African leaders grappled today with a long-simmering crisis in Zimbabwe and a new humanitarian catastrophe in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
South African President Kgalema Motlanthe opened today’s extraordinary summit of the Southern African Development Community with a call for a ceasefire so humanitarian aid can reach some of the 250,000 people displaced by fighting in eastern DR Congo.
Dr Congo’s east has been engulfed in recent weeks in fighting involving rebels, government soldiers and pro-government militiamen, and even the world’s largest UN peacekeeping contingent has been unable to protect civilians in eastern Congo.
The peacekeepers’ “current mandate limits their ability to become real peacemakers and provide for a lasting solution,” Mr Motlanthe said today.
DR Congolese President Joseph Kabila attended the Johannesburg meeting of the 15-nation regional bloc, with his delegation sitting next to Angola, a neighbour Mr Kabila had asked last week for military help.
When asked by reporters about numerous reports of Angolan forces fighting in DR Congo along with Mr Kabila’s troops, Angolan Foreign Minister Assuncao dos Anjos said only: “No troops.”
A 1998-2002 war in Congo drew in Angola, Zimbabwe and other neighbours. The current violence has roots in the 1994 Rwandan genocide, during which hundreds of thousands of minority Tutsis were slaughtered by Hutu forces. Millions of Hutus fled to eastern Congo.
Today, DR Congo’s army is fighting rebels loyal to Laurent Nkunda, who claims to be protecting Tutsis from militant Rwandan Hutus.
While DR Congo was at the top of the agenda today, Zimbabwe’s crisis has been on the regional bloc’s agenda much longer. A year ago, the bloc appointed former South African President Thabo Mbeki to mediate in the dispute between Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and his political opposition.
After two disputed elections and a wave of state-sponsored political violence against opposition members, Mr Mbeki persuaded the rivals to sign a power-sharing agreement in September. But the agreement has stalled over how to allocate Cabinet posts.
Mr Motlanthe stressed the goal of today’s meeting “will be to resolve the issues before it”.
The Zimbabwean opposition is pressing leaders at the summit to call for a fair division of Cabinet posts in a proposed unity government.
The opposition in particular wants the ministries that control police and finance – posts Mr Mugabe has tried to claim unilaterally for his ZANU-PF party.
Mr Mugabe, in power since independence from Britain in 1980, was to remain president under the power-sharing deal, with opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai as prime minister. With the deal stalled, Zimbabweans are without leadership and facing a catastrophic economic crisis.