The Southern African Development Community (SADC) has decided, probably by default, to become a little bit more assertive on the international global stage. At its latest Heads ofState and Government Summit (HOSG) it decided to throw its weight around on the issue of Zimbabwe and issued a resolution against the sanctions that have been imposed on the country by the global north because of the Mugabe led Fast Track Land Reform Process (FTLRP). Meeting in Tanzania, it agreed the following,
“Summit noted the adverse impact on the economy of Zimbabwe and the region at large, of prolonged economic sanctions imposed on Zimbabwe, and expressed solidarity with Zimbabwe, and called for the immediate lifting of the sanctions to facilitate socio-economic recovery in the country. 16. Summit declared the 25th October as the date on which SADC Member States can collectively voice their disapproval of the sanctions through various activities and platforms until the sanctions are lifted.”
In this region of what is derisively referred to as Sub Saharan Africa this is unprecedented. Almost like a throwback to the days when the then Southern African Development Coordinating Community (SADCC) would defend the African National Congress (ANC) against the diplomatic initiatives of the then racist National Party of apartheid South Africa.
Basically the SADC summit found its new radicalism. As of old, and almost in reminiscence of a past Pan Africanism as led by luminaries such as Julius Nyerere and Samora Machel. Except that it was not the same.
The 39th HOSG SADC summit was intended as a talk back to the rapacious global north vis-à-vis the latter’s assumptions of a now derelict uni-polar world. Essentially the central message was that minus nuclear power capabilities, SADC retains its uniqueness in political independence. Almost in token appreciation to Kwame Nkrumah, Kambarage Nyerere or Amilcar Cabral.
Zimbabwe’s official opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change- Alliance had organized a nationwide protest against the current government to coincide with this August 2019 summit. That action was repressed but probably did not have the required regional attention that had been planned. But it did manage, in the final analysis, to get global superpower attention. This as evidenced by the statements issued from the European Union, USA, Canadian and Australian embassies condemning the brutal crackdown on the protests as they occurred.
What is interesting is the fact that there has been limited analysis of these developmetns from an historical perspective. (And for writing this, this blog will not appear in any of the private local newspapers as happened to a previous one I wrote on Zim’s Awkward Politics of Pursuing the International Gaze.)
The reasons for this are best answered by the journalists that practice for these private media organizations.
But the fact of the matter cannot be wished away. SADC has decided, via its own HOSG summit to make the sanctions against Zimbabwe an issue worthy of its full attention. In undergraduate international relations class this is a major victory for the ruling Zanu Pf government. Especially because after its removal of Mugabe from power, it has retained two things. First an assumption of historical and revolutionary anti-colonial struggle history as defined by the Frontline States that preceded SADCC and SADC. Secondly in relation to its own (Zanu Pf) international re-engagement agenda that would still put the country up for sale to the highest international bidder.
I make the latter point because SADC’s political leaders are functioning from the same economic template. And it’s a neo-liberal one. A majority of the current presidents and prime ministers’ may have served or participated in our regional liberation struggles but they in effect constitute a leadership that is ideologically captured. By global financial capital whether it comes from the east or the west. They may appear to be functioning in lieu of the spirit of Nyerere, Nkrumah, Machel, Mandela and others, but they are hiding under the cloak of noble pan Africanism to disguise the probable fact of their continuing complicity in the material, social and ideological exploitation of the African continent. Whether they are at the G7 global world economies summit or at the Japanese Tokyo international Conference on Africa’s Development (TICAD).
What may however remain more important to Zimbabweans is the fact that Mnangagwa is not looking back on his international re-legitimation processes. Even if not for him, but also his ruling party. And that’s the catch. Southern African governments no longer view themselves as appendages of a post-cold war requirement of loyalty. They tend to think more of themselves as firm negotiators for their independent nationalist processes. Except for the fact that they are not as ideologically revolutionary as in the past.
SADC has a new approach to how it perceives itself. It remembers its revolutionary past as defined by the liberation struggle but it also conveniently forgets its post-independence transgressions and unfulfilled promises. It regrettably finds more comfort in a neo-liberal recognition of who it is. A significant departure from a contrarian and liberatory ideological world view. Even in the aftermath of the then Cuban missile crisis as a particular dystopian zenith of the Cold War.
What is probably required and necessary is that Southern Africans find ways of informing their current political leaders that the future does not reside in mimicry. Instead it is about a constellation of pasts, presents and futures. And that the young people of the geo-political construct that is SADC don’t forget but need more often than not to remember. Not just what the pain of the Frontline States was but what a people centered and welfarist SADC should truly look like. Over and above what they see online. When they can.