Last week, the SADC Ministerial Committee of the Organ (MCO) on Politics, Defence and Security Co-operation held a virtual meeting to, among other things, consider the Report on the Threat to Peace and Security in the Region in 2020.
Among other issues, the MCO considered the security situation in the DRC and in Mozambique, and the proliferation of small arms and light weapons, necessitating the proposed amendments to the SADC Protocol on the Control of Firearms, Ammunition and other Related Materials.
As noted elsewhere in this issue of The Southern Times, these are clear and present dangers to the prosperity of our region.
In contextualising the threats to regional peace, security, stability and development, SADC Executive Secretary, Dr Stergomena Tax, made some concise observations when giving her opening remarks at the virtual conference.
She observed: “As part of its think-tanking mandate, the Secretariat has carried out a security threat assessment, which shows that the region is marked by several obstacles to socio-economic and political transformation, including poverty, inequality, and unemployment.
“The assessment categorises peace and security threats into five clusters relating to terrorism and cybersecurity; transnational organised crime; climate change and epidemics; governance and democracy; and cross-cutting issues.”
What are those “cross-cutting issues” she was referring to? We will let her explain.
“Cross cutting issues include marginalisation and exclusion, radicalisation and extremism, political and economic exploitation, as well as forms of violence, including gender-based violence, criminal activities, abuse of social media, and a migration crisis.”
To wit, apart from the very real threats posed by the proliferation of use of deadly weaponry by terrorists in the DRC and Mozambique, there are other, more internally-generated threats, to our peace and security and these have their roots in how countries in the region approach matters of governance.
Two issues in particular, drawn from Dr Tax’s statement at the MCO virtual conference, came to the fore.
She highlights “marginalisation and exclusion” and “political and economic exploitation” as cross-cutting issues that constitute peace and security threats in Southern Africa.
Are our governments doing enough to foster development in communities that have been historically marginalised?
We all know the peoples in our countries - from the tip of South Africa’s southernmost coast to the extremities of the DRC’s northernmost borders – who continue to be excluded and treated as second class citizens.
By continuing to marginalisation and exclude them from our national and regional development agenda, we are creating breeding grounds for the next generation of insurgents and what we can call “internal outsiders” who will be amenable to destabilising countries and indeed the entire region.
In addition to this, political and economic exploitation are growing at a worrisome rate in our polities, and they often take on the hue of blatantly criminal activities.
Politically connected people are exploiting relationships, some based in blood and some in business dealings, to circumvent laws and regulations so that they can make money.
In short, they use their connections to steal money from the pockets of already suffering people.
What will hungry people do when they see their governments aiding and abetting the corruption of individuals who are already quite wealthy, while their own children sleep on empty bellies?
What is to stop these people from self-organising – or being organised by an outsider – to violently confront their governments?
Further, when we aid and abet graft, we open ourselves to foreign criticism and feed the Western stereotype of poor African people who are in need of saving from selfish, kleptomaniacs who masquerade as their leaders.
We should not give the Western-sponsored anti-graft lobby a foothold in our internal affairs by failing to deal with corruption ourselves.
When we fail to deal with corruption, or in fact encourage and protect illicit self-enrichment, we are giving ample room to outsiders to meddle in our affairs.
They easily latch onto the genuine concerns of our citizenry and exploit this entry point so that they can posture as legitimately altruistic humanists who want to help poor, exploited Africans – and yet we all know that they are fronts for the historically known political and economic interests of their home governments.
One of the best ways to minimise the potential for foreign interference in the area of corruption is to simply deal with it ourselves.
Surely that is both sensible and is not asking for too much.
Still on the same note, we have been seeing how corruption is taking on a transnational nature in SADC, with politically-connected individuals using their links to powerful people to brazenly commit crimes in full view of ordinary people who are struggling to make ends meet.
Is this not a recipe for social instability and for civil chaos? Does this not undermine the integrity of SADC and feed the wrong perception that SADC is a club of leaders who only act to protect each other’s personal interests while ignoring the developmental aspirations of the people who vote for them?
And we all know how corruption siphons resources that should be going towards promotion of better livelihoods.
When we are corrupt, we are creating grounds for the kind of anomie sociologists will tell you lead to social disorder. We allow cartels to thrive and to influence the economic direction of entire nations to the detriment of ordinary people.
In that regard, corruption also becomes a security threat that the region would do well to confront head-on.
We hope that the SADC Secretariat, and indeed the Heads of State and Government, treat it as such.