No joy from old men in SADC Summits

In Maputo, Malawi's President Joyce Banda was inducted as the newest member of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) heads of state, a group that had, until now, been an exclusive old boys' club.

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Robert Mugabe at 88 is the granddad of this club. He has been supreme leader of Zimbabwe since 1980. Eduardo dos Santos is 70 years old and has been president of Angola since 1979. Michael Sata is 75; Hifikepunye Pohamba of Namibia turned 77 just yesterday. Armando Emílio Guebuza is 69. Jacob Zuma is 70, but—with several official wives and mistresses—his detractors say he boasts the sexual prowess of a 27-year-old. Some say it’s in the herbs from KwaZulu Natal that he drinks to prop such stamina.

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In this group is a granddad that has dragged his country down the gutter and his reputation for human rights abuses is one of the most appalling in the world. But then little need to be said about why his peers have not reined him in, before one realizes that birds of a feather flock together.

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At a time when African states have been trying to convince the outside world that SADC and the African Union intend to ensure all countries fully respect democratic principles and the rule of law, the repression in Zimbabwe, for example, is showing no signs of letting up.

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What is worse, the old men of SADC all seem to like Mugabe’s company so much and less that of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai even though Tsvangirai is apparently fighting, with the goodwill of millions, against the evils of dictatorship.

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Mugabe is a president who boasts eight or so university degrees so past and present leaders like Sam Nujoma, Benjamin Nkapa, Joacquim Chissano, Sata, Pohamba, Dos Santos and Zuma have clearly shown that they are intellectually his inferiors as they have swallowed his Pan-African bait hook, line and sinker.

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The old men in SADC have over the years given some sort of legitimacy to the Mugabe regime by ignoring the reality on the ground in the hope that time will force the people to resign to their fate and let the hard life roll on.

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As to what may seem like Mugabe’s heroic fight against neo-colonialism, it just detracts from the real issues affecting the people—the militarization of the country, unwavering dictatorship, mismanagement, breakdown in rule of law, stolen elections, political violence and a fight for freedom.

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While the old men of SADC have watched with folded hands, the Mugabe regime has become even more systematic, brutal, murderous and without feeling. Bad governance has killed Zimbabwe yet some of these leaders are pretending to be still trying to figure out what the crisis is all about.

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Over the years, the African leaders who have supported Mugabe blindly do so because they share similar problems with him or some merely wanted an opportunity to look and sound free from Western influence.

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These leaders have mastered the frightening ability to divert people from the real issues at hand—and the real problem is that some old men are determined to cling to power at all cost and are prepared to drag everyone to the abyss.

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Of course, there are a few young boys in the SADC old men’s club but they are not themselves the brightest bulbs in the box. Joseph Kabila is only 41, and King Mswati is 44 years old, but then again little need to be said about their credibility, especially that of serial polygamist, Mswati, of Swaziland.

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Among the younger, progressive thinking members of this club is Ian Khama of Botswana, who is 59 years of age and Tsvangirai, who, at 60, has dedicated most of his adult life to fighting dictatorship and has numerous physical and emotional scars to show for it. It is to this subset of the progressives that Tanzania’s Jakaya Kikwete, who is 61 and our President Joyce Banda, who is a year older at 62, hopefully belong.

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But even with this type of mix, you still cannot bank on SADC to do anything for you, especially if you are little, poor Malawi. Some people had hoped that the Maputo summit would come up with a firm decree on the Malawi-Tanzania boundary dispute. I did not.

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There are no indications that the issue of Malawi and Tanzania was even on the agenda, which, to me, only signals the determination of these leaders to keep their heads firmly in the sand on the border dispute for the sake of political expediency and on the basis of the policy of ‘non-interference’.

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In any case, no one should be surprised by the inaction of these old men of African politics, even in the face of a dispute that has the potential to get out of control. Anyone who has followed African political history could have predicted that the Maputo summit was not going to do or say anything about our tiff with Tanzania.

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Africans must now know the shortcomings of SADC and the African Union or, as it was called then, the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and will be advised not to bank on any continental body for the resolutions of their problems.

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In his maiden speech to the OAU summit in Addis Ababa in 1986, President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda attacked the body for turning a blind eye to the events in his country as dictator Idi Amin was slaughtering some 300,000 people in one of the bloodiest regimes Africa has ever seen.

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The OAU, which even bizarrely allowed Amin to chair it at the height of Uganda’s turmoil, argued that it was bound by the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of its members and could never intervene.

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So, if African leaders can never be relied upon to help push for restoration of freedom and accountability in member states suffering the abuses of dictatorship, oppression and misrule, how can they even be bothered by a little dispute between poor little Malawi and Tanzania over a body of water?

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But Southern African leaders can no longer afford to find excuses for their inaction in effectively resolving disputes. If they don’t act to restrain each other’s excesses, they could condemn this region to a needless crisis right at their own doorsteps.

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But our hopes lie in the fact that neither Kikwete nor JB belong to the group of the old doddering dictators.

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In their progressive thinking, we trust. – The Sunday Times

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