SADC has a mandate to promote and nurture democracy among its member states. It is an organisation founded on solid ideals at a time when the region was facing a common enemy during the liberation struggle.
At its formation, SADC focused mostly on the burning question of fighting oppressive regimes across the region.
South Africa was the last member to fend off the oppressive minority rule in 1994 and SADC’s agenda diverted towards fostering economic development.
The regional bloc played more of development agenda roles, in addition to being ‘your brother’s keeper.’
SADC spoke to the region’s issues and explored areas of strengthening trade ties among member states.
With the liberation struggle narrative fading away, domestic or internal disputes have taken centre stage.
This has left the 16-member grouping seized with internal issues to deal with, in the absence of a common enemy.
It is evident the spirit of brotherhood prevails, with most liberation or pre-independence political parties still at the helm.
The notion that SADC has gradually morphed into a club protecting the interests of the parties in power, is not therefore, too far-fetched. In most instances, SADC is guilty of sins of omission where the organisation has resorted to cosmetic attempts. It chooses tangential listening but pretends to employ the empathetic or critical listening.
Take the case of Zimbabwe for instance. At the height of Zimbabwe’s political troubles where the ruling party was accused of butchering opponents, it took forever to get SADC’s attention. And when the bloc decided to attend to the Zimbabwe matter, talk shops dominated, culminating in a government of national unity in 2009, which favoured the loser, President Robert Mugabe.
It reaffirmed the widely held view that SADC was a ‘protector’s club’ which takes care of those in power. Non-state actors do not matter.
I refuse to say SADC is a toothless bulldog, as is often the mantra thrown around. SADC has teeth and can bite you if you are a non-state actor. Ask the insurgents in Cabo Delgado, northern Mozambican. SADC has sent troops and the joint mission is bearing fruit. But to demonstrate SADC’s selective action or inaction, Eswatini, not too far away is burning.
But the main state actor, King Mswati III is involved where anger is building up in Africa’s last remaining absolute monarchy.
Pro-democracy protesters are demanding democratic reforms but the protests have turned with dozens of civilians killed by the army.
SADC previously sent a delegation on a fact-finding mission under the instruction of President Mokgweetsi Masisi who was the chairperson for the organisation’s Organ on Politics, Defense and Security.
Those demanding change in Eswatini had hoped SADC will play a key mediation role to finding lasting solution.
Probably buoyed by what they had seen SADC do in Cabo Delgado, they thought intervention is just a protest away.
But after President Masisi handed the baton to South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa, the Eswatini citizens have to wait longer before the anticipated fire extinguisher arrives.
It might not arrive after all, as SADC has a long history of turning a blind eye on actors outside the state. This week, students in Eswatini joined the protests, but still SADC needs to see more bloodshed before it can convene a summit.
After the Organ Troika meeting another SADC extra ordinary meeting to discuss the issue will follow, in a cyclical arrangement that usually fizzles into nothing.
While Eswatini burns, there is another veldt fire that has been lit in Zimbabwe, and as usual with the opposition being the complainants, SADC will look away.
If it does look in that direction, the circular relationship ensures; fact-finding, Organ Troika meeting and then SADC extra ordinary meeting then the communiqué.
Democratic Republic of Congo, Lesotho, Zimbabwe and lately, Mozambique have been the region’s problem children, but SADC still fails to find a lasting solution.
President Masisi should be commended for the active role he took while he was the chairperson of the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security.
Amid criticism, he flew to troubled spots in the middle of pandemic, and should be credited with pushing SADC towards taking military action in Mozambique.
Now the baton is with Ramaphosa, and he has responded by sending a low key delegation to ‘fact-find’ in Eswatini. The outside world believes something is being done to stem the tide in Eswatini after Ramaphosa sent what is considered high-level organs to engage King Mswati III. Remember the cyclical relationship; it has stood the test of time.
We know how it will end and the laborious process that will follow. It’s not that SADC has a laissez-faire attitude, if it has, then its deliberate. Don’t look further than Cabo Delgado for a reminder that the bloc can bite if it wants to. But it conveniently becomes languid. But while SADC prepares the merry-go-round in Eswatini, one should ask how the region finds itself with the continent’s Africa remaining absolute monarchy.
SADC ideals preach democratic principles, but there is no iota of democracy in a monarch. In fact, King Mswati III’s rule has been associated with authoritarian rule and oppression. How do other SADC leaders find this arrangement acceptable beats logic.