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Interrogating Sadc’s policy choices

THE strategic review of the Southern African People’s Solidarity Network (SAPSN)’s 2006-2010 term questioned and applauded policy choices of the governments in the Sadc region on social and economic justice issues.

The meeting also marked the official transfer of the SAPSN secretariat from Zimcod in Zimbabwe to Malawi Economic Justice Network in Lilongwe

Lesotho got both an applause and a slap on the face.

Malawi’s President Bingu Wa Mutharika was commended for demonstrating ideological appreciation of the roots of poverty and the asymmetrical power balance between the rich and the poor countries.

His brave decision to depart from the neo-liberal development blue-print of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank which perpetuates hunger and poverty in the region by heavily subsidising agriculture earned him favour among the poor. 

Malawi, which not so long ago was a reflection of African poverty and hunger, has at least in the past three years registered a food surplus. 

 This decision is in line with the commitment Sadc countries, including Lesotho, made in Maputo in 2001 that they will increase their respective budgetary allocations to food production by 10 percent.

Perhaps for Basotho what is interesting is that the newly appointed Minister of Agriculture and Food Security Ralechate ‘Mokose has also recognised this as important and is now in talks with Malawian counterparts to exchange notes. 

The Malawian president seemed to have made a name within the social movement fraternity again by refusing to succumb to the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) pushed down the throats of Africans by the European Union assisted by other governments in Africa.

Lesotho together with Botswana and Swaziland were rebuked for their decision to sign the Interim Economic Partnership Agreement because they did so without seeking consensus from the Southern African Customs Union (Sacu), the very economic bloc that has sustained their budgets for decades.

Lesotho could have opted to go the All But Arms (ABA) arrangement to access the EU market without becoming a thorn in the flesh in the Sacu which is a source of valuable revenue.

While the South African government’s current position on EPAs was applauded, it was challenged for its hegemonic stature in the region which it could use to advance the interests of others instead of self preservation.  

Namibian’s decision not to sign the interim Economic Partnership Agreements is precisely one that Sadc countries should be encouraged to take. 

What was apparent was that the governments that had time to consult local civil society groups took positions that were closer to the interests of their nation. 

The government of Lesotho does not lose any part of its authority by seeking civil society views before deciding on issues where other sectors of society have interests. 

It should have consulted before rushing to commit itself to a project that affects the people.

The principles of democracy that our government purports to respect dictate that.

The enthusiasm of civil society in the issues of governance should be taken to mean an opportunity for strengthening democracy.

By listening to alternative voices the government is able to deliver policies that bring value to the people who voted it into office.

This is what it means to be called a government of the people for the people.

On a different note, the social movements commended the government of Lesotho’s stance on freedom of expression. 

The government of Lesotho was applauded for its openness to allow the People’s Summit to march and present a petition to the Sadc Summit held in Maseru in 2006.

Notable in the event has been the outstanding friendly approach of the Lesotho Mounted Police Service during the demonstration.

“The police commander marshalling on the day demonstrated what policing means. He was so friendly some of us could not think of police behaving like that in our countries…” said Patricia Kasumuru, the co-ordinator of SAPSN.

The officer responsible for that occasion Sepinare Masupha sent a very strong message  to the region on how democracy should run.

 In other Sadc countries marchers and protesters are whipped, violently dispersed and sometimes shot by the police.

In Zambia, for example, authorities made it difficult for social movements to meet Sadc heads while the police issued threats to civil society groups who wanted to march in Namibia last year. 

The Police did that regardless of a permit which had been issued earlier.

What earned the Lesotho government more points was similar friendly police attitude when the civil society groups gathered in Maseru for the SAPSN Tent under the Southern African Social Forum marched to Parliament to present a petition calling for broad consultations on the Land Bill. 

The civil society also commended the deference of the Bill for further consultations by the portfolio committee although with some reservations.

?Sofonea Shale is a civil society activist in Lesotho. You can reach him at shalesofonea@yahoo.com.

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