The Southern African Development Community (SADC) should revoke the Island of Comoros’ membership with it, until such a time that its leaders respect the country’s constitution and restore civil liberties once enjoyed by its citizens.
The regional body has for years been grappling with finding a lasting peaceful solution to members like Lesotho, the DRC as well as Madagascar. SADC has been clear that political strongmen are not welcome in the region and that democratic elections and the rule of law are the order. So one wonders how someone who is trying to rule by force was allowed to become a member in the first place.
When SADC invited Comoros on an observatory role at the SADC heads of state and government summit in South Africa last year, it did not forecast that the country would slide into a political abyss by the time it was legally admitted into SADC.
At last year’s summit, everything was going well for both parties (Comoros and SADC), everyone was on the same page, and officials from the island nation attended the summit. The officials were told that once they achieved legal instruments required to be a SADC member they would officially be one of the region’s members.
It was an offer that Comoros could not refuse. After all, it was on the verge of joining one of the lucrative regional blocs the world can offer. SADC, regarded as one of the most peaceful regions in the world – any country in Africa would drool to be part of it – so was Comoros.
Their anticipation of being able to dance with the SADC big boys came with an aura of gasconade. SADC membership would give them a route to the European market and beyond.
What they did not boast about was the fact that the island nation was encircled by a political storm, which has been brewing long before the country was set to be legally admitted into SADC at the heads of state and government summit held in Namibia in August this year.
It all started quietly when Comoros President Azali Assoumani suspended the Constitutional Court, the highest court in the country, moving all the powers and functions to the Supreme Court. Assoumani appointed all the decision makers of the Supreme Court.
Opposition parties protested but all the protests fell on deaf ears, a sign SADC should never have ignored. Especially those tasked to evaluate Comoros’ application for SADC’s membership.
On July 30 – a week before Comoros was admitted into SADC ‑ the country passed a referendum to revise the nation’s constitution. Still, SADC ignored the signs.
Among other changes, the referendum extended presidential term limits and abolished a power-sharing system that had rotated the presidency every five years between Comoros’ main islands of Grand Comore, Anjouan and Moheli. Since the referendum, which was boycotted by the opposition, Assoumani has moved to consolidate power by arresting and issuing warrants of arrests for prominent opponents.
People such as former vice president Jaffar Ahmed Said Hassani, deputy chief of staff of the Army Colonel Ibrahim Salim, the general secretary of Juwa Party, Ahmed Hassane El Barwane, spokesman for the party Dr Ahmed Abdou Chakour , treasurer of the party Milano Henri Alphonse, and of course former President Ahmed Abdallah Sambi were all targeted.
State prosecutor Mohamed Abdoua further announced the arrest of five people, including Hassani's brother and writer Said Ahmed Tourqui.
Many people now fear to speak out for the fright of being arrested.
Surprisingly, this also slipped under the SADC radar, despite this happening in the month of August 2018, before and after the admittance of Comoros into SADC.
President Assoumani also had to miss his country’s maiden appearance at the first SADC heads of state and government summit because he feared a possible coup d'état should he leave the country to attend the summit. Still, despite these worrying signs, SADC went on and admitted Comoros as its 16th member.
The incoming chair of SADC at the time, Dr Hage Geingob was not even aware that the country they had just admitted the previous day was in crisis, when The Southern Times asked him when the regional bloc was going to intervene.
SADC leaders should bring normalcy to Comoros or revoke its membership until that nation puts its house in order.