Enter President Pohamba as SADC chairperson

PRESIDENT Hifikepunye Pohamba will take over the chairmanship of Southern African Development Community (SADC) in August.

SADC is muddled in several problems that have been long standing for the past five years including the recurrent conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Madagascar Constitutional crisis, and the dragging Zimbabwe political crisis.

These issues, according to analysts approached by Prime Focus, will test the Namibian leader’s international policy stance and acumen, as the second and final leg of his five year reign takes centre stage.

Other outstanding issues include the proposed currency synchronisation, and the unification of the customs union.
Analysts agreed Pohamba follows quiet diplomacy traits of managing issues.

“President Pohamba is not a confrontational leader and I believe he will introduce coercive diplomacy to his country’s long time ally (President) Robert Mugabe in dealing with the Zimbabwean issue,” said Gerhard Tötemeyer a former deputy minister in the Swapo Government.

Tötemeyer said the political impasse in Zimbabwe has been on the agenda for way too long without an amicable solution and the incoming SADC chairperson would have to implement his diplomatic skills to the fullest to be able to deal with the Zimbabwe problem. Despite numerous attempts by the regional bloc to make the Government of National Unity as brokered by former South African President Thabo Mbeki work in Zimbabwe, Mugabe remains at the reigns of power reducing the opposition Prime Minister, MDC’s (Movement for Democratic Change) Morgan Tsvangirai into a sitting duck.

While Tötemeyer believes Pohamba will need to be at his best to stamp his authority he admitted there is a lot to be done by the incoming chairperson if the region is to resolve its socio-political problems.

South African President, Jacob Zuma has been mediating talks between the parties involved (Tsvangirai, the MDC Arthur Mutambara led group and Zanu PF led by President Robert Mugabe).

The country’s opposition are pushing for the urgent reform of the central bank, the appointment of governors, and ambassadors. While Zuma has managed to push the three Zimbabwean political rival parties to the table to try and resolve issues surrounding media freedom, the thorny issue of the swearing-in of Roy Bennet as the Agriculture deputy minister and the appointment of a new prosecutor general as well as the new reserve bank governor. Pohamba will have to corroborate Zuma’s efforts by pushing the political leaders in Zimbabwe to implement the Global Political Agreement fully.

President Zuma has overseen the Zimbabwe coalition agreeing to reform the central bank, open up opportunities for independent media and also reform the electoral commission setting the right platform for Pohamba to exploit and bring sanity to that country’s political situation.

Pohamba will also have to stamp his authority on to Zanu-PF to honour their end of the bargain in the shaky coalition Government.

The Zimbabwean regime led by President Mugabe has also been on record for snubbing SADC decisions after downplaying the SADC Tribunal decision to accord 72 commercial farmers their farms which were acquired illegally last year.

“Although he has to play African solidarity he knows that it’s going to be a bumpy road for him. With this background Pohamba also has to arrest the Madagascar issue and the continued problems in the DRC,” said Tötemeyer.

Although Tötemeyer believes Pohamba has the capacity to deliver, he said most leaders who have been at the helm of the SADC throne including, Mbeki, Armando Guebuza of Mozambique, Joseph Kabila of DRC and Kgalem Mothlante of South Africa were stuck in protecting African brotherhood at the expense of democracy.

Madagascar’s political crisis has plunged almost half of the population into dire poverty as the European Union which caters for a reasonable chunk of the country’s budget froze their aid last year.

The Madagascar issue has also cast a shadow of doubt on the region’s political leaders who continue to move from pillar to post on the issue without coming up with a long lasting solution to the problem. This will put Pohamba in the spotlight during his one year reign of the region to display his ability to convince both parties on the island nation to seek a democratic solution.

Tötemeyer added that outgoing chairperson, DRC President Joseph Kabila did very little to curb the Madagascar political soap opera which has seen the European Union freeze any budgetary support to the Island and left the country in the hands of the military.

Graham Hopwood, Director of the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) said there had been significant ground covered in the Zimbabwe crisis and Pohamba would have to play a consolidating role during his 12 months reign.

Hopwood believes the most challenging task for Pohamba is Madagascar where the mediator Joachim Chissano, former Mozambican President, has not made any break through.

“The Madagascar standoff appears to be worsening and the SADC community needs to reign in on the problem sooner rather than later,” said Hopwood.

On Zimbabwe, he said the situation in that country still depends on the SA President Jacob Zuma who is mediating between the three parties while Pohamba would play a supporting role.

He added that Pohamba would also need to take decisions that would maintain his integrity as the world’s eyes would be on Namibia.

Hopwood also said top on the SADC chair’s agenda will be the region’s integration challenges. Pohamba, he explained, would have to steer the SADC ship a step closer to financial integration by pushing for a single customs union and a monetary union.

“The region’s timetable of a uniform customs union by 2016 and a uniform currency by 2018 seems unrealistic,” said Hopwood.

Hopwood believes the alliance of Namibia, Angola and South Africa to snub Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) could be too hot to handle for Pohamba as this may see the region losing lucrative markets.

In the DRC, Hopwood believes Namibia’s ties with Kabila in the height of the war in that country could see Pohamba backpedalling from engagement with the country’s warring parties.

While analyst concur that Pohamba has a lot in his plate when he takes over in August some believe the Namibian President is good at coercive diplomacy and this will be his major bargaining asset in tackling the outstanding issues in the region. They argue that Pohamba could have a degree of success in solving the outstanding issues as compared to his predecessor Joseph Kabila who had confrontational approach while the Namibian President prefers closed door engagements.PF