As I watched the live broadcast of the opening ceremony of the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) 37th ordinary summit in Pretoria, South Africa recently, one could not help but be filled with a sense of shame at being a member of such an obsolete and pitiful organisation.
Opinion: Tendai Ruben Mbofana
In the midst of the high-sounding talk about economic growth and foreign direct investment, one could easily detect that these leaders did not dare tackle the root causes of the region’s retrogression — which are poor governance and rampant corruption.
All may seem well when Sadc talks about aspects such as infrastructural development, trade, investment, value chains, value addition, and so forth — it, nonetheless, boils down to nothing as long as tackling rampant corruption, and misgovernance by regional leaders remains a taboo.
Sadc has lost all of its founding principles emanating from the Frontline States, whereby, the organisation was in the forefront of the liberation struggle to free the people of this region from colonial rule — as they appreciated that there could never be any significant development without the true liberation of the majority of the people in the region.
Thus, their main objective, as the Frontline States, was to ensure that they unite in fighting for the removal of all obstacles to freedom, and the advancement of genuine equality amongst the people of southern Africa.
However, disturbingly after the conversion of the Frontline States to the then Sadcc in 1980 — after Zimbabwe’s independence — all these founding principles have been thrown out of the window, and the organisation has regrettably mutated into a monster that only serves the selfish desires of the leadership — at the expense of the majority that the Frontline States had sought to emancipate.
Today, Sadc is nothing but a talk-shop of leaders, where — all with their heads in the clouds —they make themselves feel good with meaningless dreams and resolutions, whereas, nothing tangible ever reaches the real suffering people of the member countries.
With the talk of high gross domestic products (GDP), one would be excused for wrongly assuming that the ordinary person on the street in Sadc is having it good. Nevertheless, the facts on the ground are witnesses that the contrary is true.
The majority of the people in countries such as Zimbabwe, South Africa, and the misnamed Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) are wallowing in abject poverty.
As I listened attentively and expectantly to all the speeches made by the Sadc executive secretary, the incoming Sadc chairman South African President Jacob Zuma, and representatives of various organisations, such as the United Nations and African Development Bank, was filled with despair as none ever tackled the malady that is most affecting this region.
All touched on such issues as climatic change, invasion of crops by army worms, global markets and recession, as the main factors working against development in the region.
Did they all eat something — probably in the ice cream — that suddenly induced selective amnesia, such that they conveniently forgot to mention a factor even greater than those they dared mention?
With all those heads of states and governments present, would that not have been the perfect forum to tell them in their faces that the main reason their people are suffering is that they are busy looting their countries’ resources, becoming multi-millionaires overnight, whilst the people they purport to represent go to bed without a decent meal.
Whilst, Zuma builds a palace to reside in — with millions of Rand worth of so-called security — the majority of his own people still reside in shacks and are unemployed.
President Robert Mugabe and his party leaders are reportedly buying properties all over the world, yet the vast majority of the people in their country have not been paid for years. At least 90% of Zimbabweans do not have meaningful employment, and anyone who dares question this setup is swiftly and brutally silenced.
As elections slated for 2018 loom in Zimbabwe, and the majority of its citizens are clamouring for electoral reforms — to avoid a repeat of the 2008 scenario — Sadc conveniently, but foolishly and myopically, turned a deaf ear to this potentially dangerous situation.
In the midst of all that, there is serious and dangerous infighting in the ruling Zanu PF party – something that threatens the peace and stability of this country.
In the DRC, there are unending wars, as another despot President Joseph Kabila refuses to step down, even when his constitutional mandate expired in 2016 — displacing and killing countless innocent people.
Are these factors not relevant enough to be considered deterrents to sustained economic growth in Sadc?
So, why is it that the only leaders that I heard mentioning anything to do with democracy have been the leaders of the Seychelles and Lesotho?
Instability, oppression and rampart corruption are the main factors leading to the suffering of the people of this region.
There can never be any meaningful foreign direct investment in a country infested with corruption, and is unstable due to repression and political infighting.
So, what is the point in talking for hours on end about such issues of economic development, without tackling issues of corruption, the rule of law, democracy, and stability?
Why can Sadc not fearlessly confront leaders who ride roughshod over their citizens’ rights?
Do they want to bury their heads in the sand, whilst imminent instability looms in countries such as Zimbabwe, and then suddenly jump into action when the situation has already gone out of hand — as they did in Lesotho — yet all the signs are as clear as daylight?
Sadc should be proactive and not reactive. It should stop viewing itself as a buddies’ club (but) it is there to represent its citizens, not its leaders.
Is it then any wonder that Sadc would never achieve its stated goals in economic development, without addressing core issues?
In this light, unless Sadc deliberately decides to reform its approach to pertinent issues affecting the region, and reverting to its original goal of genuinely emancipating the people of the region, then the organisation has indeed become obsolete and pitiful.
Tendai Ruben Mbofana is a social justice activist, writer, and author. Please WhatsApp/call: +263782283975, or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.