THE drama that characterised the closing ceremony of the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) summit in Victoria Falls on Monday, where South Africa and Namibia refused to sign a regional protocol, revealed fault lines that would demand astute political leadership to manage.
President Robert Mugabe assumed leadership of Sadc for one year at the summit and his acceptance speech on Sunday showed that he would be combative in his approach as much as he does at the helm of Zimbabwean affairs.
Mugabe implored Sadc to wean itself from donors and bemoaned the fact that 60% of the regional block’s programmes were funded by donors. He also appealed to the region not to involve outsiders in its elections.
Botswana, Namibia and Mozambique will hold elections this year and if Mugabe has his way, the West would not be allowed to observe the polls.
After all, Western countries have not been involved in Zimbabwean elections since 2002 when the government kicked out a European Union observer mission for speaking out against perceived irregularities.
Mugabe is known to be headstrong when it comes to issues he believes in and this was evident in his response to Namibia and South Africa’s refusal to sign the Protocol on Trade in Services .
He immediately launched a thinly veiled attack on South African president Jacob Zuma urging his country to co-operate instead of seeking to turn the region into a market for its products.
Other Sadc countries signed the protocol in August 2012, but Namibia and South Africa requested for more time to consider. The protocol sets out general obligations for the treatment of services and service suppliers from other countries.
Mugabe was clearly surprised by lack of progress since the signing of the protocol would have been one of the major outcomes of the summit and vented his frustrations at the press conference held after the summit.
However, during the next 12 months the president would have to restrain himself if his leadership of the regional block is to be successful.
There is absolutely no need to step on South Africa’s toes or offend any Sadc member for that matter through loose talk and bulldozing issues.
Zimbabwe has to come out of the Sadc leadership role strengthened diplomatically rather weakened because of failure to know when to pick fights and not to do so.