Zimbabwe's Chairing of SADC: In from the Cold and an Attempt at Normalcy.

By Takura Zhangazha
For the first time since the Southern African Development Coordination Conference became the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in 1992, Zimbabwe hosts the latter’s 34th Heads of State and Government summit.  
We have previously chaired the SADC Organ on Politics,Defence and Security, a post which saw us leading the incorporation of the Democratic Republic of the Congo into the regional bloc in 1997. This also provided the pretext for our costly intervention in the same country ostensibly on the basis of that government’s request. 
The South African government, then led by Nelson Mandela and chairing SADC was to differ with us on that particular regional flexing of our muscle but nonetheless we triumphed  and got our way. 
In the aftermath of that intervention we have never managed to influence SADC directly. 
Never mind the fact that we were the hosts of the inaugural SADCC summit in 1980.  And that in part, the Frontline states, a regional conglomeration of liberation movement supporting governments led by former Tanzanian, Zambian and Mozambican presidents, had been established primarily to help us, South Africa and Namibia achieve our independence. 
We shifted from being a Southern African powerhouse to one that was, in the considerations of an expanding  globalisation discourse, a pariah state.  Largely because of the manner in which our then (and even now) government dealt with internal politics through repression and also sought to justify the same through recourse to previously  long abandoned liberation struggle value discourse and radical land reform.
Furthermore, the deterioration of our domestic politics and economy to levels that were unprecedented for an assumed to be stable government only compounded our regional status for the worst.
It was to be the intervention of Tanzanian and South African Presidents, Jakaya Kikwete and Thabo Mbeki respectively that was to make  us a direct responsibility of SADC in an age of global liberal interventionism in April 2007.   Our government probably does not understand the full import of that SADC intervention on the stability of Zimbabwe, warts and all, but the truth be told assisted us to get out of our self made political and economic  morass.
For that all Zimbabweans must be grateful. The tradition that was begun by the Frontline states of looking after one’s neighbour assisted us to remain a peaceful country despite the odds stacked against us. The political violence and the perpetrators of the same may remain unaccounted for but either way, we are definitely no longer a ‘failed state’ as is given in Western parlance. 
We are returning to ‘normalcy’ in SADC with the burden of our mistakes regardless of how populist our government’s policies may appear in the region.  
However the fact that we are going to chair the regional bloc does not mean we are going to give it the character of our country because none of the member states want to learn from us in a positive way. Instead they have learnt what not to do. At least for now.
Zimbabwe is therefore not primed to make a big impact on SADC during its tenure as chair. Neither is it remotely expected to do so.  It will be asked to hear out regional grievances, of which there are currently few, but beyond remote facilitation of resolution of the same,  we will not be regarded as having specific moral authority to do so fairly.
We will try to posit our model of indigenisation together with our radical land reform as exemplary but this will fall on deaf ears.  Our foreign policy traits will not rub off in the region but we will have the benefit of a regional platform to seek the removal of Western sanctions on the government and select businesses.
In similar fashion we will be scrutinised for our human rights records and our adherence to standing SADC protocols and treaties in relation to the same.  Because we will be expected to lead by democratic example in the region, our government will not seek unnecessary attention through wanton acts of repression as it has regularly done in the past fifteen years.  
Because we are in from the cold, it is likely we will try to take the lead on major SADC development goals. So we will most likely speed up our digitization programme, improve our road networks to meet regional standards (even at great cost), and generally pay populist service to every major SADC secretariat policy announcement.
But in the final analysis, our tenure as SADC chair will not be particularly unique.  It will raise the ‘scrutiny stakes’ as to whether our domestic politics are exemplary for the region but it will still be largely a return to normalcy.  
We will occasionally need to be defend  a majority of member state  countries on the basis of previous support they gave our  past inclusive government as well as the informal regional grouping of former liberation war movements. 
Sadly however, the regional solidarity that was given to our local civil society on key issues of human rights will not be replicated from our side. As already been the case, our domestic civil society organisations have not had as much enthusiasm for the challenges faced by colleagues in Swaziland, Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. 
But at least for now, while Zimbabweans may have mixed views on the significance of the 34th SADC Heads of State and Government  Summit in Victoria Fall this weekend, at least we are not as bad off in the region as we were two years ago. And for that, we have the very same SADC to thank.


*Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)