An unnerving mix of the proliferation of small arms and political instability in new and emerging hotspots has triggered Southern Africa’s security and defence policymakers into okaying changes to a regional agreement on weapons control.
At the 22nd meeting of the Ministerial Committee of the Organ (MCO) on Politics, Defence and Security Co-operation, held virtually on June 26, it was agreed to endorse the Draft Agreement Amending the SADC Protocol on the Control of Firearms, Ammunition and other Related Materials.
The draft will be submitted to the Committee of SADC Ministers of Justice, as the region’s political chiefs seek to tackle contemporary and mutating threats to peace, security and democracy in the region.
The draft broadens the scope of application of the protocol to include conventional weapons, align it with international conventions, and incorporate proliferation of small arms and light weapons.
It also confronts issues of implementation of best practices and standards for prevention and combating illicit proliferation, circulation and trafficking of firearms, ammunition and related materials.
Members of the MCO concurred there was need for new thinking to wrestle new threats.
In particular, regional leaders are discomfited by continuing unrest parts of the DRC which has not known any prolonged period of peace for over 60 years now; as well as an emerging fundamentalist armed Islamic threat in Mozambique.
Coupled with the proliferation of small arms and light weapons, regional leaders believe conditions are being created to cause widespread instability should interventions not be urgently made.
Apart from the changes to the Firearms Protocol, the MCO also looked at how the region can better capacitate and reconfigure the SADC Standby Force so that it is better equipped to confront the emerging threats.
In a communique after the conference, the MCO pledged continued solidarity with Mozambique, which has been facing an Islamist insurgency in Cabo Delgado province resulting in deaths of over 200 people, mainly civilians, and damage to infrastructure.
“The MCO noted that, whilst the region has remained peaceful and stable, there are isolated challenges in some member states. On this note, MCO committed to remain seized with the political and security developments in the region.
“The MCO commended the Chairperson of the Organ, His Excellency Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa, President of the Republic of Zimbabwe, for convening the Extraordinary Summit to discuss the security situation in the Republic of Mozambique (in May), and reiterated SADC Region’s solidarity with the Republic of Mozambique and commitment to collectively address terrorism in the region.”
The MCO directed the SADC Secretariat to prepare a costed action plan for implementation of recommendations pertaining to peace and security issues, and to mainstream high impact and urgent recommendations in the 2021/22 plan and budget.
The SADC Report on the Threat to Peace and Security in the Region in 2020
said while SADC was generally stable, but a range of externally and internally-induced threats remained clear and present dangers.
MCO Chair, Dr Subisiso Moyo of Zimbabwe, told delegates this mix of existing and new threats called for a reconfiguration of the SADC Standby Force and Brigade.
Dr Moyo commended the SADC Secretariat’s continuous monitoring and assessment of regional stability as captured in the Report on the Threat to Peace and Security in the Region in 2020.
"Whilst the report establishes that the security landscape in the SADC region has been generally stable, it also notes that there are externally and internally induced threats to security of member states, such as terrorism, cybercrime, transnational organised crime, climate change and disasters (including pandemics and epidemics), governance and democracy challenges, marginalisation and exclusion, radicalisation and extremism, political and economic exploitation, migration crisis and the abuse of social media.
“As we deliberate on these current and potential threats to our stability, peace and security, let us reflect deeply on how to strengthen and make full use of mechanisms such as the SADC Early Warning System, Regional Counter Terrorism Strategy and the SADC Standby Force, among others, to timeously, strategically, holistically and comprehensively address these threats." he said.
On the Standby Force, he said: “While the SADC Standby Force has acquitted itself exceptionally well in peace support operations, it is yet to engage in formal conventional deployment. Its composition inevitably has to match prevailing threats.
“To this end, we need to build an embedded regional disaster response capability that is integral to the SADC Standby Force.
“We may also begin to consider the establishment of a Regional Peace Fund in order to avoid a last minute rush in resource mobilisation prior to a deployment,” he said.
The Standby Force and Brigade was established in 2008 and is made up of military, police and civilian members from across SADC.
The Brigade’s mandate includes: observation and monitoring missions; peace support missions; interventions for peace and security restoration at the request of member states; prevention of the spread of conflict to neighbouring states; and prevention of the resurgence of violence after peace/ceasefire agreements have been reached. It can also conduct peace-building efforts, disarmament and demobilisation, and facilitate humanitarian assistance.
On the novel coronavirus, Dr Moyo said COVID-19’s impact and magnitude on peace, security and stability demanded the region’s undivided attention to mitigate.
At the virtual conference, the MCO also condemned France’s continued occupation and exploitation of the Guireuses Islands, which are Seychellois territory, in defiance of African Union and United Nations resolutions.
The continued occupation of the islands is also contrary to France’s own 2001 maritime border agreement with Seychelles.
SADC Executive Secretary Dr Stergomena Tax expressed concern about the security situation in eastern DRC.
"DRC remains an integral member of our community and requires all our support in addressing the insurgencies in the eastern part of the country, and all negative forces.
“May I express our profound gratitude to all member states, in particular the Force Intervention Brigade (FIB) Troop Contributing Countries for the commitment and continued support to our sister country. On 9 November, 2019 the UN Security Council adopted resolution 2502, which extended the mandate of the MONUSCO for one more year.
“While SADC welcomes the extension of the MONUSCO mandate, we call for closing the gaps in terms of areas that have the potential to undermine the operational effectiveness and the unity of command of the Force Intervention Brigade in line with the SADC position that has been submitted to the United Nations."
Reporting by Thando Mnkandhla in Windhoek and David Muchagoneyi in Harare