THE 34th summit of Sadc Heads of State and Government, which ended in Victoria Falls on Monday, provided an opportunity for Mozambican President Armando Guebuza and Namibia’s Hifikepunye Pohamba to bid farewell to regional leaders as they will be leaving office this year.
However, the irony was that the platform was presented by President Robert Mugabe, who has been in power since 1980 and is going nowhere.
Mugabe assumed chairmanship of the regional body on Saturday, and is now charged with championing the regional agenda over and above his duties as the President of Zimbabwe — despite his advanced age and deteriorating health.
In his farewell speech, Guebuza (71), who is 19 years Mugabe’s junior, praised the Zimbabwean leader for the role he has played in the region, bringing to the fore Mugabe’s long stay in power.
The Zimbabwean delegation seemed unsure how to react to Guebuza’s praise, given that his speech embarrassingly highlighted just how long Mugabe had clung onto power despite the country’s economic meltdown, while other countries in the region have changed leaders several times.
“Thirty-four years ago you (President Mugabe) were with the founding fathers and today you have been elected our chairperson. I pay homage to you for your dedication to the ideals of Sadc,” said Guebuza who relinquishes power in October.
Mozambique’s ruling Frelimo party will field Defence minister Filipe Jacinto Nyussi, only 55, as its presidential candidate in this year’s elections.
Guebuza, Mozambique’s third president since Independence in 1975, went on to deliver what would be one of the major talking points. He reminded everyone that Mugabe is the only regional leader to attend all Sadc summits since inception.
“We are grateful to President Robert Mugabe who is the only leader who has attended all 34 Sadc summits since April 1st 1980 in Zambia when the then Southern Africa Development Coordination Conference (Sadcc) was founded in Kafue.”
Namibia’s Hifikepunye Pohamba also told fellow regional leaders he would be handing over the baton, before asking them to give support to whoever is elected.
“I have led my country for nine years and will be stepping down as required by the Namibia constitution following two consecutive terms. This is the last time I am addressing this summit as president,” said Pohamba, amid thunderous applause.
Earlier new heads of state in the region recently elected into office, Hery Rajaonarimampianina of Madagascar and Peter Mutharika of Malawi, delivered their maiden speeches.
By contrast, Mugabe has been at the helm of Zanu PF since 1977 and has ruled the country for 34 years. He has refused to relinquish power despite his generation of leaders and contemporaries who came after him having made way for fresh leadership. Mugabe has been widely blamed for ruining his country’s once thriving economy, but has blamed sanctions imposed by West.
South Africa, which attained freedom in 1994, has had four presidents in Nelson Mandela, Thabo Mbeki, Kgalema Motlanthe and Jacob Zuma now serving his last term.
Mozambique, which will enjoy yet another taste of change that has eluded Zimbabwe, will have a new leader in October. The country has had Samora Machel, who died in a plane crash in 1986, Joachim Chissano and Guebuza as leaders since Independence in 1975.
Malawi, after finally getting rid of Hastings Kamuzu Banda in 1994 who had ruled for almost 28 years, has had Bakili Muluzi, Bingu wa Mutharika, Joyce Banda and now Peter Mutharika as presidents since then.
Zambia also struggled to remove Kenneth Kaunda, who is from Mugabe’s generation of leaders, but has had four presidents since his departure in 1991. Fredrick Chiluba, Levy Mwanawasa, Rupiah Banda and now Michael Sata have all led the country.
Since gaining Independence in 1990 Namibia has had two presidents, Sam Nujoma and Pohamba, who will make way for a third leader this year.
Tanzania, a country which Mugabe admires for the role it played in ensuring Southern African countries got independence has had three presidents since its founding father Julius Nyerere left office in 1985, namely Ali Hassan Mwinyi, Benjamin Mkapa and Jakaya Kikwete, who is serving his last term.
The constant change of leadership has ensured Nyerere’s party, Chama Cha Mapinduzi, remains popular.
Other countries in the 15-member bloc have also changed leadership several times.
A group photograph of Heads of State and Government taken on Sunday painted a picture of how the region’s leaders are getting younger each year, and Mugabe stuck out because of his age.
For delegates, both foreign and local, Guebuza’s farewell speech in particular highlighted the need for Mugabe to call it quits.
“Generally there is a consensus that he has stayed for too long and most regional leaders grew tired of him during the last few years when they devoted so much time to solving the political crisis in the country. But for anyone who heard him speak, during both the opening and closing ceremony, it is clear that he remains a real pan-Africanist at heart,” said a diplomat accredited to Zimbabwe.
“He has a lot to offer, but not in terms of leadership anymore. If he had left power some years ago, he could have been utilised to mediate in conflict areas and so on, because the feeling is that he is no longer able to run the affairs of a country like Zimbabwe which has serious challenges.
“The succession battles in Zanu PF are also because of his long stay in power, so his leadership is now disruptive. Energy is now being spent on succession issues rather than finding solutions for the country’s many problems.”