Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

Human Rights and Regional Cooperation in Africa: SADC and the Crisis in Zimbabwe

Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

Human Rights and Regional Cooperation in Africa: SADC and the Crisis in Zimbabwe

Article excerpt

Abstract

Since the early 1990s African regional and continental organisations have been playing an active role in maintaining military security and promoting democracy, good governance and respect for human rights in Africa. However, their efforts have often proved ineffective. This article contributes to the analysis of the causes of the difficulties African multilateral organisations have been facing in promoting democracy and human rights on the continent through a case-study of SADC's policy towards the crisis in Zimbabwe. The article shows that SADC efforts aimed at restoring democracy and putting an end to human rights abuses in Zimbabwe were critically hampered by the history of political antagonism among the Southern African governments, and by SADC's inability to draw a clear distinction between respect for human rights and the promotion of a neoliberal strategy of regional development. In the end, SADC diplomatic efforts were caught between the demagogic rhetoric of the ZANU-PF regime as represented by President Mugabe, and the international consensus on development. SADC ultimately proved unable to both help redress the deep economic and social inequalities in Zimbabwe and uphold human rights in the country.

1. Introduction

After the end of the Cold War an international consensus rapidly emerged on the need for new and more effective instruments for promoting and protecting human rights in Africa. Not only did the democratisation processes spurred by the popular struggles against authoritarian one-party regimes usher in a new commitment to human rights on the continent, but Western donors, finally freed from Cold War strategic considerations, started conditioning the disbursement of their development assistance to the respect for democratic practices, the rule of law and human rights.

Together with national actors and foreign donors, African continental and regional organisations since the early 1990s have been trying to promote democracy and human rights on the continent. However, their efforts did not live up to expectations, as they often proved ineffective. This outcome has often been explained in the academic literature as a consequence of African leaders' reluctance to openly criticise their fellow heads of state and set a dangerous precedent that could later backfire on them (Hope 2006).

This article aims to offer an original contribution to the debate on the role African regional organisations have been playing in the promotion of democratic practices and respect for human rights in Sub-Saharan Africa after the end of the Cold War, through an analysis of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) policy towards the crisis in Zimbabwe. The article shows that SADC efforts aimed at restoring democracy and putting an end to human rights abuses in Zimbabwe were critically hampered by the history of political antagonism among Southern African governments, and by SADC's inability to draw a clear distinction between respect for human rights and the promotion of a neoliberal strategy of economic development. Thus, SADC diplomatic efforts were caught between the demagogic rhetoric of an authoritarian regime that, under the pretext of pursuing social justice, has ruthlessly kept the reins of powers in its own hands, and an international consensus that considers human rights as instrumental to the implementation of a neoliberal development paradigm. Having embraced this consensus, SADC not only deprived itself of the political instruments necessary to help redress the deep economic and social inequalities rooted in Southern Africa's history of colonial exploitation, but, as the analysis of its policy towards the crisis in Zimbabwe shows, also undermined its own efforts aimed at upholding human rights in the region.

Far from being an isolated case, events in Zimbabwe are a local and dramatic manifestation of a global crisis of citizenship rights currently sweeping large parts of the developing world. …

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