Southern African leaders open talks amid unrest, crises

17th August 2011, Comments 0 comments

Southern African leaders opened a summit in Angola Wednesday under pressure to address growing regional unrest and anti-government protests, and leadership crises in Zimbabwe and Madagascar.

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) summit would allow the group's 15 nations to "enhance our regional cooperation and integration," Angolan President Jose dos Santos said in written welcome message.

It would also allow countries to "harmonise our positions regarding key current affairs issues that may affect the peace and stability necessary to ensure sustainable development and the consolidation of democracy," he said.

The southern African region is troubled by spreading unrest with violent crackdowns on anti-government protests in Malawi and Swaziland.

Zimbabwe and Madagascar are other regional troublespots, with their protracted leadership crises featuring high on summit agendas in recent years.

In Malawi 19 people were killed last month when security forces used live ammunition to put down demonstrations against President Bingu wa Mutharika, accused of becoming increasingly autocratic as the economy spirals downwards.

Swaziland's King Mswati III, Africa's last absolute monarch, also faces growing anti-government sentiment. The tiny kingdom erupted in protest in April over proposals to slash government workers' salaries amid a financial crisis.

The leaders are also expected to discuss Zimbabwe as President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai bicker over new elections, with Mugabe insisting on polls this year, with or without a new constitution.

Another headache for SADC is Madagascar, which was suspended from the grouping in 2009 after former president Marc Ravalomanana was ousted by Andry Rajoelina, then mayor of the capital, Antananarivo.

Regional mediators have yet to find a solution to the impasse.

© 2011 AFP

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