as events unfolded on the ground. The recent pivot is an affront to its mandate of “promoting democratic principles and institutions,” a position which seems to undermine its own credibility.
On 15 November 2017, the Chairperson of the AU Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat issued a statement that he was “closely following the developments in Zimbabwe,” urging “all stakeholders to address the situation in accordance with the Constitution of Zimbabwe.”
His position seemed to affirm that of President Robert Mugabe in his speech and last address to the nation, a speech that will go down in history as a compass to what would later unfold in this tiny, landlocked, southern African nation. In that speech, the elderly statesman called out the illegality of the military action while at the same time, pleading for a return to the Constitutional order.
On 16 November 2017 after the military under the command of General Constantino Chiwenga had seized control of major state institutions under the guise of “targeting criminals” around the President, AU Chairman Alpha Condé also issued a stern rebuke in condemnation of the military coup.
“We demand respect for the Constitution, a return to the constitutional order and we will never accept the military coup d’état.
“We know there are internal problems. They need to be resolved politically by the ZANU-PF party and not with an intervention by the army,” said Condé to journalists in Paris.
As events occurred, the AU condemned the Zimbabwe Defence Forces (ZDF) for unconstitutionally seizing power and detaining the President, demanding that the crisis be resolved in “accordance with the Constitution of Zimbabwe.”
It appears that in their desperate quest for power, being driven by revenge and retribution, coup-plotters Mnangagwa and Chiwenga violated two Constitutions, one for the ZANU (PF) Party and the national Constitution of Zimbabwe.
Such violations automatically delegitimize any claim to the presidency by the individual(s) and renders them illegitimate despite the successful usurpation of power.
Apparently, that fundamental singular fact despite the AU’s own clear mandate on the issue, appears to have eluded the not-so-august institution in their sudden pivot to embrace that which they should never condone: the illegitimate military dictatorship and the manner by which it was borne.
Fast forward to two weeks later.
Speaking to Russia’s Sputnik News last week, the AU Commissioner for Peace and Security Smail Chergui, denied the coup saying it wasn’t “a coup according to African Union rules because [they] are the one[s] to declare if someone has made a coup.”
He then insisted that “We [AU] are neither in a crisis in Zimbabwe nor in extraordinary situation.”
In what amounted to an attempt to sanitize the coup, the Commissioner insisted that what happened in Zimbabwe wasn’t a coup because, apparently, “We didn’t lose a single life in this process,” a statement that seemed to praise the coup as “totally peaceful” such that President Mugabe “left with honour.”
He also insisted that what happened in Zimbabwe was a “dialogue between the leadership of the country and the President,” pointing out that Mugabe’s captors “convinced him that some of the actions taken…around him [Mugabe] and his immediate surrounding, were not good for the country, and he accepted to submit his resignation willingly.”
In a new low for the African Union, the Commissioner appeared to have ignored the humiliation the 93-year old elderly statesman suffered under his captors, just months before his intended final exit from a political life that had come to define him.
The AU all but gave cover to the military while concurrently trying to legitimize the usurpers and their illegitimate military dictatorship without the electoral consent of Zimbabweans.
After a coerced resignation, Mnangagwa was sworn in under heavy military lockdown while the defenceless, non-threatening 93-year old Mugabe was confined to his quarters under heavily armed military men. Since then, he has neither been seen in public nor heard from.
A coup d’état does not need to be bloody to be classified as such. It can be a non-violent exercise that uses other coercive means and coordinated methods to both undermine and delegitimize a legitimate, lawfully elected leader for the purpose of removing them from power.
While the situation in Zimbabwe may have been precipitated by an internal power struggle by two warring factions of a political party, the decision by one to abuse, corrupt and then misuse a powerful organ of the state to intimidate and wrestle power from a legitimate seating Head of State is wrong. It should never be condoned by the regional body.
In this case, the African Union as the guarantor of democratic principles and institutions in the continent, failed Zimbabwe and its people dismally.
To quote the now exiled former Minister and one of the brilliant political brains out of Zimbabwe, Professor Jonathan Moyo:
“A military coup is a military coup and in terms of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, it can only begat nothing else but an unconstitutional government and thus an illegitimate dispensation!” Credit: Twitter
While Egypt was condemned and thrown out of the African political body for staging a coup that ousted President Morsi in 2013, however, the same standard wasn’t applied to Zimbabwe. This is the biggest betrayal to a nation that continues to be let down by an institution whose relevance is quickly diminishing in the face of a growing list of its monumental failures.
Maybe, it would have been wiser and diplomatically prudent for the AU to have considered the final words of President Mugabe before betraying Zimbabwe that, the way forward is “a return to the guiding principles… enshrined in [the] Constitution which must apply fairly and equitably in all situations… and before all members.”
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