Mere months after Zimbabwe’s military coup, the country’s new president, Emmerson Mnangagwa, announced he will attend the 30th African Union (AU) summit – this despite the AU chairman’s statement last November that the AU would never accept a military coup in Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe's President Emmerson Mnangagwa attends the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland January 24, 2018.

© 2018 Reuters

The summit, to be held this weekend in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, will be the first gathering of AU leaders since Mnangagwa took power from the ousted Robert Mugabe last November. Although in 2010 the AU 14th took a resolution on the prevention of “unconstitutional changes of government” it has taken no actions against Zimbabwe.  

Still, the summit provides an opportunity for AU leaders to engage with Mnangagwa and push for an AU investigation into allegations of human rights abuses that followed the coup. The AU should also examine the impact of the military intervetion on the country’s capacity to deliver credible, peaceful, free, and fair elections later this year.

Mnangagwa should demonstrate his commitment to democracy and good governance by signing and ratifying the African Charter on Democracy, Elections, and Governance which promotes regular free and fair elections to institutionalize legitimate authority and democratic change of governments. He should then urgently implement provisions of the Charter which include strengthening independent and impartial national electoral bodies, condemnation and total rejection of unconstitutional changes of government, and ensuring fair and equitable access to state controlled media by political parties and candidates.

Although Mnangagwa has promised free and fair elections, the AU should press him to walk the talk by implementing a roadmap to democratic elections, whose key pillars include the repeal or amendment of repressive laws like the Public Order and Security Act and the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act, which in the past have been used to arrest peaceful protesters and censor critical media. Zimbabwe should also insulate the military from partisan politics and interference in electoral processes, and prevent it from participating in violence and intimidation during the elections. It should also allow the early deployment of domestic and international election observers – including from the AU.

Now is the time for the AU to demonstrate leadership by concretely addressing Zimbabwe’s political and human rights challenges.