SADC Summit in midst of pandemic, insecurity

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Harare - The 40th Ordinary Summit of SADC Heads of State and Government starts Monday with regional leaders faced with finding and financing common positions on the unprecedented challenge posed by the COVID-19 pandemic while also confronting mounting peace and security threats.

The Summit runs from August 10-17.

Incoming Chair Mozambique hosts the Summit that will be held virtually due to the COVID-19 containment protocols recommended by the UN’s World Health Organisation.

Mozambique's President Felipe Nyusi will take over from Tanzania's John Magufuli as SADC Chair; while Botswana's President Mokgweetsi Masisi succeeds the Chairmanship of the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Co-operation from Zimbabwe's President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

While the agenda may have been truncated the Heads of State and Governments will undoubtedly be preoccupied with the novel coronavirus pandemic and the radical Islamist insurgency in Mozambique.

Southern Africa is the epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic on the continent.

International relations expert Mr Alexander Rusero from Africa University said leaders had to find a way to confront the security issues threatening the region.

"For a region reeling under COVID-19, just like any other region and state in the world, human security matters. Security of citizens is at stake here.

“All the developments we are seeing - from the Mozambique Islamist insurgency to the Zambia-DRC border dispute - call for robust measures aimed at securing the citizen more than the state itself, and that should dominate the SADC Summit agenda," he said.

Last week The Southern Times reported that the Mozambique issue would be handled at Heads of State and Government level amid indications that terror attacks – which have led to more than 1,000 deaths and 200,000 displacements - in the north of the country were being sponsored by external forces.

There were also suggestions that authorities in Mozambique were not too keen on a regional intervention and would prefer a bilateral arrangement with Zimbabwe, whose Chairmanship of the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Co-operation ends at the Summit.

Not only Southern Africa is keeping a close eye on the unfolding security situation in Mozambique, which analysts say can easily spread across the region as evidenced by the Islamists’ threat to attack South Africa if it militarily assists its neighbour to restore peace and stability.

This week, United States Special Operations commander for Africa, Major-General Dagvin Anderson told African journalists that the American military was keenly interested in developments in Mozambique.

“We are looking at and assessing what’s happening in northern Mozambique, up in the Cabo Delgado region … we do believe there are external actors that are influencing that and making that more virulent and more dangerous (groups operate) in the Cabo Delgado region,” Maj-Gen Anderson said.

He added: “Because what we’re seeing now is that it is no longer just a local grievance that can be handled solely by, maybe, local authorities, but now that becomes something that is being inflamed by Islamic State, by the Islamic State-Core, that now that provides them training, it provides them education, and it provides them additional resources.

“We do believe that that will take multiple nations … Mozambique needs to take the lead on this but it won’t solely be Mozambique. Other countries in the region will need to engage.

“Tanzania, Malawi, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Zambia and others will need to help because this is going to spread regionally. The terrorists know no borders.  They will cross borders.  They will engage.  They will seek safe havens and refuges where they can in order to continue to disrupt the region.”

Prior to that, Botswana’s Lieutenant-General Placid Segokgo warned that the insurgency in Mozambique was a threat to the entire Southern African region.

“Security in the region, terrorism, particularly the insurgency in Cabo Delgado in Mozambique, is a very serious threat. It is not on our shores but it is a threat that moves very dynamically,” he told Botswana’s Parliament. “It’s a situation that we as a member of SADC cannot just turn a blind eye to.”

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