Inaction marked the Extraordinary Summit of Southern African Development Community heads of state in Windhoek this weekend, despite an agenda covering Zimbabwe elections, political deadlock in Madagascar, the suspension of the regional court and allegations of corruption within SADC itself.
In the days leading up to the summit, there was the chance that it might not take place at all, with the South African president, Jacob Zuma, pulling out at the last moment, preferring to concentrate on local elections in his own country.
Local newspapers branded the meeting 'a farce' over poor preparations and a scathing editorial in the daily newspaper, The Namibian, criticised SADC presidents for a failure to lead that is in sharp contrast to the high ideals of regional integration. In the end, eleven heads of state and their representatives met in Windhoek, but deliberations lasted only a few hours before the summit was ended.
The summit opened with allegations of rampant corruption in the SADC Secretariat based in Gaborone, Botswana. The Namibian weekly newspaper Windhoek Observer revealed that SADC personnel have called on the present SADC Chair, Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba, to conduct an audit of the Secretariat.
The paper quoted an anonymous source within SADC as saying, 'We want an investigation because this has become an institution of money laundering. They create illegal contracts, they are always traveling abroad, there is no transparency and accountability and they lie to the Council [of Ministers].'
The allegations of widespread misuse of donor money and funds from member states, with a top management that has grown 'addicted to lavish spending', will have been uncomfortable reading for both Southern African ministers and representatives of the European Union, which provides important financial support to SADC.
Pohamba confirmed he had been made aware of the accusations in April, said the Council of Ministers 'would look into the matter'. But the Observer claimed that the Council was presented with a report detailing graft within the Secretariat, but has yet to act.
The Summit was expected to make a decision on the suspension of the SADC Tribunal. Following the Tribunal's referral of a ruling against Zimbabwe for the expropriation of land from farmers, SADC heads of state declined to force Zimbabwe to act, instead suspending the regional court in August 2010, pending a review of its functions.
In a brief communiqué issued late on Friday, the Summit said it 'mandated the Ministers of Justice/Attorneys General to initiate the process aimed at amending the relevant SADC legal instruments and submit a progress report in August 2011 and a final report to Summit in August 2012'.
The amendments would be based on recommendations made by the bloc's justice ministers, recommendations that are in turn based on the outcome of an independent review of the Tribunal by experts from Cambridge University. The consultants are known to have supported the Tribunal's competence to handle the case against Zimbabwe, but ministers are thought to have recommended amendments that will insulate the member states from cases brought against them by their citizens, possibly by transforming the Tribunal into a court arbitrating disputes among member states.
Asked whether the ministers’ recommendations would be made public, SADC’s Executive Secretary Tomaz Salomão told journalists neither the media nor SADC citizens really needed to know what was in the report.
Meanwhile other significant cases - in which diamond companies are claiming compensation against the governments of Zimbabwe, Lesotho and South Africa - cannot move forward.
Zimbabwe's government of national unity
Before the meeting, Salomão had hinted it was unlikely that heads of states would discuss the issue of Zimbabwe in the absence of Zuma, who the bloc appointed as mediator between rival parties in a government of national unity. Indeed the communiqué released after the meeting makes no mention of Zimbabwe.
Civil society groups, lawyers and journalists who had traveled to Windhoek were barred from demonstrating outside the summit in an increasingly repressive trend that is becoming a hallmark of the Namibian Chairmanship.
No decision was taken on Madagascar either. The Indian Ocean island was suspended from SADC after a coup in December 2009; the regional body has hosted a series of meetings to mediate between parties and return the country to constitutional rule.
'Summit considered the report of the SADC mediator, His Excellency Joaquim A. Chissano, former President of the Republic of Mozambique, noting the development of the roadmap for returning that country to constitutional normalcy.'
The heads of state restated that there is still a 'need for an all-inclusive political process towards finding a lasting solution of the challenges facing the country', and scheduled another meeting to this end will be held in Gaborone in the near future.
The outcome of the Extraordinary Summit raises questions over the credibility of the regional bloc's ability to provide leadership, as decisions on difficult political questions are stalled, progress on economic integration is slow, and involvement in processes by civil society is minimal.
© Inter Press Service (2011) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service
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