By Moses Magadza
KINSHASA, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO – A symposium held shortly after the official opening of the 52nd Plenary Assembly Session of the SADC Parliamentary Forum had the theme: “The role of parliaments in strengthening legislative frameworks for peace and security in the SADC region”.
It enabled delegates to discuss threats to regional peace and security such as the ongoing instability in parts of the DRC and what the region’s national parliaments can do to address the challenge.
Honourable Gilbert Khurenga Kabanda, Minister of National Defence and Veterans in the Government of DRC, chaired the symposium.
The Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, Mr Didier Mazenga Mukanzu, Honourable Nadine Mgabu, a Member of Parliament in DRC and Dr Eugene Kongnyuy, UNFPA Representative to the DRC, were panellists during the symposium.
Mukanzu commended the SADC region for putting in place a raft of Treaties, Conventions, Policies and Agreements to safeguard peace and security and for embracing similar international instruments but lamented lack of effective implementation.
He said the various instruments in place were meant to entrench the region’s long-established values that include solidarity, collaboration at different levels, respect for sovereignty and mutual respect.
“No development will be possible without these values and we cannot pursue our common goals without peace and stability,” the Minister said.
He said the many bilateral, multilateral and universal treaties and policies that are already in place provide an entry point for the region’s Members of Parliament to play an active role in nurturing peace and stability.
“Conflicts cause victims among civilians and the military. Diseases become prevalent. Crime becomes rampant. Populations are endangered and human rights are violated on a daily basis. Food becomes scarce. Unemployment rises. People lose livelihoods as infrastructure and economic activities are disrupted. This is what we are witnessing in the eastern part of the DRC,” he said.
Mukanzu stressed that the SADC Treaty was the foundation upon which the SADC region was built and encouraged all citizens to familiarise themselves with it. He said Article 5 and 6 of the Treaty allowed any Member State that felt threatened by another to seek the region’s collective action to remove the threat.
He cited the example of Mozambique, where a fund had been created and troops from different countries deployed to respond to attacks by insurgents. He recalled, also, that the DRC had been assisted by troops from Zimbabwe, Namibia and Angola.
He implored the region’s National Parliaments to help the DRC as it seeks ways of ending instability in the north of the country, arguing that the SADC region’s peace and development was in jeopardy.
Kabanda, the Defence and Veterans Affairs Minister called on national parliaments to ensure that their defence forces were adequately funded through the national budget. He said in recent years, the National Assembly of the DRC had passed and ratified laws to better support the country’s defence forces. Consequently, he said, the DRC was ready to contribute military medical personnel to help Mozambique deal with insurgency.
He expected the DRC National Assembly to further increase support to the defence sector. He called on SADC MPs to explore ways of strengthening the region’s defence industries to promote self-sustenance in the sector.
“It is necessary to prepare the SADC forces to be able to respond to natural disasters just as our armed forces did when there was a volcanic eruption in the eastern part of our country. They were able to put up shelter for the victims and put a hospital in the affected area,” he said.
Turning to environmental issues, he suggested that SADC countries involve their military forces in efforts to plant trees and combat deforestation and desertification. Equally important was to build a SADC military force is proactive and could be deployed to hotspots to protect the territorial integrity of besieged Member States at short notice.
“It was thanks to the intervention of SADC that the DRC was able to preserve its territorial integrity after the aggression of August 1998 and August 2013. However, we have over the past five years, noted that there has been a lethargic leadership when it comes to issues of defence and security, particularly when it comes to my country,” he said.
DRC MP Nadine said the National Assembly of the DRC was using its law making and oversight mandate to support peace and security initiatives nationally and regionally while strengthening democracy.
Kongnyuy focused on the importance of young people in peace and security and what UNFPA has been doing in this regard in the DRC and the SADC region. He urged SADC PF Member Parliaments to establish parliamentary think tanks to identify and remove barriers to young people’s active involvement in initiatives to bring about peace and security.
He also urged National Parliaments to consider quotas to promote young people’s participation in politics, increase access to voluntary family planning services and education.
“Rapid population growth is both an opportunity as well as a risk. When it is not well managed it can lead to issues that breed insecurity such as violence and crime,” he warned.
In an ensuing debate, delegates agreed on the need for the region’s national parliaments to unite and rally behind efforts to promote peace and security throughout the region including the DRC.
The Speaker of the National Assembly of Namibia and host of the SADC PF Secretariat, Professor Peter Katjavivi, stressed that development could not take place in an environment plagued by instability.
“It is a well-established fact that instability and economic development are negatively correlated. Those of us who are familiar with Institutional Economic Theory or simply, Political Economy, would agree with me that high instability culminates in low economic development,” Katjavivi said.
He added: “High instability breeds low democracy, with devastating ripple effects including low life expectancy; high levels of malnutrition; high food insecurity; increased gender based violence; poverty; and poor health outcomes as some citizens might fail to access quality health care.”
He said the fact that many of the approximately 2, 2 billion people all over the world living under extreme poverty in which they access less than USD1, 20 per day were in Africa should jolt SADC MPs into action.
“Parliaments are collectively being challenged to rise to the occasion to address the core issues that affect us individually and collectively when it relates to peace and security. As the saying goes, an injury to one is an injury to all,” he said.
Turning to the DRC, Katjavivi said the country had for too long been “under constant threat of instability” due to domestic and external threats and SADC PF should pronounce support “to the Parliament and the People of DRC in their efforts to resist these threats, and to strengthen their capacity in order to preserve peace, stability, security and national sovereignty”.
The Speaker of the Parliament of Zimbabwe, Advocate Jacob Francis Mudenda reminded delegates of the 1992 SADC Declaration and Treaty highlights that states that “war and insecurity are the enemy of economic progress and social welfare” as well as Aspiration 4 of the African Union (AU) Agenda 2063 which calls for “a peaceful and secure Africa”.
In remarks made on his behalf by Zimbabwean lawmaker Honourable Anele Ndebele, Mudenda explained the role of the United Nations in maintaining international peace and security and cited several conventions crafted in that regard.
He urged SADC countries to ratify security related protocols and domesticate them to strengthen their legislative frameworks for peace and security in the region.
He advocated for the implementation of the Strategic Indicative Plan for the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation (SIPO) to strengthen and deepen of cooperation in the areas of politics, defence and security within SADC.
He contended that doing so would enable SADC counties to combat “terrorist and banditry within the SADC region put in place security mechanisms that will enable SADC to effectively deal with the M23 terrorist group marauding in the Eastern part of this country … resulting in economic meltdown of this part of the region”.
Mudenda called on SADC to put in place measures “to fight banditry in the Cabo Delgado Region, in Northern Mozambique where the mining of gas in that region is being disturbed by that terrorist group” and to assist fellow African Union countries experiencing terrorist attacks.