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Southern Africa sees erosion of democracy: civil groups

Southern Africa is facing an “erosion of democracy” caused in part by a failure of regional leaders to live up to their own agreements on the rule of law, civil society groups warned Wednesday.

The 15-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) is faced with a growing number of regional “problem cases” and must enforce its own commitments on human rights and democracy at a summit next week in Angola, said a coalition of religious groups, unions and non-profit organisations.

“We note with deep concern the deteriorating political situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Malawi, Swaziland and Zimbabwe,” Malcolm Damon, head of the Fellowship of Christian Councils in Southern Africa, told journalists in Johannesburg.

He said all five countries were plagued by “continued harassment and killings of human rights defenders, denial of citizens’ right to participate in the political process, violence… as well as increasing human insecurity.”

He called for “urgent attention” from the region’s heads of state.

SADC leaders have been struggling for almost three years to resolve the crisis in Zimbabwe touched off by violent and disputed elections in 2008, which led to the creation of an uneasy power-sharing government between long-time President Robert Mugabe and his rival Morgan Tsvangirai.

They have also failed so far to resolve the stand-off in Madagascar sparked by former president Marc Ravalomanana’s military-backed ouster in 2009, as well as persistent violence, mass rape, hunger and disease in the conflict-plagued Democratic Republic of Congo.

The regional bloc’s August 17-18 summit in Luanda will also be faced with new melt-downs in Malawi — where security forces violently put down a wave of anti-government protests last month, leaving 19 dead — and Swaziland, which has seen mounting protests against King Mswati III, Africa’s last absolute monarch.

Damon criticised a “lack of progress” in the SADC’s mediation efforts, and called on leaders to “review the SADC conflict resolution mechanisms to make them more effective.”

The head of the SADC Council of Non-Governmental Organisations, a coalition of non-profit groups, also criticised regional leaders for failing to enforce their own policies on protecting democracy in the region.

“We need to develop a mechanism that will ensure that SADC enforces its policies to manage these kinds of issues,” Boichoko Ditlhake said.

“Some member states are always choosing when to be part of SADC and when not to comply, hiding behind the concept of sovereignty.”