Between fire and fire brigade

United Nations secretary general Ban Ki Moon has wished South Africa well for its upcoming 22 April general election.

The UN chief, in SA for two days this week, said “the forthcoming elections present a historic opportunity to showcase SA to the region and the world as a country that is capable of effecting peaceful democratic change.”

He added that SA has made remarkable strides in consolidating democracy since the end of apartheid. “It has built solid and reliable democratic institutions.”

Although he did not further qualify his statement, he may have been expressing wariness with “African solutions to African problems”, at least as applied to Zimbabwe and Kenya.

Kenya has become the prototype of neatly dividing a country between the fire and the fire brigade. You may recall that incumbent Mwai Kibaki rigged a December 2007 poll and despite evidence of this refused to step down. Raila Odinga did not emerge with clean hands either. Several hundred deaths and many thousands refugees later, the two were mediated into something of a coalition, Kibaki staying president and Odinga filling the newly created post of prime minister.

Sounds familiar?

Yup, the same happened in Zimbobwe. Yet again a mediator, this time sacked SA president Thabo Mbeki did the duty of Solomon and solemnly divided the baby.  


The Los Angeles Times` Robyn Dixon earlier this month wrote of this that critics of this type of “have set a precedent that leaders in Africa can cling to power when voted out, just by refusing to leave office.”

They say bodies such as Southern African Development Community and the African Union have done little to protect democracy or stop violence and human rights abuses, tending to side with incumbent leaders such as the long-ruling Robert Mugabe, whose regime has been accused of unleashing violence to stay in power and denying food to opposition villagers.

Dixon writes that only Botswana has been critical of this nonsense, the country`s foreign minister, Phandu Skelemani, saying the SADC had let Zimbabweans down.
“As we have said before, we at SADC have failed the people of Zimbabwe,” he said in an interview with Zimbabwean radio journalist Violet Gonda before last month’s SADC meeting on Zimbabwe. “We have simply failed to tell the leadership, the political leadership in Zimbabwe, that what they are doing is wrong, it is undemocratic, and that they ought to respect the people and do everything with the people as the priority.”

Skelemani said it was patently ridiculous to have two ministers in charge of the police – one of the compromises Mbeki arranged. “How can that function?” he said. “Even in theory, I think it’s silly.”

I can only agree.

What say you?