MAPUTO — Fighting in the Democratic Republic of Congo and a political standoff in Madagascar topped the agenda of an annual summit of southern African leaders which opened Friday.
Leaders from the 15-nation Southern African Development Community (SADC) started two days of talks — but the president of regional powerhouse South Africa, Jacob Zuma, was forced to pull out and return home, where a labour dispute at a platinum mine turned deadly and claimed 34 lives.
“We are concerned by the situation in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo and give our support to re-establishing peace in this member of SADC,” Mozambican leader, Armando Guebuza, told the gathering.
A quarter of a million people have fled the eastern DRC since April when a rebel group calling itself the M23 took up arms against government troops.
Guebuza also said there was a need for mutual trust between Madagascar’s strongman Andry Rajoelina and the man he toppled in 2009, Marc Ravalomanana.
SADC is pushing Rajoelina and Ravalomanana to follow through on a political roadmap meant to steer the island nation toward elections.
But a key stumbling block toward polls has been Ravalomanana’s return from exile in South Africa.
Rajoelina has consistently refused him entry.
Ravalomanan has been convicted in absentia over the deaths of 36 protesters at the hands of his presidential guard.
That conviction, Rajoelina says, should bar Ravalomanana from standing in the next elections.
“What can we do to help them achieve consensus? Let’s continue to value and promote dialogue as a mechanism to move this process forward,” said Guebuza.
The regional bloc will also have to confront a brewing border conflict between Malawi and Tanzania during the talks, scheduled to end Saturday in the Mozambican capital Maputo.
The border dispute erupted after Malawi last year issued an oil exploration licence to British firm Surestream Petroleum to prospect for hydrocarbons in Lake Malawi, which the two countries share.
Tanzania wants Malawi to halt the exploration to allow for talks to resolve the dispute.
“We re-affirm our support for achieving a solution in resolving the differences between Tanzania and Malawi,” Guebuza.
The serious political issues dogging the region are likely to eclipse the official focus of the summit which is a $500-million proposal to develop roads and railways linking inland nations to key ports.