SADC should learn from ECOWAS

sadc4In an interview a few years ago, the president of the Economic Community of West African States, (ECOWAS) Mohammed Chambas, emphasised that the bloc was committed to facilitating transition to democracy because this was the only way to go. (Pictured: Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai welcomes SADC troika head of mission Oldemiro Baloi to Zimbabwe last week.)

We dont have a choice in West Africa but to commit ourselves to building democratic societies, democratic institutions, embracing open and competitive processes of choosing leadership, adopting multi-party systems, allowing for basic freedom of association, expression and media, he told a journalist. It was obvious, he said, that those countries that had embraced all these democratic tenets were stable and moving further ahead than those that had continued to resist change. He stressed that ECOWAS role was to reduce human suffering and to be on the side of the people.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) is the sub-regional counterpart of the West African grouping, but the approaches of the two organisations could not be more different. While their philosophies on their commitment to democracy, justice and peace are similar, ECOWAS has been credited with taking timely, decisive and concrete action in tackling head on conflicts such as those sparked by civil wars, violent overthrows of governments and the emergence of unpopular military juntas.

SADC prone to dither

On the other hand, SADC has been known to dither over less complex situations for as long as a decade, as has been the case with its handling of the Zimbabwean crisis. Leaders in the sub-region have nursed the escalating situation for the last 10 years despite the fact no military intervention, which ECOWAS has had to resort to a number of times, was called for. All that was needed was integrity, leadership and a principled determination to do the right thing in the interests of the people of Zimbabwe.

Alas, SADC has been more concerned about appeasing the Mugabe regime than facilitating a just and lasting dispensation. All the leaders seem to do at the end of the endless summits they have held on the question of Zimbabwe is to warn their erring peer that they may not be able to continue supporting him if does not back off on certain issues. There is no question therefore whose side SADC is on. It has no compassion for the suffering people of Zimbabwe and is not on their side.

A large chunk of the blame for this dismal and inexcusable collusion with the Harare authorities can be laid squarely at the door of former South African President Thabo Mbeki and his decade of quiet diplomacy during which he was accused of protecting the Robert Mugabe regime while misleading his SADC and African Union peers.

Most pointedly, Mbeki and SADC have never spoken out against the state-sponsored violence that has pitted defenceless Zimbabweans against the full might of the state for most of the last 10 years. This unpalatable fact was driven home to Mbeki and SADC loudly and embarrassingly recently when the Mo Ibrahim Foundation snubbed the ousted former South African leader by not giving him this years award for good governance because of his discredited handling of the Zimbabwean crisis.

Southern Africa had scooped the prize two years in a row when former Mozambican president Joachim Chissano won the inaugural award in 2007 and ex-president Festus Mogae of Botswana was honoured last year. The withholding of this years prize for the stated reason is an indictment on both Mbeki as an individual and SADC as a bloc for failing to uphold and defend the tenets of democracy, good governance, the rue of law, human rights, freedom of expression and the right of the people to vote for leaders of their choice in free and fair elections

ECOWAS successful role

But while SADC has chased its tail and failed to insist on and uphold a fair and just dispensation to usher genuine and lasting political change in Zimbabwe, ECOWAS has played a positive and practical role to end human suffering and improve the lot of millions of citizens of member countries. Where the West African bloc has failed, it has not been for lack of trying or clarity of objectives.

ECOWAS spearheaded the talks that led to departure of dictator and warlord, Charles Taylor, thus easing human suffering caused by 14 years of civil war in Liberia. The bloc mediated the talks that led to the formation of the transitional government that ran the country until Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was democratically elected president of Liberia, the first African woman head of state to occupy the position in her own right after being voted for by the people.

The ECOWAS ceasefire follow-up and peacekeeping force, ECOMOG, worked in Liberia throughout the 1990s to reduce tensions and intervened in Sierra Leone to end the murderous Revolutionary United Fronts brutalisation of the population. ECOMOG did not exist when ECOWAS was established in 1975 West African leaders created it to meet a recognised need. It has always been argued that SADC is as impotent as it is because there are no mechanisms to tackle the challenges it faces. It must be pointed out that there is nothing stopping the SADC leaders from applying their minds to create organs that can facilitate the achievement of desired results and objectives.

In January this year, ECOWAS suspended Guinea when a military junta headed by Captain Moussa Dadis Camara seized power following the death of long-time dictator, Lansana Conte. Over the years the West African grouping has also tackled crises in Togo and Guinea-Bissau in the same principled manner. Whatever the nature of the crisis or dispute, ECOWAS stance has always been to remain engaged with all stakeholders political parties, civil society, unions etc.

SADC should learn some important lessons from its West African counterpart it really cared about serving the interests of the people of Southern Africa.

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