In this article, Thabo Mbeki, the South African president, tells why he fought stoutly for Zimbabwe's Commonwealth suspension to be lifted. He writes: "Those who fought for a democratic Zimbabwe, with thousands paying the supreme price during the struggle, and forgave their oppressors and torturers in a spirit of national reconciliation, have been turned into repugnant enemies of democracy. [Yet] those who, in the interest of their 'kith and kin', did what they could to deny the people of Zimbabwe their liberty, for as long as they could, have become the eminent defenders of the democratic rights of the people of Zimbabwe. We will resist this upside-down view of Africa."
The substantial agenda of the 2003 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Abuja, Nigeria, included the controversial issue of Zimbabwe. Contrary to false reports peddled by some, CHOGM dealt with all matters on its agenda, including Zimbabwe.
Its longest session considered a report entitled "Making Democracy Work For Pro-Poor Development", prepared by a Commonwealth High-Level Expert Group on Development and Democracy. This report was commissioned pursuant to the Fancourt Declaration adopted by CHOGM when it met in South Africa in 1999.
By the time the Abuja CHOGM ended, it had extended the suspension of Zimbabwe from the councils of the Commonwealth. Zimbabwe [then] left the Commonwealth, rendering this decision meaningless. The SADC countries, supported by Uganda, had decided to express their strong disagreement with the CHOGM decision. Time will tell what impact all of this will have on the Commonwealth. But it is necessary to recall some of the history that has led us to this situation.
When it met in Coolum, Australia in 2002, CHOGM charged a Troika made up of the chair of the Commonwealth, the prime minister of Australia, and the presidents of Nigeria and South Africa, to take action on Zimbabwe, in the event that the Commonwealth Elections Observer Team made a negative finding about the 2002 Zimbabwe presidential elections. This was the full extent of the mandate given to the Troika.
This Observer Team concluded that "the conditions in Zimbabwe did not adequately allow for a free expression of will by the electors." On this basis, the Troika decided to suspend Zimbabwe from the councils of the Commonwealth for one year, which should have meant the conclusion of its mandated mission.
However, the Troika also decided that it would meet again in a year's time to consider the evolution of the situation in Zimbabwe, in the context of various policy decisions taken earlier by the Commonwealth. Nevertheless, later, the then chair of the Commonwealth, Australian prime minister John Howard, insisted that the Troika should meet six months earlier than it had decided, which it did out of respect for his position as chair of the Commonwealth.
The reason he insisted on this otherwise unscheduled meeting was that he wanted the Troika to impose additional sanctions on Zimbabwe, for which it had no mandate. The two other members of the Troika told him as much and argued that the Troika should meet at the end of the one-year, as originally agreed. Nevertheless, the chair was determined to have his way.
Accordingly, contrary to all normal practice, he decided to announce to the world at a press conference, that he disagreed with his colleagues in the Troika and wanted more Commonwealth sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe. At one stroke, this both destroyed the Troika and put in question the democratic principle of decisions by majority.
The majority on the Troika then advised the Chair that if he wanted additional sanctions, he, and not the Troika, would have to get a mandate from all the heads of government of the Commonwealth. They also indicated their opposition to the continuation of the suspension beyond the one-year that had been agreed earlier. …