By Obert Gutu
THE Southern African Development Community (Sadc) Parliamentary Forum is an organ that was formed by member states. It has its own constitution that spells
out its basic structures and composition.
The mission statement of the Sadc Parliamentary Forum is to bring about convergence of economic, political and social values in Sadc and thus help create an appropriate environment for deeper regional cooperation and integration through popular participation.
The main purpose of the forum therefore is to strengthen the implementation capacity of Sadc by involving the representatives of the peoples. The forum is a regional parliamentary structure for capacity building within Sadc.
This emanates from the underlining Sadc notion of maintaining a stable and peaceful atmosphere within the whole region. This can only be done through regular consultations and collective engagement to manage regional conflicts as and when they arise.
The formation of the Forum is thus a milestone development towards regional parliamentary integration. The noble idea is also to foster a culture of parliamentary democracy within the region.
However, the main problem with Sadc, as is indeed the main problem with the African Union itself, is that there are numerous high-sounding notions and protocols on paper whose practical implementation leaves a lot to be desired.
As Africans, we are always good at “workshopping” and attending numerous summits as well as drafting numerous protocols. When it comes to the implementation of these protocols, as Africans, we have dismally failed to walk the talk.
Within Sadc are found some of the world’s most intolerant and undemocratic regimes. These are regimes where genuine parliamentary democracy is not practised or observed. These regimes consider parliament as a mere rubberstamping body; playing to the whims and fantasies of an all-powerful executive.
All member states of Sadc have however joined the Sadc Parliamentary Forum which sets out to:
* promote respect for the rule of law and individual rights and freedoms, including the promotion and development of cooperation in the economic field in the Sadc region based on the principle of equity and mutual benefit;
* promote peace, democracy, security and stability on the basis of collective responsibility and support the development of permanent conflict resolution mechanisms in the Sadc sub-region and strengthen regional solidarity and building a sense of common destiny among the peoples of Sadc; and
* promote dialogue and cooperation among member states on socio-economic development issues to enhance economic welfare.
I will be the first person to admit that the goals of the Forum are quite visionary and altruistic. My humble view, however, is that Sadc is nothing but a glorified talkshop. Sadc leaders are notorious for embracing solidarity among themselves with very little or no regard for the interests of the majority of their subjects.
To Sadc leaders, genuine parliamentary democracy and regional economic integration are deliberately subordinated to the selfish political interests of the rulers. Sadc leaders are very quick to close ranks as soon as a fellow leader is called upon to account for his or her acts of misrule. They are quick to cry foul and complain that their “sovereignty” is under attack from Western imperialists. What hogwash!
Sadc leaders have to wake up and smell the coffee! They have to embrace genuine political and regional economic integration if we are to compete with similar regional bodies in various parts of the world.
Sadc leaders should address genuine issues such as:
* the extreme xenophobia with which non-South Africans, particularly Zimbabweans, are generally treated when they visit other Sadc countries such as South Africa and Botswana. For instance, Zimbabweans are routinely detained in inhuman holding facilitates such as Lindela, from where they are deported in humiliating and degrading circumstances. Surely, this type of treatment is hardly in keeping with the letter and spirit of the Sadc protocol;
* member countries within Sadc often engage in what one may call backbiting and selfish policies. For example, South African businesspeople have literally taken up all the lucrative business deals in the Democratic Republic of the Congo leaving out Zimbabwe which bore the brunt of holding apiece the Kabila regime.
My argument is that within Sadc, there is a general lack of goodwill and mutual trust. Our leaders say one thing in public, amid pomp and ceremony, but they proceed to do exactly the opposite!
Little wonder, therefore, that the Sadc region remains a hotbed of political and socio-economic strife in countries such as Zimbabwe, the DRC and to some extent Swaziland.
Sadc leaders are expected to go beyond the mere formation of the parliamentary forum. What Sadc needs is real and effective regional parliamentary integration.
But first and foremost, the Sadc region and indeed Africa as whole as represented by the African Union must rid itself of dictatorial and autocratic governance. One cannot talk of parliamentary democracy on a regional scale when that has not yet been established on a national level.
Can the government please explain why, so far, it has refused to sanction the visits by two teams of legislators from the EU-ACP Parliamentary Forum as well as from the Pan-African Parliament?
Poverty and human suffering continue to plague the Sadc region and indeed the whole of sub-Saharan Africa mainly because of poor governance. Sadc leaders and indeed all African leaders should be reminded that they can never achieve regional political and socio-economic stability in the face of rampant corruption, human rights abuses, political intolerance and mass poverty.
Africans should stand up and refuse to be misgoverned forever. Africa should refuse to be poor.
* Obert Gutu is a lawyer based in Harare. He can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org