By Tsikoane Peshoane
OVER the past 10 years the countries in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) have experienced a major shift towards adherence and respect for democracy.
Southern African countries have come to accept that democracy is the only political arrangement acceptable in the region.
Elections in Angola held in 2004 have clearly demonstrated the people’s acceptance of democracy and rejection of the violent alternatives to a peaceful change of government.
The southern African region has clearly repudiated violent methods of the past in dealing with political differences.
The days of violent revolution appear to be long gone.
It has also become clear over the past 10 years that it is not possible to impose punitive sanctions as a solution to a political conflict without respecting the opinions of regional leaders.
This is with reference to the crisis in Zimbabwe.
On the other hand, the region also saw certain incidents that seriously undermined democracy and the rule of law.
These challenges provided SADC heads of state with a litmus test regarding their respect for democracy and good governance.
In most cases, SADC leaders dismally failed the test.
At best SADC has been inconsistent in dealing with issues of conflict resolution.
I will illustrate this point by looking at the ongoing crises in Madagascar and Zimbabwe.
Madagascar has been in political limbo since March this year.
SADC has tried to bring normalcy to the island nation by suspending the country from membership of the regional bloc.
Last week, Prime Minister Monja Roindefo announced a new multi-party transitional government to run the country until fresh elections are held.
The government was to be headed by President Andry Rajoelina who usurped power in a military-backed coup in March.
Southern African leaders and opposition parties in Madagascar refused to recognise the government on the grounds that it flouted a power-sharing deal thrashed out in Mozambique.
Under the terms of the Mozambique deal, political parties in Madagascar were to share out the top posts — the presidency, the vice-presidency and the premiership — as a temporary measure to lead to the next elections.
However, Roindefo pressed on with the appointments and reserved for himself the premiership with Rajoelina remaining as president.
SADC was reluctant to condemn this unilateral decision which violated the spirit of the power-sharing deal signed in Maputo.
In Harare, the power-sharing government is on the rocks.
Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai accuses President Robert Mugabe of refusing to implement the full agreement.
Mugabe is refusing to reverse the appointment of the governor of the central bank, the attorney general and provincial governors.
Tsvangirai has also accused Mugabe of undermining the unity government by making arbitrary arrests of legislators from his Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
He has also complained over the slow pace of media and constitutional reforms.
Mugabe in turn accuses Tsvangirai of not doing enough to push western governments to lift targeted sanctions imposed on him and his henchmen.
At its last meeting in Kinshasa, SADC appealed to western governments to lift sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe saying the sanctions were impeding economic recovery in Zimbabwe.
My conclusion from the two examples I have cited is that SADC is guilty of double standards in its approach towards the two member states.
First, the message SADC has sent to Madagascar was that an undemocratic change of government was not acceptable in the region.
SADC said any country that resorts to such a method of change of government will not be accepted by her peers.
On Zimbabwe, the region appeared more concerned with the economic implications if the country were suspended from the bloc.
The leaders believed that political dialogue and not sanctions or suspension was the only way to resolve the crisis in Zimbabwe.
I find it very difficult to understand the reasoning behind the two actions. In simple terms this is double standards.
On what basis did SADC resolve that Madagascar had a capacity to solve its problems while it was suspended while Zimbabwe was spared from suspension?
The decision to suspend Madagascar while allowing Zimbabwe to retain its position in SADC despite having similar problems has far-reaching implications for the integrity of the regional bloc.