imbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe is set to step down as chairperson of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) this week, marking the beginning of the end of a year of continental and international prominence and jet-setting for the 91-year-old ruler. His term as African Union (AU) chairperson is set to end in January. Mugabe will be handing over the SADC leadership reins to his deputy in the regional body, Botswana’s President Ian Khama, who is one of the only heads of state on the continent who has dared to openly criticise Mugabe.
Khama was also the only African president not to endorse Zimbabwe’s 2013 elections as free and fair, when Mugabe’s Zanu-PF won with a 62% majority. Mugabe has been in power for 35 years. Khama’s views on many big continental issues differ from Mugabe’s, and there has been open friction between the two at summits in the past year.
The most recent was in April, when Khama was reported to have stood by President Jacob Zuma on migration, saying that African countries should ensure that they were well governed so that their citizens would not be forced to leave for neighbouring countries. South Africa and Botswana both experience a regular influx of Zimbabweans, who are either trying to escape Mugabe’s rule or find work.
At the summit in August last year, where Mugabe assumed the position of SADC chair, he accused South Africa of being an economic bully in the region. At the same summit, Khama arrived late and left early. Journalists from Botswana said this was to avoid being in the same group photo as Mugabe.
Botswana is also the only country in the AU to openly differ with the continental body’s stance on the International Criminal Court. Mugabe used his platform as AU chair in June to speak out strongly against the court.
In May, Mugabe visited Botswana, ostensibly to pay a visit to the SADC headquarters to see how the administration worked – the first SADC chair so far to do so – but he also met with Khama in an apparent attempt to patch things up.
“Just now I made a courtesy call with my good friend and counterpart, who was kind enough to provide a sumptuous lunch. It’s African hospitality. There are no quarrels,” Mugabe said after the visit.
Botswana ranks high in development indices and is regarded as one of the best governed countries in Africa. It is one of the few countries that has escaped the “resource curse”, and profits from its large diamond industry are distributed as welfare grants.
But Khama’s critics say he has an authoritarian streak. The retired army general was re-elected for another five-year term last year, but not before jailing a journalist for publishing an article he said was criminally inaccurate and defamatory.
Economic Freedom Fighters leader Julius Malema has also been refused entry into the country because of his support for regime change in Botswana. Malema has accused Khama of pandering to the West.
The heads of the SADC’s 15 member states are expected to arrive in Gaborone today, with the exception of Malawi’s President Peter Mutharika, whose aides said he had to attend to an economic crisis and “other pressing issues” at home.
One of the most pressing issues on the agenda will be the security crisis in Lesotho, which was exacerbated by the assassination of former defence force commander Lieutenant General Maaparankoe Mahao. Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, an SADC-appointed mediator in Lesotho, recommended an independent commission of inquiry into his death.
The two-day SADC summit is set to start tomorrow.
President Robert Mugabe