SADC Chair has his plate full ….pledges to help troubled Comoros

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By Timo Shihepo

Windhoek – SADC's quest to restore peace in the newly admitted Union of Comoros, could put the regional body's processes and institutions to the test. This, despite the new SADC Chair, Namibia's President Hage Geingob, pledging to help the islanders return to normalcy. 

The Union of Comoros, which was legally admitted into the Southern African Development Community at the 38th SADC Summit last week, is grappling with a political crisis that has seen the vice president, Moustoidrane Abdou, survive an assassination attempt.

This is a bad start for the Comoros that mocks SADC’s peace and stability requirement when applying to be a member.

The Southern Times is reliably informed that due to the intensity of the political fights, President Azali Assoumani had to miss his country’s first appearance as member at the SADC Summit last week – subsequently missing his maiden speech.

At the forefront of the crisis is President Assoumani, who plunged the nation into crisis in April when he suspended the Constitutional Court, the highest court in the country, sparking opposition protests. 

The Comoros is a nation made up of three islands and consists of three vice presidents. Under the current constitution, power rotates every five years between the three main islands. The president does not have the power to dismiss the three vice-presidents under that constitution, but Assoumani’s new constitution would allow him to abolish the posts.

Prior to his current term, Assoumani had been president of the Comoros on two separate terms and with this new constitution, Assoumani would be able to run gain for president when his term ends in 2021.

The ‘yes’ vote in a referendum on changing the constitution scored 92.74%, with a voter turnout of 63.9%, the head of the election commission said. 

According to observers, however, many polling stations were empty on the day of voting.

Assoumani’s  vice-president Ahmed Said Jaffar last month dubbed the referendum illegal, urging Comorans to “reject the dangerous abuse” of power. Jaffar has since been stripped of several rights and posts as a vice president.

As the tension escalated, the Comoros’ other vice-president Abdou escaped an assassination attempt last month when assailants on a motorcycle riddled his car with automatic gunfire before a controversial referendum on the new constitution.

Comoros former president Ahmed Sambi, is under house arrest for alleged corruption, misappropriation of public funds and complicity in forgery dating from his time when he was in power from 2006-2011.

Juwa Party spokesperson Aboubakar Aboud said Sambi has been a political prisoner under Assoumani’s government for the last three months.

“Now he has been humiliated further by being placed in custody in a ‘prison-like’ room. He does not have the right to use a phone or talk to anyone. He is being denied any means of communication with his family and relatives, putting him in complete isolation.

 All individuals who were in his service have been removed from the house.”

Various people are also reportedly being arrested and being charged for what government says is a routine to prevent a coup.

Asked by The Southern Times why SADC was admitting a troubled country into the community when one of SADC’s requirements for admittance is peace and stability, Geingob said the Comoros’ application dates two years back prior to recent conflicts.

Geingob, who seemed unaware of the conflict in that country was, however, only briefed by the SADC Executive Secretary, Dr Stergomena Lawrence Tax on the situation after this reporter posed the question.

“Well, I was just being briefed when you were asking about problems in Comoros. You are asking how we admitted a country like that. The attempted coup occurred a few months ago and the Comoros applied few years ago and initial consultations were done about two years ago. 

At last year’s Summit they were admitted, today w formalised that by asking them to take their seat. They were already admitted before what you are saying occurred,” he said.

On the other hand, Geingob said to have the Comoros as a member of SADC might serve the islanders better because of the processes and institutions in the SADC region.

“What we are saying is that countries shouldn’t just come to SADC or the UN without putting their house in order. It must be the local people to maintain the country’s peace not the world. People must maintain good governance, democracy, inclusivity. If you leave people out there would be attempted coups and trouble. As far as that is concerned, it would be the duty of SADC to help them because they are now members,” Geingob told The Southern Times.

The European Union considers recent events in the Comoros as "worrying".

"Violent reactions after the announcement of the results of the constitutional referendum, recent arrests, including that of the Secretary-General of the Juwa party, and the house arrest of former president Ahmed Abdallah Sambi, are troubling for Comoros, "said the EU spokesperson for Foreign Affairs, Maja Kocijancic, in a statement.

Kocijancic added that any constitutional amendment requires a calm environment that respects the rule of law and human rights, including freedom of the press.

 

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