Masisi in the SADC the eye of storm

Threading the needle: Masisi has made foreign policy a cornerstone of his tenure
Threading the needle: Masisi has made foreign policy a cornerstone of his tenure

When President Mokgweetsi Masisi made foreign policy one of the cornerstones of his administration, it was in stark contrast to his predecessor Ian Khama. Khama is still blamed by some analysts for not actively advancing Botswana’s interests internationally, but Masisi was probably not aware of what awaited him. With the situation in Mozambique and now eSwatini spiralling out of control, Masisi has a lot on his plate. Staff Writer, CHAKALISA DUBE and Correspondent LEBOGANG MOSIKARE report

FRANCISTOWN: As chair of the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security, recent developments of instability in Mozambique and eSwatini have not only placed Masisi in a precarious position but the region as a whole.

The Organ for Politics, Defence and Security was launched in June 1996 as a formal institution of Southern African Development Community (SADC). Its mandate is to support the achievement and maintenance of security and the rule of law in the SADC region.

The overall objective of the Organ is to promote peace and security within the SADC region, according to the SADC website.

Naturally, as it is to be reasonably expected of politicians all over the world, Masisi would love to be remembered as one of the great political leaders (past and present) who managed to control crises in SADC during his tenure as the Organ’s chairperson.

In the SADC region when he leaves office, Masisi would like to be remembered as an icon in the mould of the late Sir Seretse Khama and Dr Kenneth Kaunda who played a profound role in liberating their neighbours in SADC and the rest of Africa.

Masisi has been wrestling with the terrorist insurgency in northern Mozambique for some time and was last week able to negotiate military intervention to assist the coastal nation. This week, turmoil broke out in eSwatini with widespread rioting against absolute monarch King Mswati by pro-democracy activists and ordinary members of the public. Largely youth-led, the demonstrations are being brutally put down by armed military and police, with videos of beatings and the firing of weapons circulating on social media.

Prominent local commentator on international relations, Solly Rakgomo says as the chairperson of SADC’s politics, defence and security portfolio, Masisi is expected to play a profound role in trying to calm the turbulent situation in eSwatini.

“Even though the crisis is still new, it is important for SADC to observe the events very closely so that if there is a need for intervention, it is done before the crisis spirals out of hand,” Rakgomo said.

“There is a serious need for the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security to keep engaging the leadership of eSwatini and help the nation in resolving the crisis.

He added: “As the chairman of the Organ, Masisi should work very hard before the end of his tenure in August to ensure that the crisis does not spiral out of control.

“However, he will need the support of the whole of SADC including all those involved in the crisis.”

Quizzed about the potential implications that the eSwatini crisis may have on other SADC countries, Rakgomo stated that it was too early to tell. He, however, added that if the crisis spirals out of control, it might create problems of instability such as internal and external displacements, deaths, damage to infrastructure, amongst others not only for eSwatini but the wider region.

“SADC is already grappling with the crisis in Mozambique and it would be too challenging to deal with an additional crisis in the region due to resource constraints,” Rakgomo explained.

Rakgomo says the crisis in eSwatini has been brewing for years due to the type of government and governance in place.

“The people of eSwatini have been living under the monarchy for many years. Even though the monarchy is a highly respected institution in the country, many years of economic neglect of the people is causing this agitation.”

Many people in eSwatini are living in poverty, Rakgomo underscores, while King Mswati is spending lavishly on his personal life and that of his 15 wives and 23 children.

“In addition, the monarchy has closed the political space in such a way that there is little space for freedom of speech, association and political participation, which have added to those feelings of dissent of some sections of the populace hence the crisis.”

Bakang Ntshingane, a political economist with interests in foreign policy, politics and economic development, expects Masisi to make statements or his position known soon on eSwatini.

“I think that promotion of political stability and democracy are some of Masisi’s very passionate interests as both a head of state and chairperson of the Organ.

“So we will likely hear him say something if things continue to escalate,” said Ntshingane.

Ntshingane added the troubles in eSwatini also underscored SADC’s effectiveness as a regional body.

“I think these emerging pockets of instability continue to shine a light on SADC itself as a regional organisation and its efficiency in promoting its values,” he said.

“eSwatini will unlikely compel a change of approach by SADC because the protests are still advancing and the State seems to be cracking down on them.”

Just like other experts, who for a long time have denounced SADC as a toothless bulldog that cannot call its errant member states to order, Ntshingane is of the view that not much will be heard by way of official position from the regional body.

However, he believes the situation in that country carries the potential to destabilise neighbours.

“The instability itself could have more impact on South Africa as opposed to the entire region since they are the first to feel the heat if anything goes wrong in eSwatini.  “I do foresee South African President Cyril Ramaphosa sending an envoy if things continue to escalate, as he did in Lesotho.”

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