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Implementing peace and security architecture (II) Southern Africa
International Crisis Group
October 15, 2012

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Executive Summary and Recommendation

The last part of Africa to be decolonised, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region, remains one of the most peaceful. Yet, despite comprehensive protocols and agreements, SADC faces acute challenges characterised by tensions between member states, resource deficits, citizens' exclusion, social discontent and limited internal and external coordination. Regional security cooperation requires adept infrastructures underwritten by political commitment; but the organisation's Secretariat appears powerless to ensure policy implementation. It must develop an effective common security policy framework, improve coordination with international partners, harmonise and clarify its role with other SADC structures, broaden engagement with civil society, ensure member-state commitment to African Union (AU) efforts on human and people's rights and build capacity for evaluation and monitoring. As long as national sovereignty prevails over regional interests, however, the success of SADC mechanisms, notably in conflict resolution, will remain limited.

The region faces a range of evolving peace and security threats, including maritime security and piracy, cyber and technology-driven security threats, and socio-economic unrest. Beyond efforts to respond to these challenges, policy implementation capacity and information and response mechanisms are urgently required. SADC's intervention in Madagascar and Zimbabwe has exposed the region's limited capacity to enforce agreements it has brokered. Ad hoc and under-resourced mediation imposes additional burdens and responsibilities on the mediators. Civil society engagement in SADC processes in the two countries has been at best tangential, confirming the gulf between the regional body and its citizens. The Madagascar and Zimbabwe cases also highlight that structural governance deficits and politicised security sectors exacerbate conflict. SADC's mediation efforts reveal the complexities and challenges of dealing with unconstitutional changes in government, contested elections and violations of the region's electoral code.

A fragmented approach to crisis and the absence of a common policy hinder security cooperation. Member states pursue detached objectives without a consistent set of principles and policies in this area coordinated at the regional level. This reinforces their reluctance to cede authority to a SADC centralised structure. Regional commitment to the rule of law suffered from the decision of the SADC heads of state and government to confine the jurisdiction of its tribunal to interpretations of treaties and protocols relating to disputes between member states. The decision removes the right to individual petition, and without an alternate explanation from SADC's leadership, can be considered a reversal of previous gains in human security and people's rights.

SADC is keen to establish a mediation unit led by "elders" appointed by consensus between member states and supported by a credible and efficient resource team. Though the framework and operational methodology were approved in 2010, the organisation is yet to implement it. Regional conflict resolution efforts must incorporate military diplomacy options to address growing security sector influence in conflicts and their potential resolution. The establishment of national committees in each member state will buttress civil society participation in SADC policy formulation and implementation, as mandated by the treaty.

A culture of political solidarity among member states remains, fostered by a common liberation struggle history and a stated commitment to non-interference in the internal politics of others. This has inhibited effective preventive diplomacy and provided justification for non-engagement in cases of potential conflict and security threats. Despite the establishment of an early warning system in 2010, it is not clear if and how SADC utilises the conflict signals arising in the region and how best this infrastructure could be enhanced. Decision-making is consensual and rests solely with the heads of state and government and ministerial committees. The secretariat is expected to function as SADC's implementing arm, but lacks capacity and the authority to enforce decisions and is not empowered to engage in independent diplomatic action to address conflict situations.

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