What is really happening in SADC?

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Timo Shihepo

Windhoek - The once peaceful daring region of Africa is fast seeing its non-violent image fading due to various events occurring in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries in recent years.

Persisting events in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and in the Kingdom of Lesotho continue to paint a bad image of the region, while fresh election violence in Zimbabwe and Madagascar have further cast doubt over the future of the region and its protocol on politics, defence and security.

SADC’s Protocol on Politics, Defence and Security aims to promote peace and security across southern Africa, protecting the region’s people from instability due to the breakdown of law and order, developing a common foreign policy throughout the region, and cooperating on matters related to security and defence.

The common foreign policy, or the lack of it, however, did nothing to protect its fellow citizens when Zimbabweans living in South Africa were the subject of xenophobic attacks.

At the moment, this protocol is nothing but a toothless bulldog, which has watched as the region collectively failed to solve the political crisis in the DRC for a number of years that has left hundreds of people dead and many more injured and displaced.

The protocol was also powerless when the DRC’s president Joseph Kabila refused a SADC envoy aimed at restoring order in that country. Though he was supposed to step down already in 2016, Kabila is still president two years later, and the country never held elections when his term ended.

Two weeks ago, Kabila also refused to host UScretary-General Antonio Guterres and US Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, saying he has important decisions to announce. The decision he was talking about was to pronounce whether he would run for the election in December or name his preferred candidate. The deadline was on Wednesday this week.

In Zimbabwe, the SADC protocol, or SADC in general, was powerless when eight people lost their lives on the streets of Harare – where protesters demonstrated against the election results in that country, which showed Emmerson Mnangagwa, the new president of the republic, was leading the poll. This was the second time in less than a year that SADC, through its protocol, failed to act in Zimbabwe after the “soft coup” that toppled long-time leader and former SADC chairperson, Robert Mugabe. 

In early April, the SADC Troika Summit approved the urgent deployment of the SADC Special Envoy to Madagascar,Joaquim Chissano (the former president of Mozambique) to facilitate a national dialogue aimed at defusing the political tensions and reaching consensus on the electoral process in that country.

The envoy was to restore order after Madagascar was rocked by fresh violence, which has left two people dead and several injured, after clashes between thousands of opposition activists and security forces in the Antananarivo square.

In Lesotho, SADC is still waiting for the Prime Minister, Motsoahae Thomas Thabane, to implement elements aimed at finally bringing peace and stability to the southern African Kingdom, which has been battling political instability since 2014.

SADC has requested for an amnesty that would cover the detained mutiny suspects and ensure the safe return of all members of the Lesotho Defence Force, who have fled Lesotho for their lives.

Other quarters have requested that Lesotho tighten the country’s constitution, which is deemed to have loopholes that led to political and security instability.

The political instability in Lesotho is so intense that even Thabane fears for his life.

“I will implement all the SADC elements if I am alive,” Thabane, who survived a coup and whose wife was murdered told The Southern Times, last year.

Incoming chairperson of the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation, Zambian president, Edgar Lungu has vowed to preserve the region’s “peaceful region” tag.

“I am committed to regional peace and I will consult widely and tap into the experience and knowledge of the outgoing chairperson of the Organ and other SADC Heads of State and Government to ensure durable peace and stability in the region,” he said.

Lungu was speaking during his meeting with Executive Secretary of SADC, Dr Stergomena Lawrence Tax who paid a courtesy call on the President to brief him on the regional political and security developments, ahead of the SADC Summit of Heads of State and Government that takes place next week in Windhoek, Namibia.

During the meeting, Dr Tax briefed the incoming chair about the delayed DRC elections scheduled for 23 December 2018, the SADC Preventive Mission in the Kingdom of Lesotho (SAPMIL); election observation mission in Zimbabwe as well as the opening of the SADC Liaison Office in Kinshasa.

Under his chairpersonship, the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation is expected to oversee and support the preparation and holding of national elections in Botswana, the DRC, the Kingdom of eSwatini, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa, guided by the revised SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections of 2015.

These items are also set to feature on the agenda of the SADC Summit.

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