Regionalism, sovereignty threaten Sadc

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I recently participated in a meeting of non-state actors from the Southern Africa Development Community (Sadc) region, in which a number of concerns were raised from biting poverty, HIV and Aids to governance and democratic deficits. As the meeting drew to a close participants had to somehow pen down recommendations.
In deliberating on the way forward, the emphasis on engaging Sadc was to me quite revealing and surprising. The discussions were revealing in the sense that they exhibited high expectations by citizens of member states on what the potential of the regional body to address the many issues bedevilling the region. They were surprising in that the enthusiasm of some participants appeared totally oblivious to the realities on the ground.
That final session automatically triggered a reflection on Sadc’s response to the crises in Zimbabwe; political problems in Madagascar and Lesotho; its response or non-response to the denial of citizens’ right to participate in democratic processes in Swaziland; the seemingly never-ending conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the information blackout on developments in Angola, including reasons for continued postponement of national elections.
The conclusion of my reflection was that Sadc’s potential is faced within triple threats: solidarity regionalism, unaccountability of member states and the politics of sovereignty. This is in spite of the existence of grandiose regional strategic indicative plans, protocols and declarations.
It is difficult for comrades -in-arms — now ruling parties — who worked together or helped each other against colonialists and insurgents to condemn each other’s excesses. Obviously, it is difficult for the ANC of South Africa, Frelimo of Mozambique, Swapo of Namibia, Chama Cha Mapinduzi of Tanzania, MPLA of Angola and other liberation movements to challenge Zanu PF, let alone the founding leadership of Sadc, including President Robert Mugabe.
It was not surprising therefore that Ian Khama, current President of Botswana and the late President of Zambia, Levy Mwanawasa, found themselves isolated and running the risk of being misfits in an environment of solidarity regionalism when they spoke out against human rights violations in Zimbabwe.
Sadc developed a lot of protocols and documents, most of which are very progressive and responsive to the development challenges in southern Africa. However, there is a yawning gap between these policy pronouncements on the one hand and their implementation on the other.
In March this year the Sadc Extraordinary Summit urged the former Mayor of Antananarivo, Mr Rajoelina to vacate the office of the president as a matter of urgency paving way for unconditional reinstatement of President Marc Ravalomanana. Rajoelina simply ignored Sadc!
On November 5 2009, the Sadc Summit of the Troika of the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation decided that the parties to the Global Political Agreement (GPA) in Zimbabwe should engage in dialogue on all outstanding issues emanating from the implementation of the GPA with immediate effect within fifteen (15) — not beyond thirty days. Thirty days lapsed. The parties had not started the dialogue! Until today, Zimbabweans are sure that not all outstanding issues will ever be resolved.
A number of provisions of the Sadc Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections were blatantly violated in Zimbabwe and nothing was done to hold the parties responsible accountable
The above shows us that Sadc has a big challenge of holding member states accountable for their decisions and commitments. In some cases, given the spaghetti bowl of regionalism in Africa, a member state can alternate its loyalty from one grouping to the other.
If Sadc is to make progress, the issue of enforcement mechanisms for compliance and implementation of decisions needs urgent attention.
Sovereignty is a key principle of Sadc. Good as it may seem, it is perhaps at the centre of the region’s inability to enforce implementation of regional decisions.
Early this year, the Zimbabwean High Court ruled that the court would not implement the Sadc Tribunal’s ruling, which would have barred the state from acquiring further land, mostly owned by Zimbabwe’s white farmers, for resettlement purposes on grounds that the Tribunal’s ruling would be against Zimbabwe’s domestic laws and agrarian policies.
If member states do not want Sadc to intervene when negative developments happen in their countries, they will simply put forward the argument of sovereignty. Unfortunately, abuse of the principle of sovereignty tends to negate regionalism.
The challenge, looking ahead, is to strike a balance between sovereignty and regionalism lest member states choose to ignore, undermine or act contrary to regional commitments.
In view of the potential and already apparent negative impacts, it is about time Sadc member states start an honest dialogue on the challenges of solidarity regionalism, unaccountability of member states and the politics of sovereignty.

lBob Muchabaiwa works for a regional organisation based in Botswana and he writes in his personal capacity