First signal that shows SADC member states focus on future collaboration
A bevy of ministers and their entourages from the Southern African Development Community descended on Luanda earlier this week where the august meeting worked on the framework for the Congo Kinshasha government to accept the members of a disbanded rebel movement back into the national fold.
The spin during and after the meeting brought very little of the actual discussions to light but focussed more on the event from a public relations point of view. Although the outside world is not privy to the detail of the discussions, it was noticeable that the event featured very prominently on the radar of all the participating governments. It was also noteworthy that this meeting was the first ever, as far as I could establish, where Angola played some sort of role as mediator in a regional context.
Given my usual sceptical disposition regarding meetings of this nature, I was pleasantly surprised by the large number of government delegates who took the trouble to go to Luanda and contribute to the process. The meeting seemed very serious, and the issues on the table were also serious issues. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall, once the doors were closed and the deliberations started in earnest.
What remains to be seen now, are the resolutions, the implementation strategy, and acceptance by both the Congo government and the rebels. If that does not happen, well then the Luanda meeting was in vain.
But the mere fact that SADC came together with a specific goal, at least marks a significant turning point in the typical SADC meeting trajectory to which I have become accustomed.
I see the Luanda meeting as a very positive sign. What we need to do now is to convene a similar meeting in Windhoek, since Windhoek is the seat of the neutered SADC Tribunal. It means Namibia is de facto the custodian of the legal framework within which all SADC agreements and treaties will be finalised, accepted and ratified. Given the enormous amount of SADC integration talk on a variety of platforms spread over many SADC member states, it only follows naturally that integration must be viewed as a very serious issue. I mean, a government, or a collection of governments simply can not expend so much energy, effort and money to established the structures which they claim will eventually integrate the entire region, and then not have a competent legal mechanism to handle disputes.
It would be good for our international image, and for our standing among the other SADC members, to initiate such a meeting, and then go to all the trouble of organising it, and actually produce some usable results from this high-level discussion. Looking at the calibre of the delegates in attendance this week in Luanda, it should be a piece of cake for such a high-powered meeting to quickly pound out a new SADC Tribunal agreement, phrase this into a treaty, get every member to ratify it, re-institute the organ, and then to actually make it work as an international court. Imagine, if a meeting of foreign affairs ministers is able to tell the Congo how it must re-integrate its rebels, how effective a similar meeting of justice ministers must be in drafting the guidelines that will be transformed into the working legal framework for a regional tribunal.
Fortunately, our own recent history provides precedent of a tentative strategy. We have a very competent lands tribunal whose job it is to mediate between the government and land owners to reach agreement on the price for which a piece of land must be sold, or the value at which a piece of land must be appreciated. Now, think of the many current as well as future disputes that will still be heard by the lands tribunal, and the invaluable role it will play in a sensible programme of land distribution.
But what happens if a current land owner is not, at some point, satisfied with the process, and he or she decides unilaterally to dissolve the lands tribunal. I do not even want to think of the chaos, and the vacuum that will be created in land matters. The progress of the last twenty years of the entire process will come abruptly to a halt, and we will be back to square one.
Now this is exactly what happened when a previous meeting of ministers disbanded the SADC Tribunal without consultation. In essence, what that move signalled was that a meeting of ministers is above the law, even those ratified through international treaty between the SADC member states.
If our leaders are sincere in all their SADC integration talk, and about all the big dreams that go with this banter, then it is inconceivable that any real progress can be made in the absence of an international organ, ratified by every member state, to hear the parties when they do not agree. Let’s ask the retired Rwandan rebel how they feel about this.