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SOUTHERN AFRICA: Little ‘Extraordinary’ About Latest SADC Summit

Servaas van den Bosch *

WINDHOEK, May 23 2011 (IPS) - Inaction marked the Extraordinary Summit of Southern African Development Community heads of state in Windhoek this weekend, despite an agenda covering Zimbabwe elections, political deadlock in Madagascar, the suspension of the regional court and allegations of corruption within SADC itself.

Swift and decisive action was to be found only in the arrest and removal – at gunpoint – of activists distributing flyers demanding SADC act on its own resolutions on Zimbabwe.

“We were busy distributing our press statements with demands on SADC to fully implement its Livingstone Troika resolutions, including fully preparing Zimbabwe for democratic elections,” Dewa Mavhinga told IPS, “when Zimbabwe security agents and armed Namibian police pounced on us – confiscating our reports and statements and cameras before force-marching us from the SADC Summit venue at gunpoint.”

Mavhinga is the regional coordinator of the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition, which along with other groups was in Windhoek to demand that SADC take firm action in light of the Mar. 31 statement issued in Livingstone, Zambia by the Troika – SADC’s designated mediator for Zimbabwe, South African President Jacob Zuma, the chair of SADC’s politics, defence and security chair, Zambian President Rupiah Banda, and Mozambican President Armando Guebuza.

If the arrest of Mavhinga – as well as lawyers Lloyd Kuveya and Irene Petras, journalist Jealousy Mawarire and others- illustrated the urgency of the Troika’s call for “an immediate end of [sic] violence, intimidation, hate speech, harassment, and any other form of action that contradicts the letter and spirit of GPA [the Global Political Agreement]” which established Zimbabwe’s uneasy government of national unity, the Extraordinary Summit contented itself with postponing discussion of Zimbabwe to a later date.

Before the meeting, SADC Executive Secretary Tomaz Salomão had hinted it was unlikely that heads of states would discuss the issue of Zimbabwe in the absence of Zuma, who opted to remain in South Africa where his party was completing its local election campaign.

Activist Macdonald Lewanika was nonetheless “cautiously pleased” with SADC’s handling of the matter. “SADC should play a key role in the next elections in Zimbabwe by virtue of their signature to the GPA, and also by virtue of the fact that it is clear that Zimbabwe alone lacks the necessary tools and ingredients to sure a free and fair credible poll.”

SADC Tribunal

Zimbabwe was also prominent in another order of business: the suspension of the SADC Tribunal. Following the Tribunal’s referral of a ruling against Zimbabwe for the expropriation of land from farmers to SADC leaders for action, heads of state declined to force Zimbabwe to act, instead suspending the regional court in August 2010, pending a review of its functions.

In a brief communiqué issued late on Friday, the Summit said it had mandated justice ministers to prepare to amend the terms of reference of the Tribunal, submitting a final report to SADC’s August 2012 summit. The completed review supported the Tribunal’s competence to handle the Zimbabwe expropriations, but justice ministers are believed to have recommended amendments that will insulate member states from cases brought against them by their citizens, possibly by transforming the Tribunal into a court arbitrating disputes only among states.

Asked whether the ministers’ recommendations would be made public, Salomão told journalists neither the media nor SADC citizens really needed to know what was in the report.

The immediate effect of this is that other significant cases – in which diamond companies are claiming compensation against the governments of Zimbabwe, Lesotho and South Africa – cannot move forward.

“It is clear that SADC leaders have no respect for their own regional court or international legal norms and feel that they can violate the Tribunal’s independence, the rule of law and the right of southern Africans to access justice with total impunity,” said Nicole Fritz, director of the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC), in a statement, “Instead of sanctioning Zimbabwe, our leaders have imposed legal sanctions on all of us – preventing us from seeking legitimate legal redress at a regional level.”

Madagascar power-sharing

SADC is also wrestling with mapping a route back to constitutional rule for Madagascar. The Indian Ocean island was suspended from SADC after a coup in December 2009 brought Andry Rajoelina to power; the regional body has hosted a series of meetings to mediate between parties.

A roadmap for a transitional government had been submitted to Madagascar’s major political actors by SADC’s mediator, the former Mozambican president, Joaquim Chissano. The plan, which would have recognised Rajoelina as head of state until new elections were held, and entitled him to name a prime minister to run the country during a transitional period has been accepted by the three parties already close to him, but rejected by those aligned with three influential former presidents.

Rajoelina had spoken with several SADC leaders, including Angolan President Eduardo dos Santos, South Africa’s President Zuma, and the meeting’s host, Namibian President Pohamba, and expressed confidence that the roadmap would be adopted, adding that, “whatever the decision of the SADC Summit, we continue to organise elections in order that these can take place after November”.

The summit however resolved only that there is still a “need for an all-inclusive political process towards finding a lasting solution of the challenges facing the country”, and scheduled another meeting to this end will be held in Gaborone in the near future.

This will have been welcomed by the opposition as an opportunity to press its demand that Rajoelina step down six months before any elections are held.

Corruption allegations

The summit also considered allegations of rampant corruption in the SADC Secretariat based in Gaborone, Botswana. The Namibian weekly newspaper Windhoek Observer revealed that SADC personnel have called on the present SADC Chair, Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba, to conduct an audit of the Secretariat.

The paper quoted an anonymous source within SADC as saying, “We want an investigation because this has become an institution of money laundering. They create illegal contracts, they are always traveling abroad, there is no transparency and accountability and they lie to the Council [of Ministers].”

The allegations of widespread misuse of donor money and funds from member states, with a top management that has grown “addicted to lavish spending”, will have been uncomfortable reading for both Southern African ministers and representatives of the European Union, which provides important financial support to SADC.

Pohamba confirmed he had been made aware of the accusations in April, said the Council of Ministers “would look into the matter”. The Observer claimed that the Council had already been presented with a report detailing graft within the Secretariat, but has yet to act.

Stalled progress on mediating political deadlock in two member states, the muzzling of the regional court, and silence over the arrest members on the summits very doorstep: the outcomes seem a long way from SADC’s lofty ideals. If regional integration on the basis of freedom, social justice, peace and security is to be achieved, the coming months will require principled and decisive leadership.

*Stanley Kwenda in Harare and Lovasoa Rabary-Rakotondravony in Antananarivo contributed to this report. This story, originally posted May 22 was updated May 23 to add additional detail.

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