Member States of the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) have elected Malawi as the next chairperson of the 16-member regional bloc from next August during their summit that ignored mentioning the crisis in Zimbabwe.
Following the election that took place during the 40th Ordinary Summit of Sadc Heads of State and Government held virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic and hosted by Mozambique, President Lazarus Chakwera will step in after Mozambican president Filipe Nyusi who started his one-year tenure on Monday.
In a statement accepting the election, Chakwera, who attended the event for the first time as Head of State following his triumph in the court-sanctioned June 23 Fresh Presidential Election, said he was keen to learn from his Mozambican counterpart to effectively perform his role when his turn comes.
He said: “I still have a lot to learn… As such, Malawi is going to subject itself to knowing how things work so that when our turn comes, we help to deliver and contribute to developing the region.”
The President has since extended an invitation to Sadc Heads of State and Government to attend the 41st Ordinary Summit Malawi is set to host in August 2021 when he will be assuming the chairmanship.
It will be the third time in 20 years for Malawi to host the Sadc Heads of State and Government Summit after 2001 and 2013. In 2001, then president Bakili Muluzi assumed the Sadc chairmanship as did former president Joyce Banda in August 2013.
In a communiqué issued at the end of the summit, the Sadc leaders congratulated the people and the governments of Mozambique, Botswana, Mauritius, Namibia and Malawi on conducting successful elections.
The summit congratulated Nyusi, President Mokgweetsi Eric Keabetswe Masisi (Botswana), President Hage Gottfried Geingob (Namibia), President Pravind Kumar Jugnauth (Mauritius) and Chakwera fn winning the elections in their respective countries.
Moeketsi Majoro was also congratulated on his appointment as the new Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Lesotho.
But the summit did not make mention of the political crisis in Zimbabwe, only acknowledging a report from outgoing chairperson of the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation, President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who was commended “for his outstanding leadership during his tenure”.
While there are tensions and conflicts in some countries, including Zimbabwe, the summit, in its communiqué, only said: “Summit received an Assessment Report on Emerging Security Threats in the Region, commended the secretariat for the detailed report, and directed the secretariat to prepare an action plan for its implementation, that will among others, prioritise measures to combat terrorism, violent attacks and cybercrime; and to address adverse effects of climate change.”
The summit also urged member States to take proactive measures to mitigate external interference, the impact of fake news and the abuse of social media, especially in electoral processes.
In his acceptance speech, Nyusi said he will ensure that Sadc achieves economic development through creation of competitive hubs in the region.
He said: “We are going to have competitive hubs in the Sadc region. We are also going to make sure that we avoid unnecessary competition [among ourselves] in the economy.”
Nyusi has taken over from Tanzanian President John Pombe Magufuli who said that during his term of office, the region registered positive strides despite the Covid-19 pandemic which has disrupted the world economy.
Responding to a question during a press briefing after the summit’s closing ceremony, Chakwera said the most important area on the abuse of social media and fake news lies in the hands of individuals.
He said if people can take an initiative to verify whatever they post or forward on social media, most of the challenges can be addressed.
Chakwera said: “We can’t stay without social media, but we need to be vigilant and ensure that we verify facts about what we post on social media, that way we are going to reduce the abuse of social media.”
Chakwera and Majoro were given an opportunity to address the summit.
In his address, Chakwera said the combination of strengths and shared values between Sadc member States represents a unique opportunity to achieve full integration within the next few years.
He said: “I also believe that it is a divine opportunity, for it is by the Providence of God that we are bound to one another by history, culture, and a shared journey of liberation.
“For us as Malawians, we feel this undeniable bond whenever we travel beyond our borders which is why I have never accepted that Malawi is land-locked, but rather land-linked, for we are inextricably linked to our Sadc brothers on all sides and I can assure you that we would not have it any other way.
“From this perspective, I humbly request you, the in-coming chairman, my brother and neighbour, Your Excellency Felipe Nyusi, to give us all no rest during your tenure until we join hands in honouring the legacy of His Excellency the late Benjamin Mkapa by fully liberalising trade across the Sadc region and unlock the economic possibilities that our peoples dream of.”
The summit also approved the Sadc Vision 2050 which is based on the foundation of peace, security and democratic governance, and premised on three interrelated pillars of industrial development and market integration; infrastructure development in support of regional integration; and social and human capital development.
The three pillars also recognise gender, youth, environment and climate change as well as disaster risk management as important cross-cutting components.
The summit also endorsed a five-year Sustainable Self Financing Plan for Sadc Electoral Observation Missions covering the period 2021 to 2025.
The summit has since planned a face-to-face meet in Maputo, Mozambique in March 2021 depending on the Covid-19 pandemic situation.