PRESIDENT Robert Mugabe is expected to take over the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) chair from Malawi at the regional bloc's ordinary summit slated for Victoria Falls in August, but questions have arisen over whether he will add value to the regional bloc given his advanced age and the persistent controversy associated with his rule.
Mugabe, who has struggled to arrest the country's economic decline and has been at the centre of its governance disputes including persistent allegations of electoral rigging, will now be expected to resolve regional disputes and chart economic growth in the region -- something he has dismally failed to achieve at home.
He is taking over the chairmanship at a time a number of Sadc member states are preparing to hold general elections this year and these include Mozambique, Botswana and Namibia while Tanzania holds its polls next year.
Mugabe is also African Union deputy chair and is expected to take over the AU chairmanship next year.
The Sadc summit will be held under the theme "Sadc Strategy for Economic Transformation: Leveraging the Region's Diverse Resources for Sustainable Economic and Social Development".
Mugabe's elevation was as shocking to many people as it was ironic -- how could a man who has presided over a political and economic meltdown which resulted in his country being placed under the curatorship of Sadc go on to lead that same organisation?
Analysts are querying what this means for ordinary Zimbabweans, asking whether there should be any optimism over the appointment in view of allegations of violation of human rights raised by various international and local non-governmental organisations as well as opposition parties against Mugabe, who remains under Western "restrictive measures".
There are at least seven priority areas that were identified and adopted by the Sadc Council of Ministers which met in March in Lilongwe, Malawi, to intensify efforts to deepen integration for socio-economic development.
These include the need to intensify efforts towards finalising the review of the Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan (RISDP), consolidation of the Sadc Free Trade Area launched in 2008, and conclusion of negotiations to establish a single market covering 26 countries in eastern and southern Africa.
Fast-tracking implementation of the Regional Infrastructure Development Master Plan, strengthening measures to improve food security and implementation of the HIV/Aids cross-border initiatives and peace building, and consolidation of democratic practices in the region, are some of the priorities.
All of this shows the regional bloc has a developmental agenda but Mugabe, who has failed to initiate development back home, cannot be said to possess the requisite credentials to implement this vision.
Zimbabwe is in a fragile economic state with an unsustainably high external debt, massive de-industrialisation and informalisation due to liquidity challenges, corruption and inconsistent policy implementation.
Mugabe is struggling to find the US$27 billion to fund ZimAsset, the country's economic blueprint he launched soon after his controversial re-election last year amid allegations of systematic rigging and disenfranchisement.
Zimbabwe Democracy Institute director Pedzisai Ruhanya said Sadc, like Zimbabwe, should look beyond Mugabe for its regional political and economic re-organisation.
Ruhanya said: "Nothing new should be expected from a man who has reached the political sunset of his career. If Mugabe cannot address the long-standing economic and political issues affecting Zimbabwe what makes people dream that he could be of use to the region."
Sadc needs the financial support and partnership of the West if it is to implement its developmental agenda but given Mugabe's undiplomatic and belligerent attitude towards the West, especially the US and Britain, it is difficult to see how this will be achieved. Ruhanya described Mugabe as a "controversial and divisive character so Sadc and its partners should be ready for his rants against the western community which will certainly be unhelpful to Sadc's cause".
Even within the region, Mugabe has a history for being quarrelsome and opinionated -- all of which are not helpful in building consensus over key decisions.
He has on some occasions threatened to pull Zimbabwe out of Sadc when the bloc's decisions went against him. Former Botswana President Quett Ketumile Masire gave details of Mugabe's intransigence in a narration of his clash with the late South African president Nelson Mandela over how Sadc should handle conflicts in Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in 1996.
Masire states in his memoirs titled Very Brave or Very Foolish? Memoirs of an African Democrat that Mandela fought with Mugabe after Mugabe took it upon himself to hold and chair Sadc meetings of the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security instead of Mandela who was then the chairperson of Sadc then.
"Sadc presidents were invited to Luanda (in 1996) to witness the signing of an agreement between President (Jose) Eduardo dos Santos and rebel leader Jonas Savimbi at a time it was thought that Unita and the Angolan government had reached a peace agreement," Masire says.
"Savimbi did not show up and Mugabe took advantage of the gathering to hold the organ's meeting and to report on its activities. But instead of reporting to a meeting chaired by Mandela, the chairman of Sadc, Mugabe chaired it himself.