19 December 2012

Zimbabwe: Contextualising DRC Deployment

opinion

NOW that Zimbabwe has agreed to deploy troops to be part of the SADC standby force, there has been a lot of controversy surrounding the matter.

The Zimbabwe government has been roundly criticised, especially by local sources for its decision to contribute troops to the collective SADC action in eastern Democractic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

This week, I am dedicating the column to putting the record straight on what it means for Zimbabwe to deploy and under what mandate such action is being pursued.

Many are confusing this current deployment with the DRC intervention undertaken by Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angola in 1998. The two are distinctively distanced and have different authorisation configurations.

In 1998, SADC did not come to a consensus on deployment into the DRC. Countries like South Africa were heavily opposed to military intervention, preferring diplomatic efforts. Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angola, however, became infuriated by the lack of consensus within SADC with regards to military intervention and decided to deploy outside the broader SADC mandate. Although other SADC countries later affirmed the three countries' intervention, characteristically, it was not a SADC initiative as many would have us believe.

This is the reason why the three countries had to expend their own resources (financial and otherwise) in their DRC military involvement, leading to the bleeding of their economies, especially in Zimbabwe. There were also back-to-back guarantees by the DRC government then that it would pay-back whatever resources that Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angola would have spent in military assistance.

It is official that some of such pay-back could have been given in the form of mineral resources and business concessions in the post conflict era. However, given the demise of then president Laurent Desire Kabila, the new government of Joseph Kabila has either not been able to honour some of the commitments entered into by his late father.

The result has therefore, been heavy financial losses recorded by Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angola in their 1998 DRC exploit. The three countries had indicated their intervention was based on the collective need to assist a member state under attack from "foreign" aggressors; in that case citing Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda.

At that time there was, however, no clear collective consensus on the role of these external powers in the DRC conflict; leading to the hesitancy by other SADC members to openly designate the conflict as being externally driven.

Although the three intervening countries quoted Article 2 (a) of the SADC protocol on Politics, Defence and Security cooperation, which stipulates that member-states should assist any other that may fall prey to external aggression, the lack of consensus on the clarity of such aggression complicated the case.

The disparities and seemingly unilateral decision made by Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angola outside SADC mandate was instrumental in the ratification of the SADC Mutual Defence Pact in 2003.

In that regard, the SADC Mutual Defence Pact now has a clear clause (Article 6.1) that stipulates that, an attack on any member-state, "Shall be met with immediate collective action".

This therefore brings us to the issues pertaining to the current deployment, which Zimbabwe has enthusiastically become part of.

First we must realise that a UN report released in 2010 fingered Rwanda as being involved in the disturbance in eastern DRC. The current activities of the M23 rebels have also been cited by the UN as being supported by Rwanda. At the 2012 August SADC summit held in Maputo, the regional bloc leaders came to a consensus that Rwanda was part of the aggression in the DRC; a position which concurred with the UN.

The decision to send troops to the DRC has also been made by SADC and by consensus; unlike was the case in 1998. So SADC's decision to intervene in the DRC must be commended because this time there is a proven and universally agreed position that Rwanda is involved in supporting M23 rebels; which therefore amounts to external aggression of a SADC member-state.

SADC has also made a collective decision to intervene; which is part of the operationalisation of the regional bloc's peace and security architecture.

The deployment is also not by individual countries outside of the mandate of SADC. It will be implemented through the contributing of troops to the SADC standby brigade which was launched in August 2007 in Zambia.

Functionally, this deployment is therefore a SADC-wide engagement and must not be viewed with the lenses of individual country actions. Zimbabwe's support for the SADC standby force must actually be commended as the country is contributing and being consistent with its commitments to SADC protocols and the building regional peace and security.

Many have also questioned Zimbabwe's readiness in expending financial resources by sending troops to DRC, given the country's current depressed macro-economic outlook. Resource mobilisation for this deployment is not supposed to burden individual countries like it did in 1998.

The SADC standby force is a regional force whose resource base must come from the collective SADC institution and its extension. Obviously, there will be some spill-over financial burdens that Zimbabwe will carry but not as exclusively as in the 1998 intervention.

Some people have also discredited the move by Zimbabwe given the current internal political and economic challenges. One thing we must learn as Zimbabweans is not to be blinded by our own domestic political complications to the extent that we fail to appreciate our obligations to the outside world.

Despite our challenges we remain a critical member of the SADC community and contributions to the regional bloc need to be sustained. Maybe President Robert Mugabe did not consult other GPA partners or Parliament on this issue, but again it is the weakness of our current Constitution and the frailty of lack of consensus-building mechanisms in our current coalition government.

Those internal weaknesses must, however, not dilute the broader goodwill that Zimbabwe has made in contributing troops to the SADC standby force. The country has actually led by example and this must be seen in positive light.

President Mugabe has clearly indicated that it is not Zimbabwe that has deployed in the DRC but it is SADC. What Zimbabwe has merely done is to play its obligatory part in contributing troops to the SADC standby force. Despite our internal political difference and challenges as Zimbabweans, we need to consider the DRC deployment by SADC in its correct context.

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