ANGELA CHISHIMBA, Windhoek
ZAMBIA is now at the pedestal of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) organ on politics, defence and security cooperation after President Edgar Lungu assumed the chairmanship.Considering that some countries in the region have been experiencing instability, the country’s chairmanship comes at the most difficult time.
Zambia is surrounded by the Democratic Republic of Congo and Tanzania in the north, Malawi in the east, Mozambique in the south-east, Zimbabwe and Botswana in the south, Namibia in the south-west, and Angola in the west.
Of these countries, Zimbabwe and Congo DR have had a fair share of instability in the past few months, the former’s problems exacerbated by the toppling of President Robert Mugabe, and further fuelled by the disputed election victory of President Emmerson Mnangagwa.
In Congo DR, the situation looks even much glimmer with President Joseph Kabila denying some political players the right to contest the presidency.
The decision by President Kabila not to contest the elections slated for December this year simmered down the tensions in that country and was lauded by various international groups.
According to Al Jazeera, the US, European Union, African Union and the UN mission to Congo says Kabila’s decision has calmed fears of the country sliding into chaos.
President Kabila’s ruling coalition nominated former Interior Minister Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary as its presidential candidate.
Several opposition candidates have registered for the poll, including Jean-Pierre Bemba, the former vice-president who had convictions for war crimes and crimes against humanity overturned in June.
The organ on politics, defence and security cooperation that Zambia will lead is an important institution of SADC which seeks to promote peace and security in the region.
President Lungu took over the chairmanship of the organ from Angola’s President Joao Lourenco.
Mr Lungu is confident that the region will continue to be a beacon of peace and stability.
Conflicts in the neighbouring states pose a myriad of challenges for Zambia, an influx of refugees notwithstanding.
In the case of the Congo DR refugees, there are also fears of cases of the Ebola virus crossing into the country.
President Kabila bade farewell in an emotional statement at the SADC Heads of State Summit last week in Windhoek, Namibia.
“Since yesterday (Thursday last week), I have been wondering if I am supposed to give a farewell speech, and if that’s the case, who is going to miss who? Am I going to miss you, or are you going to miss me?”
He thanked heads of state in the region for the support in ensuring peace and stability in his country.
“Thank you for making my work easy and thank you to those who made it a little bit difficult,” he said.
President Kabila said it has been a long and difficult journey to restoring peace.
“The region has been our family, and we will forever be grateful for the sacrifices by countries in the region and for the bloodshed on our soils,” he said.
“In order for the sacrifices not to be in vain, we will consolidate the gains achieved so far. What we have rejected is any kind of blackmail. We shall be alert and steadfast as we prepare for elections because beyond peace and security, economic development has been high on our agenda,” President Kabila said.
“I hate farewells, they are so emotional. Since I hate farewells my preference is not to say farewells but I would rather say see you soon,” President Kabila said.
What President Kabila meant by ‘see you soon’ is a matter of conjecture. But SADC awaits the December polls with abated breath.
Zambia is no stranger to mediating conflicts. In the 1960s, 70s, 80s and 90s, the country hosted thousands of people from South Africa, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Angola, and Mozambique who had left their burning countries amidst liberation wars.
The cost of stopping conflicts can be huge and hence SADC has emphasised peace at all cost.
Accepting the responsibility during the SADC summit, President Lungu said the region boasts of a strong spirit of friendship, brotherhood and cooperation.
“Indeed, it is this spirit which, even today, spurs our regional body to seek common solutions to the various problems that, from time to time, affect our livelihood as a SADC family,” he said.
“I am delighted to note that our region has remained relatively stable and peaceful while promoting the shared values of peace, security, democracy and good governance among all member states.”
President Lungu said Zambia is ready to bring the SADC family together to support the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in holding peaceful and successful elections.
“I wish to commend my dear brother, His Excellency President Joseph Kabila Kabange, and his government for remaining committed to ensuring that peaceful and credible elections are held on 23rd December, 2018.
“It is indeed commendable to see that the electoral process is underway with the publishing of the voters roll and the successful undertaking of voter registration across the length and breadth of the country,” the President said.
He said during Zambia’s tenure, the region will keenly follow the implementation of various reforms in Lesotho.
President Lungu said Zambia will closely work with South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa, as SADC facilitator to the Kingdom of Lesotho, and his mediation team to maintain political stability there.
“It is worth noting that the mandate of the SADC preventive mission in Lesotho was extended for six months at a significant cost to member States. The onus, therefore, lies on the Government and the main political players to advance the reform process in the remaining period to ensure that the dividends of the mission are achieved to the benefit of the Basotho,” he said.
Regarding the situation in Madagascar, President Lungu commended the Government and stakeholders for maintaining stability during this period when the country prepares to go to the polls later this year.
“We believe that the Republic of Madagascar is on the right track to restoring constitutional normalcy which would enable the Malagasy people to enjoy well deserved peace, stability and development,” he said.
Other countries in the SADC region going for polls include the Kingdom of eSwatini, Malawi and South Africa.
The head of State commended his predecessor, Angolan president Joao Lourenco, for the sterling manner he steered the organ in addressing issues related to peace and security within the SADC region.
SADC leaders also have a huge task to deliver on the promise of infrastructure development, youth empowerment and sustainable development to uplift people’s lives.
The just closed 38th SADC summit endorsed industrialisation as the overarching theme.
SADC chairperson Hage Geingob, who is now at the helm of the regional body after taking over from South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, is keen on devising a funding mechanism to ensure effective implementation of the industrialisation strategy.
“Our decisions must now be turned into actions, and our actions must yield positive results for our people. It is time to deliver on the promise of infrastructure development, youth empowerment and sustainable development,” Mr Geingob said at the close of the summit.
SADC executive secretary Stergomena Lawrence Tax said industrialisation is an undertaking which requires sustained efforts and persistence.
She said while the region has covered some ground, more is required for it to reach the intended destination, which is transformation of SADC economies for the prosperity of its citizens.
Dr Tax said this can only be achieved through concerted and collaborative efforts by both the public and private sector.
This year’s SADC theme called on stakeholders and partners to catalyse infrastructure development to leverage industrialisation, while taking advantage of the demographic dividend offered by the youth that constitute more than 75 percent of the region’s population.
Dr Tax said the youth hold potential as an engine for growth for the region, and are key to achieving its overall objectives, with prospects to bring innovative ideas and solutions.
“Current estimates project the SADC combined population is 342.3 million, 60 percent of whom, are under the age of 35. With such a large and increasing youth population, the region is sitting on a gold mine, which needs to be tapped,” she said.
The next summit in 2019 will be in Tanzania. SADC will be counting the gains and losses. But overly, it is clear that the SADC pot is full of intrigue and tension, especially when election time arrives.
ANGELA CHISHIMBA, Windhoek