By Peter Fabricius
Robert Mugabe must have been turning in his grave when his successor Emmerson Mnangagwa joined Zimbabwe to the African Peer Review Mechanism over the weekend.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa called it a “historic and momentous occasion” that Zimbabwe was acceding to the African Union’s African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), an institution “which promotes democracy and responsive governance”.
“This watershed moment demonstrates my administration’s commitment to entrench open, transparent, democratic and good governance,” said Mnangagwa.
Mugabe would have been horrified. And many champions of the APRM are sceptical. They wonder if Mnangagwa has really signed on to the institution’s values of good governance. They suspect instead that this is just another ruse to try to boost his democratic credentials and distinguish his struggling regime from that of his predecessor Robert Mugabe in order to attract critically needed investment to Zimbabwe’s floundering economy.
One thing is certain; Mugabe did not join the APRM and was never likely to do so. The idea of fellow African countries and leaders – or anyone else – critically scrutinising whether Zimbabwe’ was practising democracy and good governance was always anathema to him. He would probably have seen the hand of Western imperialists behind the APRM.
But Mnangagwa, perhaps justifying his move to the malevolent spirit of his recently departed predecessor, explained that “The APRM Forum, in our view, is consonant with our Africian philosophy, heritage and traditions of building unity and societal cohesion through dialogue”.
He was speaking in Addis Ababa at Saturday’s summit of the APR Forum where heads of state and government whose countries have acceded to the APRM were meeting as the “peers” to review one another’s governance performance. At the meeting, held on the margins of the overall AU summit, Zimbabwe and Seychelles became the 39th and 40th AU states to accede to the APRM.
The forum examined the full country review report of Egypt as well as smaller targeted reviews of aspects of governance in Djibouti, Namibia and Zambia. On Egypt, it offered some mild criticism on corruption and gender inequality as well as noting its problem countering terrorism. It had some questions for Djibouti about its fiscal decentralisation programme and asked Namibia some questions about high youth unemployment and also looked at the contribution of tourism to the Zambian economy.
The forum also handed over the chair for the next two years from Chad’s President Idriss Deby to South African President Cyril Ramaphosa who committed himself to advancing the African Union’s goal of having all of its member states join the APRM by 2023. He noted that he was taking the chair at a critical moment as the AU had recently expanded the APRM’s mandate to include monitoring the implementation of the AU’s ambitious development programme, Agenda 2063 and the United Nations Agenda 2030 on Sustainable Development Goals.
Longtime APRM expert Steve Gruzd, Head of the African Governance and Diplomacy Programme at the South African Institute for International Affairs, said Zimbabwe’s decision to join the APRM had not been a surprise to insiders as the APRM Secretariat had visited Zimbabwe about six months ago to discuss it.
There were reasons to be cautious about Zimbabwe’s move, he said. It was possible that Mnangagwa had only joined the APRM to burnish Zimbabwe’s credentials with the international community and attract investment and financial support. He recalled that Zimbabwe had been hoping that this would happen after Mnangagwa’s first elections as a presidential candidate in 2018. But the violence immediately after the elections and again in January 2019 had frustrated those plans.
He said this decision could be likened to Zimbabwe’s attempt to re-join the Commonwealth – although he noted that it was much easier to join the APRM than the Commonwealth because the latter organisation demanded some entrance qualifications in terms of governance and commitment to democracy and human rights, “whereas in the APRM a country just starts from where it is and is measured on its progress from there”.
The APRM imposes no sanctions at all, including on countries which formally join, perhaps for publicity purposes, without intending to ever be reviewed.
Gruzd noted that Equatorial Guinea (which is notorious for repression, corruption and poor governance ) had joined the APRM a few years ago and had done nothing since then to allow the institution to scrutinise its governance.
“But we have to give Zimbabwe a chance,” he said. “Maybe this is a good opportunity to diagnose Zimbabwe’s problems and think about what the solutions are.”
“This is an important commitment and will help provide another perspective around the slew of contradictory claims and counter-claims regarding the implementation of government’s stated reform programme and related bona fides.”
Eddy Maloka, who heads the APRM secretariat, dismissed the suspicion that Mnangagwa had just joined the APRM as a publicity stunt.
“He is sincere,” he said. He acknowledged that Equatorial Guinea had joined a while ago and had done nothing. “But Equatorial Guinea has its own dynamics.” He said he had briefly met Mnangagwa on Sunday, the day after he joined the APRM, to follow up with him as soon as possible so the APRM secretariat could send in a team to discuss launching a peer review.
“We want to follow the Namibian example where they acceded and then had a review all within a year,” he said. He said Mnangagwa welcomed the idea.
Mnangagwa placed Zimbabwe’s decision to join the APRM in the context of wider reforms which he had instituted since he and the military ousted Mugabe in November 2017.
The decision to join “has been informed by the democratic trajectory which forms the bedrock of the Second Republic, since my assumption of office in November 2017”, said Mnangagwa.
“To date, we have already undertaken deliberate and extensive cross-cutting political, economic, legislative and media reforms towards achieving a just, open, accountable and economically prosperous nation.
“These reforms are meant to further enhance and consolidate the democratic principles enshrined in our constitution. We subscribe to the sacrosanct principle of separation of powers and the rule of law.
“Furthermore, my government continues to strengthen and build confidence in institutions which support democracy. We have operationalised all the six independent commissions provided for in our constitution which are the Anti-Corruption Commission, the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission, the Human Rights Commission, the Media Commission, the Gender Commission and the Electoral Commission.
“The alignment of all national statutes and laws (for) the new constitution will be completed by the end of the second quarter of this year.
“In acceding to the APRM, my government is reinforcing its commitment to constructive reviews which help entrench a democratic culture that benefits, primarily, the people of Zimbabwe.
“My country subscribes to the practical application of the dictum ‘African solutions to African problems’ which is also the hallmark of the APRM. We thus stand ready to participate in (the) programme which ensures that all hotspots are prioritised for peacemaking and peacekeeping efforts undertaken by the African Union towards durable peace and silencing the guns on our continent. It is indeed through concerted activities such as those envisaged under the APRM that we will create conducive conditions for Africa’s development.
“The importance of the consultative participation of national stakeholders including civil society, the private sector, organised labour, religious communities, women and youth organisations, media and other groups cannot be overemphasised.
“In our quest to enhance national cohesion, unity and political tolerance, we have established the Political Actors Dialogue Platform, which brings together the various political actors in our country. Zimbabwe is therefore ready and committed to undertake remedial steps to address identified gaps to enhance internal and regional political stability, economic growth and sustainable development.
“To further improve my government’s responsiveness, an Independent Complaints Mechanism Bill, as provided for in Section 210 of our constitution, will be enacted this year,” said Mnangagwa.
Obviously, only time will tell whether Zimbabwe has joined the APRM just to burnish its tarnished international image or really intends to use it as it should be used — as a guide and tool to implement reforms.
Zimbabwean officials say the country also wants to join the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) which similarly scrutinises transactions between governments and natural resource companies. But they said the EITI had asked them to hold off until sanctions against Zimbabwe were lifted.