The Southern Africa Development Community has snubbed Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe by effectively denying him his turn at the chairmanship of the organization next year.
Mr. Mugabe had been slated to be appointed deputy chair of the Southern Africa Development Community at its annual summit this week. This would have assured the Zimbabwean leader would chair the group next year.
Instead, southern African leaders chose Tanzania's president, Benjamin Mkapa, to host next year's summit and assume leadership of the regional grouping at that time.
Political analyst Shadrack Gutto says the regional leaders have sent a clear message to Mr. Mugabe and the senior leadership in Zimbabwe that they disapprove of what he calls appalling issues of governance. Professor Gutto of the Center for Applied Legal Studies at Johannesburg's Witwatersrand University, says it is a message that is especially wounding, coming as it does, from Mr. Mugabe's neighbors. "Now that is a strong message," he said. "I think that in many ways Zimbabwe will feel it because chairing SADC gives you prestige SADC is so immediate for it where they have common policies on economic development, on cooperation, dealing with cross-border matters, and trade, investments locally and so on - it will feel the pinch and its pride, the pride of the leadership there has been wounded by this particular snub."
The snub of Mr. Mugabe by his neighbors in the Southern Africa Development Community comes in spite of their often muted response to the crisis in Zimbabwe. It also comes in the face of public support for Mr. Mugabe from the leaders of some members of the 14-nation body, such as Namibia and Angola.
Professor Gutto says there are several reasons that some countries in the region, such as South Africa, prefer to work behind the scenes rather than offering public denunciations. One, he says, is their culture's approach to problem solving. Another is their belief that vocal disapproval often achieves little. "You shout, they shout back and denounce you," said Shadrack Gutto. "But if you do this kind of thing there is no way they can reply in kind."
South Africa in particular has being pursuing what President Thabo Mbeki calls quiet diplomacy. Mr. Mbeki's criticisms of developments in Zimbabwe have been plain but they are infrequent and often low-key. He has been trying to build a regional consensus on how to proceed.
The South African president has been criticized for this. But Professor Gutto says all countries respond to situations based on their own interests. In the case of Zimbabwe, he says, South Africa has many reasons for adopting the cautious approach. "South Africa is afraid that if it were to really come out and begin to push its weight around it is going to be accused of being a sub-imperialist state within the region, that it's trying to impose its will," he said. "And that in the long run may really not lead to regional cooperation in various fields."
South Africa is one of several countries that has been instrumental in forging the so-called New Partnership for Africa's Development a plan to promote good political and corporate governance on the continent. Part of the plan is a peer review mechanism that is likely to be put into place later this year. Professor Gutto says the peer review mechanism will offer a real means for regional countries to deal with the Zimbabwe problem. "And if that were there, Zimbabwe again will be under serious pressure to really say is it subscribing to be reviewed or not," said Professor Gutto. "If it is left out it just shows there are countries that are afraid of being examined in terms of democracy, it would be shaming to the country, and people will be saying who is going along with democratic review and who is really staying out."
Professor Gutto says the multilateral approach promoted by South Africa is gradually gaining support in the region. He says the goal must first and foremost be to bring democracy, human rights and good governance to the people of Zimbabwe and the region. After that, he says, regional leaders can address other pressing concerns such as aid and foreign investment.