Ambassador James Manzou –Zimbabwe’s Secretary for Foreign Affairs – will head a SADC-driven mediation process in the border dispute between the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia.
Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa chairs the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Co-operation.
This week, President Mnangagwa’s spokesperson, Mr George Charamba, told The Southern Times that: “The president has designated Ambassador Manzou to handle the matter and I understand they have been making efforts to deal with the conflict diligently. They met on Monday this week (and) I can tell you significant progress has been made so far in terms of trying to find an amicable solution to the dispute.”
Ambassador Manzou – who has served as Zimbabwe’s top diplomat to the European Union - was not reachable for comment.
The DRC and Zambia have been wrangling over control of 13-square kilometer piece of land on their border.
The decades-old dispute flared again two months ago when the DRC accused Zambia of moving to occupy its territory in Moba region. Kinshasa beefed up its military presence in the area, leading to clashes between the two countries’ soldiers.
The UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs said the clashes had resulted in the displacement of hundreds of people in Moba.
DRC’s President Felix Tshisekedi on May 11 dispatched his Foreign Affairs Minister, Marie Nzeza, to Harare with a request for the SADC Organ Chair to mediate in the dispute.
President Mnangagwa presented the matter to his counterparts in the region.
“Both countries recognise they are members of SADC and that they must coexist peacefully. Disputes will always arise around borders but the key thing is always finding peaceful means of resolving them.
“When we are in this COVID-19 environment, the least we can afford as Southern Africa is an accentuation of the crisis by importing another issue which is of a military nature. The good thing is that the two countries are willing to talk,” Mr Charamba told The Southern Times.
The dispute dates back to the colonial era and has flared on and off since the British and the Belgians divvied up Zambia and the DRC for themselves.
There was an attempt to settle the issue in 1989 when a treaty was signed between then Presidents Kenneth Kaunda (Zambia) and Mobutu Sese Seko (DRC), and beacons were placed along the border as markers.
However, border clashes continued and the two countries are yet to find a lasting resolution to the dispute.
Such border disputes are common across Africa – with Botswana and Namibia, Nigeria and Cameroon, and Malawi and Tanzania, among others – at various points all contesting shared boundaries.
This is attributable to ambiguities created by arbitrarily drawn borders at the time of Europe’s partitioning of Africa.
Botswana and Namibia have previously faced off over Kasikili/Sedudu Island on the Chobe River that borders the two countries.
The matter, also mediated in by Zimbabwe, was settled by the International Court of Justice in 1999 when it was ruled the island fell under Botswana’s territory.