SADC holds summit amid spreading unrest
Joshua Howat Berger
Luanda - Southern African leaders meet this week in the Angolan capital amid concern about spreading unrest in the region and criticism of their failure to resolve ongoing crises in Zimbabwe and Madagascar.
The 15-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) is facing calls for less talk and more action on a range of issues at its August 17-18 summit in Luanda, from the protracted deadlocks in Zimbabwe and Madagascar to recent crack-downs on anti-government protests in Malawi and Swaziland.
"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."
Regional leaders are under pressure to act on a laundry list of tricky issues, including:
The SADC has so far failed to force long-time President Robert Mugabe to finish implementing a power-sharing deal with rival Morgan Tsvangirai brokered by regional mediators after an inconclusive 2008 election that was aborted by violence.
The power-sharing government has restored a measure of stability to the country, but the process of drafting a new constitution to pave the way to elections is running a year behind schedule.
Mugabe has called for a vote this year, with or without a new constitution. Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change wants key reforms to be implemented first to prevent Mugabe's Zanu-PF from stealing the election.
A meeting of the SADC's security troika in March tacitly chastised Mugabe for dragging his feet on the power-sharing deal and for ongoing political violence against Tsvangirai's supporters.
But the full SADC has been gentler on the veteran leader, calling simply for both parties to finish implementing their agreement.
The SADC suspended Madagascar 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.
Ravalomanana, who is in exile in South Africa, has refused to sign a SADC-backed roadmap to new elections that would keep Rajoelina in power as transitional president and allow Ravalomanana to return only when political and security conditions are "favourable".
Rajoelina for his part says Ravalomanana faces life in prison if he returns, after he was sentenced in absentia to hard labour for the killing of 36 protesters by his presidential guard during the unrest of 2009.
Normally stable Malawi was ripped by violence last month when security forces responded to protests against President Bingu wa Mutharika with live ammunition, leaving 19 dead.
After the unrest, the SADC sent an observer mission to the country, which will report back at the summit.
Mutharika, who has presided over a major economic slump, earlier this year cost the impoverished country its largest foreign donor by expelling Britain's envoy to Malawi over a leaked cable that referred to the Malawian leader as "ever more autocratic and intolerant of criticism".
Britain retaliated by sending Malawi's own envoy home from London and suspending its £19m in budget support to the country.
King Mswati III, Africa's last absolute monarch, is facing growing opposition to his regime amid a financial crisis that saw the kingdom almost run out of cash before getting a temporary reprieve with a R2.4bn bailout loan from South Africa this month.
Security forces violently dispersed anti-regime protests in April, drawing condemnation from rights groups and calls for Mswati to allow democratic reforms.