DESPITE the fact that the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) has signed a mutual security pact that allows member countries to intervene in regional conflicts, it has failed in its
first test case – the suppurating Zimbabwe crisis.
In their communiqué issued at the end of the summit in Dar es Salaam on Tuesday, Sadc leaders expressed solidarity with Zimbabwe despite a worsening economic and human rights situation.
Ignoring calls for them to take steps to confront the crisis, they urged Western countries to lift targeted sanctions imposed on Harare over political repression and electoral fraud.
The regional body adopted a Protocol on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation that calls for intervention in trouble spots in the region, but circumvented the Zimbabwe issue.
New Sadc chair Benjamin Mkapa of Tanzania, however, made remarks that suggested the leaders were concerned about Zimbabwe when explaining the need for Sadc to ensure stability in the region through intervention mechanisms.
“If your neighbour is not stable, you cannot be stable for too long,” he said. “If your neighbour collapses, the fallout will not respect the boundary between you.”
While there was reportedly heated debate on Zimbabwe behind closed doors, in public at least Sadc leaders remained locked in the politics of solidarity as they repeated the now familiar mantras of President Robert Mugabe’s regime on land and sanctions.
The Protocol on Politics, Defence and Security defines conditions under which Sadc should intervene in member countries. These include a military coup, threat to legitimate state authority, civil war, insurgency, large-scale violence, genocide, ethnic cleansing and gross human rights violations.
The greatest weakness in the protocol however is that it doesn’t say how or who defines the conditions for intervention.
There is also a watered down version of the Mutual Defence Pact under which Sadc states could react “according to their capabilities” if a member state is attacked. Initially the pact made it mandatory for countries to come to each other’s defence but some countries like South Africa and Botswana are said to have rejected this, saying they did not want to be dragged into conflicts provoked by rogue states. Memories of the Congo intervention, which split Sadc into two camps, are evidently still fresh.