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Institute for Security Studies (ISS)

The SADC Organ: Challenges in the new millennium

ISS Paper 114

Lt Gen. L.M. Fisher & Dr N. Ngoma

Institute for Security Studies (ISS)

August 2005

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In the mid-1990s, the single most topical issue to occupy the security discourse on Southern Africa was the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Organ for Politics, Defence and Security, usually simply referred to as the SADC Organ. The institution, which is sometimes called by its acronym OPDS, was at times incorrectly associated with its first Chairperson – President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe – and almost impishly referred to as the ‘Mugabe Organ’.1 Not only were there assumed to be major differences between President Robert Mugabe and President Nelson Mandela of South Africa (then the Chairperson of the SADC) over the relationship between the SADC Organ and SADC itself, but also an unproven claim that Mugabe was ‘jealous’ because he had been ‘eclipsed’ by Mandela’s everincreasing profile in regional and world politics.2 Such was the discourse of the time, reflecting the prevailing political undercurrents. Although it is not the aim of this paper to dwell on the debates of that time, it is nevertheless necessary to parry such erroneous deductions about the relationship between the two leaders, while acknowledging the existence of some differences over how best to place the SADC Organ within the regional dynamics.3

The extent to which these dynamics were an actual reflection of inter-governmental relations beyond legitimate differences of opinion, as is characteristic in any democracy, is a matter that can only be a subject of speculation – and there is a thin line between speculation and deceit. What is nevertheless fairly evident is that to a number of researchers, academics and representatives from the media – the differences between the states were undoubtedly real and a matter of great concern.4

From its beginning, arguments surfaced about what the SADC Organ’s role should be; its composition; and most critically, how it should relate to national, regional and international dimensions.5 The extent to which this has continued to feature in the development of the SADC Organ is of practical significance to its development. However, of greater significance is how the operationalisation of the SADC Organ since its creation in 19966 and its formalisation in 20017 has evolved. Hence, the focus of this paper is on the operational challenges facing the SADC Organ in the immediate future.

Analysis of the challenges facing the SADC Organ necessarily requires a focus on factors that may affect its ability to fulfil its mission of upholding peace and security in the SADC region. The scrutiny commences with a critical review of the history of the SADC Organ that focuses on the extent to which its principles and objectives meet the challenges of the time. Related to this is the manner in which the goals of the SADC Organ are being achieved through post-2001 structural arrangements following the finalisation of the Protocol on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation, the Strategic Indicative Plan of the Organ (SIPO), and the Mutual Defence Pact. Of particular concern is the measurement of achievements as well as the general expectations of the role being played by SADC Organ Chairpersons. An area of concern is the extent to which the SADC Secretariat plays a role as the hub of the regional grouping. In this regard, its role will be examined in terms of the Secretariat’s and limitations in delivery support. Similarly, attention will be given to the actual role of the SADC states in terms of their capacity to fulfil regional objectives and comply with Summit decisions. The paper also seeks to interrogate the extent to which budgetary concerns at the regional and state level mesh with the political will of the leaders in the sub-region. The authors conclude by placing the entire regional security agenda under the microscope by questioning its efficacy in an international environment that appears to favour the will of militarily and economically stronger states.

  1. The reference to the regional institution in this manner was apparently a desire to signify President Mugabe’s presumed dominance of the SADC Organ. The authors do not hold this view, as there is ample evidence to show close-knit collaboration during his Chairpersonship of the SADC Organ. See Christof Maletsky, “Regional defence organ wrested from Mugabe”, The Namibian, 12 March 2001; “Mandela, Mugabe in dispute”, Dispatch Online, September, 11, 1997; and Naison Ngoma (2004) Ph.D. thesis.

  2. There have been several articles and commentaries on the presumed differences between President Mugabe and President Mandela. See Gary Younder, “Comrade Bob”, Guardian Unlimited, September 4, 2001; James Barber, “The New South Africa’s International Relations”, United Kingdom Parliament,

  3. See “Mini Summit Supports Intervention in Congo”, September 3, 1998,

  4. See Mark Malan, “Regional Power Politics Under Cover of SADC: Running Amok with a Mythical Organ”, ISS Occasional Paper, 19, 1998; Walter Tapfumaneyi, “Regional Security Cooperation in Southern Africa: A View from Zimbabwe”, Global Dialogue, 4 (2), August 1999.

  5. The SADC Organ handled and continues to be involved in issues of politics, defence and security, thereby exhibiting the macro dimension of matters of the states at both the singular and plural levels.

  6. The activities of the SADC Organ can be traced to the much earlier period of the Frontline States (FLS), during which the Inter-State Defence and Security Committee (ISDSC) closely interacted with the states of the then ‘black bloc’. For a more elaborate analysis of the ‘black bloc, see Ngoma (2003 and 2004) and W. Breytenbach, (1995). “Conflict in Southern Africa: From Frontline State to Collective Security”, The Arusha Paper, 2.

  7. See the Extra-Ordinary Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), Windhoek, Namibia, 9 March 2001,; SADC Summit Final Communiquй, Blantyre, Malawi, 14 August 2001; Munetsi Madakufamba, “Blantyre Summit’s Quiet Endorsement of Restructuring Misses Media Attention”, Southern African News Features, no. 15, August 2001.

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