07 January, 2013

Another Wasted Year for SADC

by Hussein Solomon

Exiled Zimbabwean writer Chenjerai Hove recently lamented that politics in his native country was not about persuasion but about forcing people to shout allegiance at the barrel of a gun. Indeed this trend seems to be escalating as ruling party ZANU-PF thugs and their allies in the security services seek to crush dissent by intimidation in the run-up to elections later this year. Doubts over the fairness of the upcoming elections were further raised with the resignation of Reginald Austin, a respected lawyer, who also served as the head of the country’s Human Rights Commission. He quit his post in protest at the lack of independence and lack of resources given to his Commission. Clearly the ruling ZANU-PF party of octogenarian Robert Mugabe cares little for human rights, democracy and Zimbabwe’s hapless citizens.

In all this, the much vaunted Southern African Development Community (SADC) is nowhere to be seen. From the very beginning its approach to the crisis in Zimbabwe vacillated from the limp-wristed in its dealings with Mugabe and his cronies to support to this odious regime. An example of the latter occurred when one of SADC’s own institutions, its Tribunal, declared that Harare’s land seizures to be illegal. In response, SADC moved quickly to dismantle its own Tribunal. It is this same SADC which proudly declared that it stood for the respect of human rights. It seems that where human rights conflicts with the demands of an authoritarian and rapacious state – it is the latter which prevails.

A similar situation is fast developing in the tiny Kingdom of Swaziland – home of Africa’s last remaining feudal monarch – King Mswati III. Whilst excruciating poverty is the lot of the majority of Swazis, the king and his wives and various members of the ruling family live in opulent luxury. One Swazi student I spoke to compared the situation to France in July 1789 – just before the storming of the Bastille. He may be right. As in France, ordinary Swazis are refusing to take this any longer and protests and violent crackdowns on the part of the authorities have become the norm. Where is SADC in this? Nowhere! There is no leadership emanating from Gaborone, the site of SADC’s headquarters, regarding the unfolding tragedy in Swaziland.

Meanwhile, the lack of strategic direction in SADC itself is nowhere more evident than in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), which after the secession of South from North Sudan, is Africa’s last country. Despite the fact that the situation in the east of the country where Tutsi-dominated M-23 rebels have captured large swathes of territory has dominated SADC’s Extraordinary Summit on 7th and 8th December 2012, the reality is that it does not seem to understand the complexity of the crisis – and refuses to acknowledge the fact that President Joseph Kabila’s government has made the crisis worse with its inflamed xenophobic rhetoric against the Banyamulenge Tutsi living in the east who have made common cause with their kinsmen in neighbouring Rwanda rather than trust the government in Kinshasa with their protection. Under the circumstances, its is President Yoweri Museveni in Uganda playing a key role to end the crisis in the DRC as opposed to SADC.

2012 will surely go down as another wasted year for SADC.

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