One-on-one with Ngurare on SADC

SADC leaders meet in Windhoek Namibia on August 16 and 17 for their 30th Annual Summit where they discussed critical issues effecting the Southern African Region. New Era’s Toivo Ndjebela spoke to think-tank and Swapo Party Youth League (SPYL) leader, Dr Elijah Ngurare, after the Summit to hear his views. Below we reproduce the full interview: New Era (NE): SADC turned 30 years last week, a milestone in the sense that it was not a fly-by-night regional body, but an organisation that survived turbulent political and economic hurdles. What has been the highlights, in terms of achievements, of SADC in its 30 years of existence? Elijah Ngurare (EN): I think the achievements of SADC include the manifestation of independence, peace, political stability and the adoption of the SADC Treaty, together with various protocols. Above all, the founding fathers of SADC need to be praised and congratulated for their steadfastness in the fight for the total emancipation of our sub-region, with Namibia and South Africa being the last colonies to be free. Thanks to them, SADC is politically free forever. NE: How do you rate SADC with other regional bodies in Africa, such as ECOWAS and the East Africa Community (EAC) in terms of regional integration, maintenance of social stability, trade and economic growth? EN: It is hard to factually rate SADC in comparison to other regional economic communities (RECs) such as ECOWAS and EAC in the areas you have mentioned. Suffice to say that the RECs, in general, trace their origin to African leaders’ recognition that cooperation and integration among African countries in the economic, social and cultural fields are indispensable to the accelerated transformation and sustained development of the African continent. Rightly so, our sub-region is socially stable but it is debatable whether significant strides are being made in the areas of regional integration, trade and economic growth within and amongst ourselves. I believe that we still have challenges to overcome. NE: What has been SADC’s biggest failure so far? EN: I would not use the word ‘failure’ but ‘challenge’. Our challenges include poverty, unemployment, the HIV/AIDS pandemic, access to free education, ignorance including in particular the areas of infrastructure development and extending access to water, electricity and other amenities to rural SADC and poor urban areas. I would also regard it as a challenge that, on the one hand, we appear to advocate for regional integration as sovereign countries and denouncing the West. On the other hand, we are reliant on the West for aid and other assistance. It is a challenge that our region is amassed with natural resources yet its people are poor. I should think that we could in the interest of regional integration unite and pool our resources as a bloc such as OPEC, but for each mineral like uranium, gold, coltan, etc. Further, the inability to implement many progressive protocols is a challenge which must be overcome urgently. Once this is done, I believe that way, our people, especially the youth, will identify with the goals and objectives of SADC. NE: A Zimbabwean academic, Professor John Makumbe, recently described SADC as a ‘club of the ruling elite’. What’s your take on that assertion? EN: Professor John Makumbe is older than me and is an elder of the SADC region. I would not like to sound disrespectful to him, thus may he allow me to say the following. In my experience as a student in the West, I have come to realise that professors, scientists, doctors and all the cream of academics in the western world complement the efforts of their governments. Even the atomic bomb was developed by western academics in support of their governments. A great number of think tanks and research centres in the West are supported by their academics in support of their governments. However, it is my observation that in Africa, unfortunately the picture is different. Academics like our learned Professor Makumbe in Zimbabwe and my uncle Professor Diescho in Namibia appear to become critics of their own governments. The same could be true for other academics in other African countries. I hope a discussion will ensue on this issue as to why this is the case. It is my view that our academics such as professors Makumbe and Diescho have a role to play in SADC’s regional integration as opposed to seemingly being critical in the lenses of imperialists. You are and will die an African, not a European. I would plead therefore that our leaders at SADC level (presidents) should also make it easier to absorb our academics in the governing fabric and not repel them unnecessarily. NE: What Professor Makumbe meant was that SADC is led mostly by leaders whose friendships span from the days of liberation struggles and as such, according to him, such leaders are not likely to take strong positions against each other on matters of complying with SADC rules. What’s your view on this? EN: Again, as indicated earlier, it does not take a rocket scientist to discern what/whom the good professor is referring to here: Zimbabwe’s Cde Robert Mugabe. In my opinion, the fact that our leaders have been friends for a long time does not erase from our minds the knowledge that it is they who spearheaded the liberation struggle of our respective countries. We have seen the same friendship in recent years which led former Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain to stand in solidarity with former President George Bush of the USA in their illegal and genocidal invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. Ironically, this is the same Britain and USA that want SADC leaders to condemn Zimbabwe on their (USA and UK’s) behalf. Thus, I differ with the good professor’s assertions, because the only SADC rule being referred to here is the SADC Tribunal ruling in favour of white farmers from Zimbabwe who in all likelihood are supporters of the western-backed MDC-T as an agent for regime change doctrine. Why, by the way, are African academics like Professor Makumbe mute on the illegal invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan by the USA and UK? NE: The 30th SADC Summit ended in Windhoek last week. What, in your view, were the highlights of the Windhoek Summit? EN: The fact that it was held in a free and independent Namibia and to see the Founding President of the Republic of Namibia, Dr Sam Nujoma, lining up alongside other former presidents being honoured by SADC. I also think that the excellent professionalism displayed by the Namibian Police in providing maximum security to all heads of state of SADC, whilst they were here in Windhoek, is highly commendable. The tears of the elders on that Summit must be a reminder to the current and future generations of SADC inhabitants to guard jealously our sovereignty and independence. The speech of Comrade R. G. Mugabe will go down as the greatest lecture of our time. The youth will do well to read and re-read it over and over again. NE: Did the Summit prove wrong critics who said it would be an event where leaders would spend time shaking hands instead of discussing matters of regional importance? EN: I would take the view that not all criticism is bad. Where there is constructive criticism, it would be hoped that our leaders must embrace the constructive criticism that seeks to cement the regional integration agenda. For instance, it is a fact that many times, our leaders take decisions and do not have them implemented. If the decisions of this 2010 Summit are not implemented 12 months later, surely the critics would have been vindicated. I would like to respectfully make another point. There needs to be clarity in the SADC community on the issues we want to see integration on. It is generally agreed that we need unity in SADC and Africa. But this must be genuine and practical unity. For example, a SADC country that is not united on its own cannot seek unity from beyond its borders. In other words, the SADC Treaty must be implemented in our countries honestly and transparently. It is an open secret that in some of our countries, we receive instructions from the West and upon that basis, some of our leaders rule. In other countries, even the national budgets are subsidised from Europe. In some countries, bribery and corruption appear to be part of governance, while in others the person entering State House ensures that his whole family or tribe takes over all strategic positions in government. As such, appointments to certain positions are made on a tribal basis and in the army only family members compose the top brass. In other SADC countries the presidents selectively decide on those they would protect and defend at all material times, perhaps on tribal and economic grounds too. To prove the critics wrong, SADC presidents must actualise the 1980 Lusaka Declaration towards “Economic Liberation” and hopefully in our lifetime. Thus, for these summits to be meaningful, we would like to see a SADC Protocol on Economic Empowerment and Development coordinating the aspirations of black economic empowerment in member states. This to me is where the bulk of the criticism should descend from in the hope that SADC’s agenda should benefit ordinary peasants, students, clergies, workers, etc. NE: Would you describe SADC as truly a people’s organisation, or is it just an organisation belonging to Southern African leaders? EN: In addition to the preceding comments, I would like to answer your question this way. Each SADC president is elected by the people of the respective SADC country. In that regard, SADC is a people’s organisation. On the other hand, it would be advisable for SADC to create institutions that seek to involve the ordinary people of the region along the lines of ECOWAS, which has deliberately created a parliament and specialised organs representing women and youth. I think that way it could become a people-centred organisation. The SADC Treaty makes such provision under Article 16A. It should be expected that it will be implemented fully by establishing vibrant SADC national committees representing all stakeholders in SADC. NE: Our own Head of State, President Hifikepunye Pohamba, took over last week as chairman of SADC. What are the challenges that his 12-month reign faces? EN: Once again, I wish to congratulate His Excellency Comrade Hifikepunye Pohamba for taking over the chairmanship of SADC. The challenges of regional integration, hunger, poverty, unemployment and implementation of SADC protocols would remain on his agenda. On this note, let me also herewith express my thanks to him for the opportunity availed me to learn the operations of SADC. Towards the end of 2005 and the beginning of 2006 respectively, Namibia was chair of the Organ of Defence, Peace and Security of SADC when Tanzania and the DRC held their presidential elections. His Excellency delegated the late Comrade John Pandeni to lead the SADC Election Observer Mission to Tanzania and the DRC respectively. On the directive of His Excellency, I was made part and parcel of that delegation. Through this process I learned how SADC institutions operate, namely, that the country holding the chairmanship of SADC cannot succeed without the support of the Troika and other institutions of SADC. Thus from this vantage point, I am confident that in the next 12 months I foresee an experienced Namibia taking over and addressing the challenges of SADC as outlined above. Moreover, in my opinion, the best way for Namibia to make its mark during its tenure is to share the country’s successes and achievements during the past 20 years of our independence with other member states in the maintenance of peace and the implementation of infrastructural development in the sub-region. Above all, Namibians should stand together with our President for him to succeed in this noble assignment. NE: Is President Pohamba’s chairmanship of any importance to Namibia in particular? EN: The answer is yes. I hope that President Pohamba will use his tenure of office to demonstrate leadership on SADC regional integration in a number of areas, particularly the full implementation of the SADC Treaty and all adopted protocols. The regional integration efforts must be stepped up especially in the area of education, training, information technology and cultural exchanges and cooperation. The agents of regime change have on their menu the cooption of the youth through various means, particularly cultural imperialism. A practical effort must be made, during our tenure as chairperson of SADC, to urge all SADC member states to use all public broadcasters or state newspapers to support the regional integration agenda. NE: Our neighbours, Zimbabwe, have been at the receiving end of criticism for their refusal to implement an order of the SADC Tribunal regarding 79 white farmers whose farms were expropriated. How challenging is this matter to President Pohamba as new SADC chairman? EN: The liberation struggle was about land and our leaders must be advised to tread carefully hereon. So far, SADC leaders have stood firm against the western fantasies of regime change as planned by Britain and the USA. It is thus my opinion that our SADC leaders should be careful, because the SADC Tribunal ruling is influenced from the West and dramatised by the western press regularly. Why are these external forces (UK and USA) not dramatising the fact that our people are poor amidst abundant natural resources? Why not make prominent headlines about how much their multinational companies are benefiting from each SADC country? How about making headlines about the need to ensure that every SADC youth has access to education (free education); how about making headlines about provision of water (free water), sanitation, roads, hospitals, electricity and telecommunications to the majority of our people in the SADC region? This to me is more important instead of selectively focusing on an issue that is generally a non-issue. In this respect, I respectfully disagree with some of SADC leaders who often tend to be used as spokespersons for Britain and America. NE: As a youth leader, are you satisfied with the manner and pace at which SADC addresses youth issues? EN: I am not and we are not fully satisfied. We are however keenly aware that in the 1980s when the idea of SADC was born, our leaders were living in a sub-region that was not free and the imperialist forces were in control of the landmass of SADC. The infrastructure and technology we enjoy today were absent. They forged a common vision of sacrificing for the political independence of our sub-region. This was done through liberation movements ANC, MPLA, FRELIMO, SWAPO, UNIP, ZANU-PF, CCM, amongst others. Today, most of these liberation movements are still ruling parties. Some leaders of these movements have remained steadfast and unwavering, while others sold out and are now consigned to the dustbin of history. This is the history we know. Presently, I think the issue of youth at SADC level only receives lip-service commitment. We appreciate the adoption of two protocols that are relevant to youth, namely the Protocol on Education and Training, and the Protocol on Information, Culture and Sport, both of which have not been adequately implemented. This mistake will cost our sub-region dearly, so hopefully the leadership realises that it is not in anyone’s interest to ignore the voices and demands of the youth for genuine representation at SADC level. I am aware that at national level a number of SADC member states have established necessary youth institutions. For example, in Namibia we have a Ministry for Youth, the NYC and NYS. But youth institutions are generally and chronically under-funded. It remains our hope that SADC member states would remain supportive of youth programmes and demands as per the African Youth Charter. The above notwithstanding, SADC youth must be vigilant and militant in jealously guarding the gains of our political independence. I believe it is the duty and obligation of SADC youth to champion the path of economic liberation as envisioned by the founding fathers of SADC. I would urge our SADC youth to remain disciplined, hard working and patriotically stubborn in demanding, with their voice, on the street and on paper, that which is meant to build and not destroy SADC, namely, the fight against poverty, unemployment, hunger, ignorance and disease. We must refuse to inherit from anyone the seeds of tribalism, corruption, regionalism, racism, sexism, chauvinism, personality cult or any other retrogressive tendencies. After all, it is nonsensical for the Pope to repeatedly tell the altar boy that he (the Pope) is more catholic than the altar boy. It is common sense, assuming that common sense is common! My final message to the SADC youth is that we must not betray the gains of the revolution or surrender the resources of our sub-region into the hands of imperialists and their agents. We must individually and collectively be the torchbearer of unity, from Cape Town to Lumbumbashi; from Antananarivo to Walvis Bay. It is our patriotic duty to defend the territorial integrity and sovereignty of SADC and vow further that never again shall we allow any portion of our sub-region to be re-colonised. -New Era

August 2010
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