This article was first published on Business Brief on
6 October 2022 (hard copy below)
Has SADC realised its goals of wealth creation and individual freedom?
According to its virtual platform, “The main objectives of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) are to achieve economic development, peace and security, and growth, alleviate poverty, enhance the standard and quality of life of the peoples of Southern Africa, and support the socially disadvantaged through Regional Integration.” We are then reminded how the SADC “is a Regional Economic Community comprising 16 Member States inclusive of Angola, Botswana, Comoros, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eswatini, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, United Republic Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe”.
Of these countries listed above, one can safely draw a green thread of political discontent, mass national poverty, corruption and electoral disorder through fifty percent of them. If you (are made to) appreciate why “SADCC was formed to advance the cause of national political liberation in Southern Africa, and to reduce dependence particularly on the then apartheid era South Africa”, you then marvel at why guaranteeing individual freedoms was not on its original agenda. Had individual freedom been an integral cog of SADC’s philosophy, by now all protocols signed to advance their members’ democratic cause would be fully implemented.
SADC flaunts a ‘protocol’ for just about anything, yet the region is collectively still as poor as it was when this august body was consummated. Zimbabwe secured its first black government in 1980, thus we enthusiastically enrolled in the Southern African Development Coordination Conference (SADCC). As a young political activist in 1980, I was more interested in the SADCC’s impact on political liberation, especially the Frontline States. Matters of trade and regional integration were the least of my concerns. In any case, even when “[on] August 17 1992, at a Summit held in Windhoek, Namibia, the Heads of State and Government signed the SADC Declaration and Treaty that effectively transformed the Southern African Development Coordination Conference (SADCC) into the Southern African Development Community (SADC)” many of us ‘free’ Southern Africans were still fixated on South Africa’s anti-Apartheid movement.
Thus, one can appreciate why issues of political integrity and electoral decency are not A-listed in SADC. The letter and the spirit of its formation was ‘liberation’. However, those that argue on the side of SADC’s potency point that its “objectives are to be achieved through increased regional integration, built on democratic principles, and equitable and sustainable development.” Almost 30 years down the line, Zimbabweans, Angolans, Swatis, Suthus, Mozambicans, Congolese and to a certain extent Tanzanians and Malawians are still mourning the deficit, absence or even ultimate demise of those so-called ‘democratic principles’.
There are no less than five protocols intended to safeguard our freedom: for instance, movement of persons, corruption and my favourite – politics, defence and security. As an enlightened Zimbabwean, it’s no understatement that since 1980 we are yet to enjoy political and security freedoms enshrined in these protocols. The advent of South Africa into the SADC fold - with its largely liberal constitution - was meant to breathe freshness into the organisation’s conscience. Yet it would seem South Africa itself has been fully co-opted into the conspiracy of national mischief given the magnitude of poverty, corruption, unemployment and xenophobia in that country. As for Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo – we are the test cases of lost causes, possibly even beyond redemption.
The sheer number of deaths due to civil unrest, insurgency, political executions, and democratic violations in both countries easily runs into tens of thousands. If we focus our analytical light on both internally and externally displaced persons, the counter ticks towards millions. And herein lies my problem with SADC in its current format.
In the 1980s, the euphoria of acceptance as a member of the ‘league of nations’ was heightened by the appointment of our own Dr Simba Makoni as secretary general. Little did we know this office was a political hologram manipulated by strings of higher authority. From 1980 until now, year 2022, not a single moment has SADC made either Robert Mugabe or Emmerson Mnangagwa accountable for their political excesses. SADC’s peer review system is so perforated that anything that falls under the category of ‘sovereignty’ is left to wither away in the storms of time. Some accuse SADC of being an old boys’ club good only for wining and dining. No substantive life-changing resolutions made other than long-winded themes with no realistic timeframes of implementation.
For Zimbabwe, political murders dating back to 1980s Gukurahundi, never mind heartless elimination of opponents in 2008 followed with mass shootings as late as 2019, have not seen a single person being hauled before SADC for accountability. Military intervention in DRC and Lesotho was driven more by self-interest rather than pursuit of regional stability. Even when Robert Mugabe’s ZANU.PF lost the election to Morgan Tsvangirai’s MDCT in 2008, so-called ‘SADC intervention’ focused mostly on damage control rather than pushing genuine multi-party agenda.
Whenever there are elections in the SADC region, member states are the first to evoke provisions of electoral democracy protocols as a publicity stunt because there is not a single SADC electoral outcome that this organisation has condemned. Every five years, despite millions of United States Dollars and man hours invested in Zimbabwe’s elections, not a shred of evidence exists that the incumbent government really wants to remain entrenched in constitutional electoral sanity. Opposition parties are banned, their leaders arrested on frivolous charges as millions of dollars in state funds are channelled to vote buying, especially in vulnerable rural constituencies.
Moreover, the narrative that state electoral commissions are ‘independent’ may apply to all other SADC member states other than Zimbabwe. Despite clear electoral laws, ZANU.PF flouts all known provisions and not even a single SADC country, save for Botswana, makes noise about it. Billions of Rand and US dollars are siphoned from state controlled companies by known party stalwarts and very few of them see prison doors. When they do, the perverted judiciary system slaps their wrists and merely waves a faded yellow card.
What is the solution to this quagmire?
The appropriate question would be: ever since South Africa joined the SADC, are its and Zimbabwean citizens any richer and freer than they were before SADC was birthed? In simple terms, if the (original) mandate of SADC had something to do with wealth creation and individual freedom, how far have these been realised?
There is absolutely nothing amiss with the ‘democratic protocols’ themselves. The solution lies in domesticating them to ensure compatibility with national constitutional dispensation. Moreover, there should be strict peer review that whenever a member-state violates any protocol, it is reprimanded or threatened with expulsion. All Zimbabwe’s election results are disputed because ZANU.PF has not stopped intimidating, arresting or even killing opposition elements. As late as last August scores of CCC supporters, including party president Nelson Chamisa, were hounded out of a constituency in Gokwe by deranged ZANU.PF gangs. Such electoral results must be nullified, but whether or not SADC has the will or wherewithal to wield the axe, there are doubts.
For now, “economic development, peace and security, and growth, alleviate poverty, enhance the standard and quality of life of the peoples of Southern Africa” is a bridge too far for SADC citizens.