Africa, Headlines

DISARMAMENT: SADC Moves Into Unknown Territory

Lewis Machipisa

HARARE, Aug 19 1998 (IPS) - The decision by several Southern African governments to rush in troops to prop up embattled Congolese leader Laurent-Desire Kabila sets a bad and dangerous precedent, regional political analysts say.

President Robert Mugabe announced late Tuesday evening that eight members of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), who were present at a one-day meeting in the Zimbabwean capital, had decided to send troops or other forms of assistance to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The eight countries include Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa.

In a televised broadcast, President Mugabe stressed that the move is to help save lives in the DRC which belongs to the 14- member SADC. President Mugabe is the chairman of the SADC organ on Defence and Security.

Mugabe added that it was the duty of SADC countries to respond favourably to an appeal for assistance from Kabila.

But, regional analysts, say the governments have made an unfortunate and dangerous move.

Greg Mills, Director of the South African Institute of African Affairs, says the countries have placed themselves in a difficult position by “throwing their weight” behind Kabila who “lacked a valid programme of governance”.

“An ugly situation has developed,” says Digby Waller, defence economist with the London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS).

“The situation is fluid and anything might happen in terms of regional alliances, especially if UNITA (in Angola) takes up arms again. The UN should probably be called in for negotiations sooner, rather than later, as none of the regional organisations will have enough strength to stop the fighting,” Waller told IPS.

Already, rebels of the Congolese Movement for Democracy have dismissed calls for a cease-fire, saying they will only stop once they have captured Kinshasa, the DRC capital.

The decision to help the DRC also has heightened a split within SADC on how the Congolese conflict should be handled.

“The SADC economic bloc is on the verge of disintegration emanating from the fighting in the group’s youngest member, the DRC,” says a Zimbabwean economic analyst.

“Unfortunately”, he adds, the DRC conflict also shows the “division between the region’s economic powerhouses, Zimbabwe and South Africa.”

South Africa was represented Tuesday at the Harare meeting of SADC Defence Ministers by its acting High Commissioner to Zimbabwe. Pretoria is the chairman of the regional grouping.

While the Harare meeting took place, South Africa’s defence and foreign affairs ministers were on a separate mission to the Great Lakes region to find a solution to the crisis.

It is not clear whether South Africa will join the other SADC states in sending troops since Alfred Nzo, South Africa’s Foreign Minister, told the international media Wednesday that his country hopes for a diplomatic, rather than a military, solution to the Congolese war.

Waller of IISS believes that Zimbabwe has spearheaded the move to send troops to the DRC, because it is keen on protecting its financial investment in that country.

“Kabila was provided with finance and equipment by Mugabe, who is still owed. Kabila is very short of money,” Waller says. Zimbabwe apparently wants its money back and will not allow any action that sidelines Kabila from power.

Zimbabwe’s arms-manufacturing firm has supplied food rations and military uniforms to the DRC defence forces under a contract worth about 84 million U.S. dollars. Under another agreement, Mugabe’s administration has provided credit to the tune of about seven million U.S. dollars to enable the DRC to import food from Zimbabwe.

According to Mills of South Africa, “the problem with Kabila is that he was installed by Rwanda and Uganda in the east, Angola in the west, plus anti-Mobutu forces in the former Zaire. His record even before, and subsequent to his take over, has not been inspiring.”

“It is important that the region realises that the only way the Congo will be stable is if it is under the rule of an inclusive government of national unity, which can provide Congo’s neighbours with security reassurances and also offer the prospect of better governance in Congo itself,” Mills told IPS.

Brian Kagoro, a human rights lawyer in Zimbabwe, believes too that the SADC countries “are buying into a war whose basis they may not fully appreciate.”

“The intervention force is not an impartial outfit out to restore peace,” he adds. “It’s a partisan force going to support one of the parties to the conflict, which is amazing because there was no similar concern when Kabila moved against Mobutu (Sese Seko).”

“If you look at the allegations being raised by Kabila, these are the same allegations that Mobutu was raising against Kabila, but SADC forces didn’t intervene. In fact, some even went and helped Kabila. They were so quick to endorse Kabila,” Kagoro says.

The human rights lawyer points out that “this intervention does not meet international law requirements…If other countries are found to be involved (in the internal rebellion), the matter should be taken to the OAU and dealt with by way of sanctions if they are found in the wrong.”

Although they have denied the allegations, both Rwanda and Uganda have been named by Kabila as being behind the rebel action.

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