Southern African leaders opened a summit in Angola on Wednesday under pressure to address growing regional unrest and anti-government protests, and leadership crises in Zimbabwe and Madagascar.
The two-day Southern African Development Community (SADC) summit would allow its 15 nations to “enhance our regional cooperation and integration”, Angolan President Jose dos Santos said in a written welcome message.
It would also allow countries to “harmonise our positions regarding key current affairs issues that may affect the peace and stability necessary to ensure sustainable development and the consolidation of democracy”, he said.
The meeting comes with the Southern African region troubled by spreading unrest with violent crackdowns on anti-government protests in Malawi and Swaziland.
Zimbabwe and Madagascar are other regional troublespots, with their protracted leadership crises featuring high on summit agendas in recent years.
In Malawi, 19 people were killed last month when security forces used live ammunition to put down demonstrations against President Bingu wa Mutharika, accused of becoming increasingly autocratic as the economy spirals downwards.
Malawian police tightened security in main cities on Wednesday in case of more protests, even though organisers had a day earlier postponed nationwide vigils.
After last month’s deadly unrest, SADC sent an observer mission to the country and it is expected to report back to the summit.
Swaziland’s King Mswati III, Africa’s last absolute monarch, also faces growing anti-government sentiment. The tiny kingdom erupted in protest in April over proposals to slash government workers’ salaries amid a financial crisis.
Divided over Zimbabwe
The SADC leaders are also expected to discuss Zimbabwe as President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai bicker over new elections.
Mugabe insists polls go ahead this year, with or without a new constitution, but Tsvangirai first wants reforms agreed to in their power-sharing pact to be implemented.
The Zimbabwe crisis has divided the SADC between liberation leaders who were comrades-in-arms with members of Mugabe’s Zanu-PF party and a new generation of politicians riding on the agenda of democracy and good governance.
Another headache for SADC is Madagascar, which was suspended from the grouping in 2009 after former president Marc Ravalomanana was ousted by Andry Rajoelina, then mayor of the capital, Antananarivo.
Regional mediators have yet to find a solution to the impasse.
SADC is meanwhile itself facing calls for less talk and more action at the meeting in the Angolan capital, Luanda.
“We need to begin to call our leadership to account,” Boichoko Ditlhake, the head of a coalition of non-profit groups from the region, told journalists at a pre-summit briefing.
“There is a systematic and continuous disregard for the policy framework that defines and dictates how member states in our regional body should behave.” – AFP