All quiet on the SADC front

All quiet on the SADC front

It was an uneventful SADC summit hosted by new chairman Robert Mugabe, although he didn’t fail to stamp his personality on proceedings. Good news for President Zuma, however – he’s got a new phallic title to add to his Spear of the Nation appellation. By SIMON ALLISON.

The 34th annual summit of the Southern African Development Community concluded in Victoria Falls on Monday, with the various assembled diplomats and dignitaries returning home having achieved…well, not so much. “There were no political fireworks at the summit and no major resolutions,” observed commentator Ray Ndlovu, writing in Business Day, which just about sums up this year’s uneventful and, frankly, rather uninspiring edition of the regional talk shop.

Headlines were dominated, of course, by the appointment of a certain President Robert Gabriel Mugabe to the Chairman’s office. In theory, at least, Zimbabwe’s nonagenarian leader now speaks for all of us in southern Africa – a fact that has outraged rights organisations.

“SADC’s commitment to human rights will come into question if Zimbabwe, as chair of the regional body, does not expedite the process of aligning its laws with the Constitution and state institutions do not live up to the regional and international best practices,” said Dzimbabwe Chimbga of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, speaking to the Mail & Guardian.

Consider that commitment questioned, because Mugabe wasted no time in putting his stamp on the organisation, as Zimbabwe came up with the summit’s rather cumbersome theme – “Leveraging the Region’s Diverse Resources for Sustainable Economic and Social Development through Beneficiation and Value Addition.”

It’s no coincidence that “value addition” and “beneficiation” are the buzzwords that have defined Zimbabwe’s economic policy in recent years, and Mugabe urged other SADC countries to follow suit –because we should all want economies like Zimbabwe’s, apparently. “Our region has abundant resources, which instead of being sold in raw form at very low prices must be exploited and beneficiated to add value to the products which we export,” Mugabe explained, before encouraging his guests to go bungee jumping at the nearby falls – anything, we suspect, to alleviate the unremitting dullness of the proceedings.

Fortunately, it’s not clear whether the other participants at the summit were drinking Mugabe’s Kool-Aid (or Mazoe, as he calls it). The assembled heads of state and government agreed to develop a strategy and roadmap for industrialisation in the region, but avoided explicitly endorsing Zimbabwe’s approach. “South Africa advocates for a development integration approach that aims to address the main constraints to regional integration such as the lack of industrial and infrastructure development, intra-Africa trade and market integration. We therefore need to develop a regional industrial programme that promotes mutually beneficial and inclusive growth,” said South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma.

Meanwhile, South Africa was elected to chair the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation. As chairman, this makes President Zuma this year’s official SADC Organ (it’s the regional equivalent of the Spear of the Nation, we think). Not that he should have all that much to do. This year’s departing Organ, Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba, reported that “the region remains generally peaceful and stable”, and this conclusion was adopted by the summit in its final declaration. With a few caveats, of course – the Democratic Republic of Congo was told to disarm its rebels, and Madagascar warned to pull its socks up and implement the SADC-sponsored peace plan.

Even the appointment of Botswana’s Ian Khama as Mugabe’s deputy failed to insert any drama into the summit. Mugabe doesn’t get along with several southern African leaders, Jacob Zuma included, but he really dislikes Khama, who has been a vocal and consistent critic of Zimbabwe’s democracy or lack thereof. One of Mugabe’s ministers, memorably, described Khama as “the only bad apple” and his position as “thoroughly stupid” when Khama had the audacity to question the 2013 election results. Nonetheless, the pair were all smiles for the cameras at the summit itself, knowing perhaps that the proximity of their new titles doesn’t mean that they’ll actually have to work together.

The only frisson of excitement came when South Africa and Namibia still declined to sign a new Protocol on Trade in Services, which mandates countries to start removing barriers to the free movement of services across regional borders. Mugabe wasn’t happy, and he didn’t care who knew it. “We also appealed to South Africa, which is highly industrialised, to lead us in this and work with us, and cooperate with us and not just regard the whole continent as an open market for products from South Africa…We want a reciprocal relationship were we sell to each other and not just receive products from one source,” he said.

Next year’s summit is in Gaborone, where President Khama will succeed Mugabe as chair. We’re no fortune tellers, but such is the nature of these regional gatherings that we’ll stick our necks on the line and suggest that it won’t be any more exciting than this one. Still, given the issues that other regions are currently grappling with – civil war, post-revolutionary chaos, Ebola – this is no bad thing. DM

Photo: A handout picture provided by the South African Government Communication and Information System (GCIS) on 17 August 2014 shows Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe addressing delegates at the 34th Ordinary SADC Summit of Heads of State and Government, in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, 17 August 2014. The chair of the SADC is now taken by Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe. EPA/SIYABULELA DUDA / GCIS / HANDOUT


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