Botswana’s President Ian Khama has taken over the chairmanship of Southern African Development Community (SADC) and many expect a radical shift in regional politics.
Khama took over from Zimbabwe’s geriatric leader Robert Mugabe largely viewed as a dictator.
Mugabe has been at the helm of both the regional bloc and the African Union (AU) for the past year. During his tenure the sub-region and the continent saw an upsurge in human rights abuses with Burundi and Lesotho being in the main spotlight.
Zimbabwe’s president has been blamed for doing little to end the Burundi crisis and only making peripheral comments at the last AU summit held in Johannesburg, South Africa.
During his SADC tenure he has mocked leaders who revise constitutions to stay in power, something his opponents allege he has been doing through Presidential Powers Act.
“They say the first term was not a real term. But you were there for five years,” Mugabe was reported to have said.
He also said a five-year term looked like two weeks, a suggestion that opponents believe could have informed his 35 year spell as the leader in Zimbabwe.
Khama’s reign presents a new dynamic in the region largely dominated by liberation parties whose hold on power remains contestable.
Botswana’s President has warned that if the AU summit hosted by South Africa had been held in his country, Sudan’s on the run President Omar al-Bashir would have been handed over to the International Criminal Court .
Rashweat Mukundu, a political analyst, said Khama’s chairmanship presents SADC with a renewed focus on democracy “especially electoral management issues and probably rapprochement with the West”.
Gideon Chitanga, a fellow at the University of Johannesburg’s Centre for Democracy, weighed in saying the agenda on economic transformation will not change, although Khama would want to put his imprint on the regional agenda by focussing on democratic issues.
“We may see during Khama’s tenure the linking of socio-economic transformation to issues of democracy stable democratic governance, rule of law and protection of human rights will attract regional investment and promote economic growth,” he said.