The Southern African Development Community (SADC) convened in Pretoria this week and once again let the Democratic Republic of Congo wriggle free of setting a deadline for elections, deciding instead to appoint a special envoy. At the SADC summit, leaders also tackled another problem country, Lesotho, and membership issues. By PETER FABRICIUS.
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) has once again given the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) a free pass by failing to demand that it provide a deadline for long overdue presidential elections to be held.
But the SADC decided at its annual summit in Pretoria, which ended on Sunday, to appoint a Special Envoy, a former SADC president, to help DRC to prepare for elections.
President Joseph Kabila should have retired at the end of last year after two terms in office but refused to do so because the country’s electoral commission said it had not yet registered all qualified voters.
In the St Sylvestre agreement with opposition parties on December 31 last year, the government agreed to hold elections this year. But earlier this year the electoral commission announced that elections would not be possible this year either, because of delays in registering voters. The main problem was the political instability in Kasai province, which the commission said had prevented voter registration there.
Some SADC member states are becoming impatient with the indefinite postponement of the elections which they see as a ruse by Kabila to stay in power. They wanted the current summit to demand that the DRC provide a definite timetable for elections.
But officials said that the DRC delegation to the summit, led by Prime Minister Bruno Tshibala, argued that it could not yet provide a definite date because there would be a meeting with all Congolese stakeholders over the next few days to determine the election timetable.
So instead, the SADC leaders, in their communiqué issues on Sunday, indulgently “noted the challenges that have made it unrealistic for the DRC to hold elections in December 2017 as originally planned and urged the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) to publicise the revised electoral calendar in consulation with the Government and the National Council for Monitoring the Implementation of the Agreement (CNSA) of 31st December, 2016.”
CNSA was formed to monitor the St Sylvestre agreement.
The summit also commended Kabila, his government and other stakeholders for the progress they had made in implementing the provisions of the St Sylvestre agreement, without specifying what those had been.
It condemned “the unilateral practice of targeted sanctions against Congolese personalities by non-African organisations and countries, in conflict with the principles of sovereignty of States and of non-interference and calls upon those countries to withdraw the sanctions and to avoid taking such actions in the future by promoting dialogue and mutual respect”.
The summit mandated South African President Jacob Zuma said Swaziland’s King Mswati III to identify and appoint a former head of state from the region to be SADC’s Special Envoy to DRC.
On the other problem country in the region, Lesotho, the summit urged the new government of Prime Minister Tom Thabane “to expedite the implementation of all SADC decisions” and to develop and submit a road map for this “with concrete, clear milestones and deliverables and report progress at the next meeting of the (SADC) double troika summit to be held before November 2017”.
The SADC decisions which Lesotho has to comply with concern constitutional, political and security sector reforms to prevent recurrences of the political turbulence which gripped the country over the last few years.
The main aim of the reforms is to prevent the army from interfering in politics. In his closing remarks at the summit, Zuma welcomed the Lesotho Government’s commitment to comply with these decisions. Thabane made the commitment publicly in his speech at the opening ceremony of the summit on Saturday.
The summit also admitted the Indian Ocean island state of Comoros as its 16th member but declined a membership application by Burundi which it said was still “a work in progress”.
Officials said that Burundi would have to put its house in order before it could be admitted. The country is still suffering instability in the wake of the decision by President Pierre Nkurunziza to remain in power after his mandate apparently expired two years ago.
Officials also said that SADC would launch an inquiry into the need to set limits to membership. One suggested that the equator could be set as a rough geographic limit. This would mean that Rwanda could still be admitted but no others. They noted that Rwanda had in fact applied for membership a few years ago but because it was involved in a conflict with SADC member DRC at that time, the application was rejected.
Since then the two countries had resolved their dispute and so Rwanda’s membership, if it applied again, would be considered more favourably. DM
Photo: President Jacob Zuma delivering his Welcome remarks during the opening ceremony of the 37th Southern African Development Community (SADC) Ordinary Summit of Heads of States and Government in Pretoria. South Africa is hosting the SADC Summit under the theme ‘Partnering with the private sector in developing the Industry and Regional Value Chains’, at the OR Tambo Building of the Department of International Relations and Cooperation. 19 August 2017. (GCIS)
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