The Southern African Development Community (Sadc) Heads of State and Government Summit closed in Lilongwe on Sunday with new chairperson President Joyce Banda saying the regional grouping is still awaiting a final report on Zimbabwe elections.
In the run up to the summit, civil society organisations (CSOs) from Zimbabwe and some countries in the region lobbied Sadc leaders to intervene on the situation in Zimbabwe where the opposition is challenging results of the July 31 election that gave President Robert Mugabe a 61 percent vote tally.
Briefing journalists at the end of the summit, Banda, who on Saturday assumed the leadership from President Armando Guebuza of Mozambique, indicated that the regional bloc is still inconclusive on Zimbabwe elections.
She said: “As at now, we still don’t have a final report from the [Sadc] observer mission. In the absence of that, it will be wrong for me to say anything apart from using the same words used by the mission.”
Ironically, in a communiqué at the end of the summit read by outgoing Sadc executive secretary Tomas Salomao, the Sadc leaders commended Zimbabwe for conducting “peaceful polls” but failed short of calling the elections credible.
Further reads the communiqué, “The summit congratulates President Robert Mugabe for his re-election.”
The Sadc leaders also lobbied for the lifting of economic sanctions against Zimbabwe as imposed by Western countries and some regional blocs.
Mugabe has since been voted vice-chairperson of Sadc which means the 89-year-old is an automatic successor to Banda next year.
On the other hand, Salomao’s replacement is a Tanzanian national, Dr. Stergomerna Lawrence Tax, who becomes the first woman to take the Sadc hot seat. Until her appointment, Lawrence Tax was permanent secretary of the Ministry of East African Community in Tanzania.
Lawrence Tax’s appointment and Banda’s elevation has placed at the helm of Sadc, two neighbouring countries currently entangled in a border dispute over Lake Malawi.
Banda, who also became the first woman to chair Sadc, said: “I look forward to working with you [Lawrence Tax]. You and me have no choice but to perform because as first woman executive secretary and I, as first woman chairperson, we are role models.”
Tanzania and Malawi have for over a year now failed to resolve their differences over part of the lake which Tanzania claims as Malawi vehemently says the entire water body belongs to Malawians.
The matter was not discussed during the two-day summit in Lilongwe and Tanzania President Jakaya Kikwete reportedly asked Malawi to ensure journalists did not ask him anything pertaining to the issue.
According to the Sadc Treaty, the executive secretary is in-charge of all Sadc operations based at the secretariat in Gaborone, Botswana, whereas the chairperson is the main political face of the regional bloc.
The summit also chose Lesotho prime minister Motsoahae Thabane as the next chairperson of the Sadc organ on politics and security taking over from Tanzania’s Kikwete.
Under Lesotho, the organ has a challenge to observe and give a Sadc opinion on some four elections before bowing out next year.
Elections are expected in Swaziland, Malawi, South Africa and Namibia.