Southern African leaders convene for regional summit

The annual summit marks the 30th anniversary of the 15-nation SADC.

Last Updated: Aug 16, 2010, 14:33 PM IST

Windhoek: Heads of state from the Southern African Development Community meet on Monday in the Namibian capital for a two-day summit to discuss regional integration and the political progress in Zimbabwe.

The annual summit, which marks the 30th anniversary of the 15-nation regional bloc, has been billed as a "jubilee", but the celebrations take place amid criticism over SADC`s struggles to assert itself as a political force in the region.

South African President Jacob Zuma, who is facilitating the bloc`s mediation efforts in Zimbabwe, will brief leaders on the progress of the power-sharing government between long-time President Robert Mugabe and former opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

Zuma visited Zimbabwe in March to press the rival leaders to push forward the reform process and settle their differences over a raft of key government appointments.

Under the power-sharing pact, Zimbabwe should have held a referendum on a new Constitution last month, which would pave the way for fresh elections after the violent and inconclusive polls of 2008.

The constitutional process has barely gotten off the ground, but the new government has halted Zimbabwe`s economic freefall by abandoning the local currency in favour of US dollars and opening up the market to imports.

South Africa`s Foreign Ministry said Zuma`s report will be a mixed review.

"Economically, progress has already been noted in Zimbabwe with the positive development trends arising from the economic rehabilitation programmes," the ministry said in a statement.

"The inclusive government in Zimbabwe is making some progress on the implementation of the global political agreement under the mediation of South Africa.”

"Nevertheless, discussions are ongoing and it is hoped that there will be further positive results by the end of this year," said a statement from Pretoria.

Leaders could also take up the troubled mediation effort in Madagascar, which has been mired in crisis since March last year, when strongman Andry Rajoelina ousted President Marc Ravalomanana in a coup.

SADC`s efforts to mediate the crisis have met with little success, with Rajoelina spurning the terms of a power-sharing agreement.

Rajoelina last week signed a deal with 99 political parties, including Ravalomanana`s, that calls for a constitutional referendum to be held in November, Parliamentary Elections in March and a first round of Presidential Elections on May 04, 2011.

SADC has suspended the Indian Ocean island until the return of constitutional order.

Human rights groups also called on SADC`s outgoing chair, President Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to open an independent enquiry into the death of a prominent Congolese human rights activist.

In an open letter to Kabila, more than 70 organisations demanded an investigation into the June killing of activist Floribert Chebeya and the disappearance of his driver.

"The official investigation has achieved almost nothing and bears all the hallmarks of a cover-up rather than any real attempt to uncover the truth," said Hubert Tshiswaka of the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa.

Chebeya, the president of rights campaign group La Voix des Sans-Voix (The Voice of the Voiceless), was in June found dead in the back seat of his car on the outskirts of Kinshasa, his hands tied behind his back.

An autopsy released to his family said he had died of a heart attack after suffering physical abuse.

Bureau Report