- Despite a fact-finding mission to Eswatini, delegates at the SADC summit did not discuss the crisis in that country.
- The summit appointed a new executive secretary, but the process was marked by a lack of transparency.
- Rwanda's deployment to Mozambique was the "elephant in the room" during discussions on terrorism, said an analyst.
As southern African leaders returned home from Malawi after the Southern African Development Community (SADC) summit, their meeting left observers with more questions than answers about the region.
The 41st Ordinary Summit of SADC Heads of State and Government was held in Lilongwe on 17 and 18 August.
"As we close, I dare say that this summit has been constructive and progressive towards our shared goals of regional integration and economic cooperation," said Malawi's President Lazarus Chakwera, who took over from Mozambique as rotational chair of the 16-member body.
Chakwera's new role was a positive sign for SADC, a region dominated by the legacy of liberation movements, said Liesl Louw-Vaudran, senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies. Chakwera was an opposition candidate who became president after court intervention to uphold the result.
Joining him at the table soon will be Zambia's newly elected president Hakainde Hichilema, who also comes from the opposition benches.
Eswatini on the agenda?
As with each summit, the secretariat released a communiqué highlighting the matters discussed at the summit. Notably, Eswatini was not mentioned in the 28-point list.
"I find it very concerning that Eswatini is not mentioned in the final communiqué," said Louw-Vaudran. "It's not as if it wasn't on the agenda so why wasn't it in the final communiqué?"
In July, SADC dispatched a fact-finding mission to Africa's last absolute monarchy after weeks of unrest that left dozens of people dead and R3 billion in damage.
The Swaziland Solidarity Network understood that a report had been completed, but was shared with authorities before its publication. The civil society organisation was critical of SADC's work in Eswatini, adding that the mission did not meet with key opposition organisations.
"We still expect SADC to go back to Swaziland and finish their report and consult all stakeholders," said Lucky Lukhele, spokesperson for the Swaziland Solidarity Network. The group has resisted the royal decree of Eswatini's name change.
The SADC secretariat did not respond to requests for comment.
A new executive secretary
The summit also saw the appointment of a new executive secretary, Elias Mpedi Magosi, who will succeed the first woman to lead the administrative arm of the regional body Stergomena Lawrence Tax.
Magosi is the former head of Botswana's Public Service and served as permanent secretary to President Mokgweetsi Masisi. Since April this year, Magosi was also an acting ambassador-at-large for Botswana's Ministry of International Affairs and Cooperation.
Masisi, the outgoing chair of SADC, lobbied for his former colleague in a process that is usually marked by fierce campaigning and a formal vote. The Democratic Republic of Congo had nominated its candidate, economist Faustin Mukela Luanga, lobbying Zimbabwe and Angola for their support.
On Tuesday, Magosi was announced as the new executive secretary, but there was a marked lack of transparency, said Louw-Vaudran.
"It really shows the weakness of SADC and its need for reform," she added.
The SADC secretariat did not respond to a request for clarity on the appointment process.
SADC also approved the transformation of the parliamentary forum into a SADC Parliament. The new regional parliament could follow a similar structure to the Pan-African Parliament but its powers are still unclear, including whether it would be in a position to pass new laws.
"What is going to change because it has been a consultative body?" asked Louw-Vaudran.
The fight against terror
The conflict in northern Mozambique has also placed a new issue on SADC's radar – the response to terrorism. Until now, southern Africa has largely been untouched by terrorism, but the insurgency in Mozambique could be a destabilising factor to the region's security and economic ambitions.
SADC's swift action in deploying the standby force to Mozambique must be commended, said Louw-Vaudran. SADC has mobilised hundreds of soldiers and millions of rands to deploy a force to support Mozambique.
The elephant in the room, however, was the presence of Rwandan soldiers already in Mozambique, deployed at the request of the Mozambican government.
During his speech as outgoing chairperson, Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi "commended member states for the brotherhood and prompt solidarity demonstrated by the deployment of the SADC Standby Brigade in Pemba", according to a SADC statement.
"But the elephant in the room was that the standby force had deployed but three weeks before Mozambique invited the Rwandan force to deploy," said Louw-Vaudran, describing it as an "embarrassment" for SADC.
In bolstering its fight against terrorism, SADC also announced a Regional Counter-Terrorism Centre, which would be hosted in Tanzania. The centre is in line with SADC's existing counter-terrorism strategy on paper. Tanzania, in particular, has been affected by the conflict in Mozambique as its spills across the northern border.
Still, there was "nothing concrete" about the new centre and how it will fit into the existing response to the Mozambican insurgency and other terror threats.
"It's literally almost a gesture that Tanzania is seen to be fighting terrorism," said Louw-Vaudran.
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