SADC: The Organ for Politics, Defense and Security


The Southern African Development Community (SADC) is an inter-governmental organization that aims to further socio-economic cooperation and integration as well as political and security cooperation among fifteen Southern African states. The regional bloc has its headquarters in Gaborone, Botswana. It complements the role of the African Union.

The SADC Organ for Politics, Defense and Security was launched in June 1996 as a formal institution of SADC with a mandate to support the achievement and maintenance of security and the rule of law in the SADC region. The SADC Treaty and the Strategic Indicative Plan for the Organ (SIPO II) are the key documents that guide the activities of the Organ.

The Organ affirms cooperation between SADC states in the areas of Defense, Crime Prevention, Intelligence, Peacekeeping, Conflict Management and Human Rights. Furthermore, “the Organ is mandated to deal with inter and intra-state conflicts and can use means such as preventative diplomacy, negotiations, conciliation, mediation, arbitration and as a means of last resort – force.”

Regional Conflicts in Africa

Article 53.1 of Chapter VIII of the United Nations (UN) Security Charter reads, “The Security Council shall, where appropriate, utilize such regional arrangements or agencies for enforcement actions under its authorities.”

Article 52.2 of the same charter articulates that regional conflicts and disputes should be initially undertaken by regional UN members, and that these members “shall make every effort to achieve pacific settlements of local disputes through such regional arrangements or by such regional agencies before referring them to the Security Council.”

Simply put, when a conflict arises in a region, before the UN intervenes, it looks to the relevant regional body to resolve the matter, and where there is no regional bloc, it looks to UN members within that region.

Now, regrettably, in recent times various regions in Africa have relapsed into conflict zones. Several of these conflicts have resulted in the direct intervention of foreign forces.

France, for instance, has 1,700 troops in Mali (a former French colony) and intends to send more troops into Mali, Chad and Niger as part of a regional ‘counter-terrorism’ operation. This is in spite of the existence of the regional body in the form of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

Apart from Mali, there are ongoing conflicts in the Central African Republic, Kenya, Nigeria, Somalia, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Closer to home, the resurgence of the RENAMO threat in Mozambique remains a matter of concern.

In light of a currently dark and concurrently conflicted continent, it is important that SADC should strive to strengthen its security synergy.

Remembering that the theme for this year’s SADC summit is “SADC Strategy for Economic Transformation: Leveraging the Region’s Diverse Resources for Sustainable Economic and Social Development” it is key to note that there can be no sustainable economic development where conflict persists. It is therefore essential to strengthen SADC’s main mechanism for conflict resolution:

The Strategic Indicative Plan for the Organ on Politics, Defense and Security Co-operation (SIPO II)

The Strategic Indicative Plan for the Organ on Politics, Defense and Security Co-operation (SIPO II) is a five-year strategic document that establishes SADC`s institutional framework for policy coordination and implementation in politics, defense and security. It was initially developed in 2003, and modified at a SADC summit in 2012.

Since 2004, SIPO II achieved the following:
•The facilitation of defense and security cooperation among SADC countries
•A commitment towards collective self-defense via the SADC Mutual Defense Pact
•The launch and operationalisation of the SADC Standby Force
•The promotion of regional police cooperation to enhance the fight against organized crime and cross-border illegal activities, through the integration of the Southern African Regional Police Chiefs Cooperation Organization into the Inter-State Defense and Security Committee
•The establishment of the Regional Early Warning Centre, tasked with the anticipation, prevention and management of conflicts
•The establishment of the SADC Electoral Advisory Council and the Mediation unit, tasked with dealing with the political governance and the observation of elections.

However, some researchers in the region have critiqued SIPO II and labeled it an under-funded and legally non-binding document that is rich in rhetoric.

Yet, when one looks at the current conflicts around Africa, especially in the ECOWAS region, and at how those nation states have had to rely on foreign troops to resolve military threats, one arguably sees the benefit of SADC’s defense cooperation. Presently, SADC is arguably Africa’s most peaceful regional bloc.

For example, Nigeria recently overtook South Africa as Africa’s economic leader. However, it was unfortunate to observe that when Boko Haram abducted 234 schoolgirls from the state of Borno, a member of Nigeria’s House of Representatives’ committee on defense, Eziuche Uban, immediately pronounced, “Nigeria should seek international help,” because “the Nigerian armed forces are not in a position to defeat the insurgency in the northeast.” One wonders why ECOWAS could not help.

Ultimately, while it is true that the SADC region needs to focus on its economic development, the tragic mall bombings in East Africa and the schoolgirl abductions in West Africa bring to light the need to augment our regional security cooperation and integration at the August 2014 SADC summit.

Tau Tawengwa
Executive Director


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