By Dumisani Sigogo

The 40th Southern African Development Community (SADC) heads of state summit on the 17th of August 2020, has been condemned by diplomats and analysts as weak and a non-event, for failing to discuss and make pronouncements on critical issues affecting the regional block such as Mozmabique’s fight against jihadist insurgency in the north and the political and economic crisis in Zimbabwe.

Notorious for dodging deliberating or making decisions on controversial issues publicly or privately, SADC which because of COVID-19, held its first virtual summit from Maputo, Mozambique peculiarly boldly prescribed tougher controls of social media especially during elections.

Diplomatic sources and analysts said they had hoped the head of the 16 member states would constructively discuss and decide whether to send a SADC force into Mozambique to help that country fight and contain an insurgency or how to stop the crisis in Zimbabwe from spilling over into the region.

The virtual conference took place under the theme “40 Years Building Peace and Security, Promoting Development and Resilience to face global challenges”.

The communique issued after the virtual meeting said: “Summit received an Assessment Report on emerging Security Threats in the Region, commended the Secretariat for the Detailed Report, and directed the Secretariat to prepare an action plan for its implementation, that will among others, prioritize measures to combat terrorism, violent attacks and cybercrime; and to address adverse effects of climate change.”

Without offering specifics, the summit expressed the region’s solidarity and commitment to support Mozambique in fighting the terrorism and violent attacks.

“Summit welcomed the decision by the Government of the Republic of Mozambique to bring to the attention of SADC the violent attacks situation in the country, and commended the country for its continued efforts towards combating terrorism and violent attacks,” the communique read.

As the usual anticipated SADC silence on regional sensitive topics, Monday’s communique did not mention Zimbabwe, ironically, Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa, was the outgoing chairperson of the Organ on Political, Defence and Security.

SADC Executive Secretary Stergomena Lawrence Tax in her vote of thanks told the summit that the region had successfully controlled the Covid-19 infections there was however a surge in local transmissions and an increase in casualties in some of the member countries.

The summit commended the Governments of the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Republic of Zambia for their commitment to resolve the border issue amicably.

The organization which critics view as a ‘toothless bulldog’ reiterated its position on the reconfiguration of the Force Intervention Brigade in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Human rights campaigners have for long called on the regional leaders to fix the deteriorating human rights situation across the region.

Amnesty International mourned that COVID-19 is still tearing through the region, exposing stark inequalities and particularly threatening marginalized and vulnerable communities, while crackdowns on peaceful dissent in countries including Zimbabwe, Madagascar and Eswatini have intensified in recent months.

“A number of countries in the SADC region are experiencing alarming human rights violations and abuses threatening peace and stability and hindering the response to COVID-19. In Zimbabwe, authorities have stepped up a crackdown on dissenting voices with state security forces unleashed on activists, human rights defenders, journalists and opposition supporters,” said Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa, Deprose Muchena.

On the lesser controversial issues, the meeting endorsed Industrial Development and Market Integration; Infrastructure Development in support of Regional Integration; and Social and Human Capital Development. The three pillars also recognize Gender, Youth, Environment and Climate Change, and Disaster Risk Management as important cross-cutting components. Summit also approved the Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan 2020-2030 to operationalise the Vision 2050.

It also re-emphasized the need to fully implement the SADC Protocol on Gender, and put in place concrete measures to improve the representation of women and youth in elected political office.

The summit elected Jacinto Nyusi, President of the Republic of Mozambique, as Chairperson of SADC, and President Dr. Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera, President of the Republic of Malawi as Incoming Chairperson of SADC.

The region also congratulated the people and the Governments of the Republics of Mozambique, Botswana, Mauritius, Namibia and Malawi for conducting successful elections, and congratulated Filipe Jacinto Nyusi;  Dr. Mokgweetsi Eric Keabetswe Masisi; Dr. Hage Gottfried Geingob; Pravind Kumar Jugnauth; and Dr. Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera for winning the elections. Summit also congratulated Right Honourable Moeketsi Majoro for his appointment as the new Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Lesotho.