The “talk-shop,” as the SADC Summit has come to be known, is once again on. This time around, technocrats, bureaucrats, diplomats and their political masters have gathered in the Kingdom of Swaziland. But really, who would want to miss the Summit hosted by Swaziland, especially when it coincides with the annual Umhlanga (reed dance).
I guess not many of the male species would want to miss the summit. As thus, the heads of state braved the scorching heat of just over 30 degrees Celsius to witness as the ‘maidens’ swayed and swerved in the cultural ‘spectacle.’ So far, the few that I have spoken to have been quick to point out how kind and Swaziland has been to them. But the fervour of Umhlanga should neither distract us from assessing political ambiguities in Swaziland nor derail us from discussing political issues that bedevil the region. As for me, the political challenges facing the SADC region would be best captured by none other moment than when President Khama hands over the Chairpersonship of SADC to King Mswati III. That for me sums up everything about SADC. The organisation has either been relegated to comedy or metamorphosed into tragedy.
I guess Mswati’s assumption of Chairpersonship would also go down history as the most traumatising experience for those few and inaudible dissenting voices calling for democratic dispensation in that absolute monarchy. Nevertheless, the trend and precedence have been set. Remember it moved from President Mugabe to President Khama, and now King Mswati is the new Chair. Can you spot the difference?
Having said that the SADC region at large is faced with serious political challenges. As things stand, Lesotho’s security and political crisis is far from over. It has been dragging forever with Lesotho playing hide-and-seek with SADC. The whole mediation and conflict resolution endeavour have degenerated to Tom-and-Jerry games. SADC is merely running after the delay tactics of Lesotho. Hence finding a comprehensive and sustainable antidote to Lesotho’s political crisis will remain but a fleeting illusion. I am of the view that there is no way SADC can successfully pursue Security Sector Reform (SSR) in Lesotho while the main protagonist is still calling the shots in Lesotho Defence Force.
SADC should have simply made the removal of Lt. Gen. Tlali Kamoli a pre-condition on both security and political reforms. On the other hand, Lesotho has made it crystal clear to the out-going Chair, President Khama that Kamoli’s departure is purely an internal issue not for negotiation. In other words, Kamoli will leave the army as and when he pleases. In turn, SADC responded to this steadfastness of Lesotho by taking taxpayers’ money and forming another committee, the Lesotho Oversight Committee. This would be the fourth political instrument thrown into the Lesotho situation since it started in 2014, but the results remain the same.
Other parts of the region are also proving to be very politically volatile. There have been violent protests in the streets of Zimbabwe’s capital Harare, with angry mobs of young Zimbabweans shouting “Enough!” Surely, people’s desperation runs very deep, anger and anguish have reached uncontrollable levels and that can be very dangerous for both government and protestors. Uncivil reaction from both sides can easily trigger a major civil unrest which has spillover effects especially on Botswana. On the other hand, Zambia is not anyhow different.
The recent election in Zambia characterised by violence, intimidation and bias coverage of the ruling Patriotic Front by government media is threatening to plunge the country into a political and constitutional crisis. The United Party for National Development has since filed a petition with court challenging the validity of the results hence suspending executive powers of president-elect pending verdict. Mozambique, Madagascar and DRC are also not in any better political situation, they are basically on life-support. If SADC member states are not committed to adhering to democratic principles and values, the region is surely headed for a political turmoil.