The region has revamped its strategy for stability but 2013 will be the ultimate test of its muscle,, writes Webster Zambara.
As 2012 came to an end, two important events that could potentially reshape the Southern African Development Community (SADC) peace and security architecture took place in Tanzania.
First, on November 20, SADC launched the revised strategic indicative plan for the organ, which was originally adopted in 2004 as an ambitious five-year plan to co-ordinate peace and security issues through SADC's Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation, also referred to as the organ.
Second, on December 7 and 8, the SADC extraordinary summit of heads of state and government discussed the crisis situation in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) as well as the stalled situation in Madagascar and the slow progress in Zimbabwe. The highlight of the summit, without doubt, was the pledge to soon deploy a 4000-strong SADC military force as a "neutral international force" to deal with the ethnic-Tutsi March 23 Movement (M23) in eastern DRC, to which South Africa limited her contribution to "logistics support".
Tanzania's president Jakaya Kikwete is the current chair of the organ, which functions as a "troika" with South Africa and Namibia being the preceding and succeeding chairs, respectively.
2012 marked 10 years since the end of the devastating 1998-2002 DRC war that sucked in at least seven African countries including SADC members Angola, Namibia and Zimbabwe, and whose actual number of casualties has remained a contested and controversial issue.
There is general acceptance that the conflict precipitated the death of millions of people. The ending of the war was reached painstakingly as a provision of the Lusaka peace accord of 1999, which was an agreement to end the hostilities through a ceasefire and the subsequent deployment of United Nations (UN) peacekeeping forces to allow dialogue towards national reconciliation and peace.
Word of caution
The presence of the UN in the DRC raised hopes for peace and security to be restored in the vast country, now the largest in land area in Africa south of the Sahara since the separation of the Sudans in July 2011. However, there has been continued concern at the limited mandate, resources and international political backing of the UN mission. There is no better evidence to attest to that than the "march on Goma" that the M23 executed on November 20 with virtually no resistance. This has caused unnecessary suffering to innocent people, most of whom were women, children and the elderly.
The pending SADC military adventure in the DRC will not be a stroll in the park. A word of caution came from none other than Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni, when he addressed his SADC counterparts during the meeting in Tanzania. He referred to his 50 years of experience of the region to point out what might seem to be obvious yet should never be underestimated – that the security problems in the DRC fall into two categories: one which affects its people and neighbours and the other which is strictly internal.
Museveni, who is currently promoting talks between the DRC government and M23 in Kampala, Uganda, warned against intervening in Congo issues without knowing exactly what the real issues are. Such a warning being reiterated at a SADC summit would speak to the objectives of the strategic indicative plan that the regional body adopted.
The plan was developed with the intention of making operational the SADC protocol on politics, defence and security cooperation, as well as to provide guidelines for the implementation of the protocol for the subsequent five years. The main aim of the plan was to create a peaceful and stable political and security environment through which the region would endeavour to realise its socioeconomic objectives. The plan is based on the objectives and common agenda of SADC as stated in article five of the amended SADC treaty and in the organ, in line with SADC's vision of a "shared future in an environment of peace, security and stability, regional cooperation and integration based on equality, mutual benefit and solidarity".
The strategic indicative plan mechanism boasts some achievements: launching and putting into operation the SADC standby force; establishing and putting into operation the regional early warning centre for conflict prevention and management; and establishment of the SADC electoral advisory council and the SADC mediation unit.
These structures are taking shape, but the truth of the matter is that putting them into operation is still a work in progress. This first phase of the strategic indicative plan came to an end with the recent review in Arusha, Tanzania, when the plan was rechristened the strategic indicative plan for the organ II. It is expected that the new plan will rectify the inadequacies of the first one and deal decisively with the changing geopolitical environment by providing adequate resources to co-ordinate the implementation of activities. Progress, or lack of it, will be judged when implementing such important interventions as the DRC situation, particularly because the strategic indicative plan arrangement is a non-binding declaration, which is its Achilles heel.
As the year ended, it was disheartening to note the irony of another potentially devastating war threatening to afflict the precarious eastern DRC region, which would otherwise be consolidating a decade of fragile peace since the last war in 2002. More ironic is the fact that Zimbabwe, which committed the highest number of troops (totalling 11 000) to the previous DRC war, is facing challenges of her own following a decade of political and economic meltdown which some pundits put squarely on the debilitating expenses incurred in that DRC war effort. With elections expected in Zimbabwe, Madagascar and Swaziland in 2013, there is no doubt that the SADC peace and security mechanism and the implementation of the revised strategic indicative plan will be put to the test.
Webster Zambara is a senior project leader for Southern Africaat the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation