A Southern African Development Community mini-summit in Livingstone, Zambia, took a surprise turn on Thursday as Zambian President Rupiah Banda warned countries in the region including Zimbabwe to heed the lessons of Tunisia and Egypt and implement democratic reforms before they too face mass demonstrations and uprisings.
Banda as host made his remarks in opening the meeting of the SADC troika on security, defense and politics called to examine the current stage of the crisis in Zimbabwe as well as issues in other countries in Africa's southern tier.
"If there is anything that we must learn from the upheavals going on in the northern part of our continent, it is that the the legitimate expectations of the citizens of our countries cannot be taken for granted," President Banda declared.
"We must therefore continue at the SADC level to consolidate democracy through the establishment of institutions that uphold the tenets of good governance, respect for human rights and the rule of law," he said. ""The issues that we will be addressing require decisive resolutions in charting the future of our regional body."
In addition to Zimbabwe, Mr. Banda was referring to Madagascar, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Lesotho and Swaziland.
But sources said his remarks were aimed in particular at Harare which recently arrested 45 activists on charges they plotted Egyptian-style protests, and has been cracking down on the former opposition Movement for Democratic Change formation of Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai. Sources said SADC has become increasingly concerned.
President Ian Khama of Botswana, one of the most outspoken leaders in the region on Zimbabwe, recently said Harare must not become a permanent SADC problem.
The SADC troika invited not only the three principals in the Harare unity government – President Robert Mugabe, Prime Minister Tsvangirai and Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara, but also MDC formation leader Welshman Ncube. That MDC wing has challenged Mutambara's right to his post now that he no longer leads the party.
Sources said late Thursday that the troika, which besides Mr. Banda includes President Jacob Zuma of South Africa and Armando Guebuza of Mozambique, took the decision to recognize Mutambara before the summit was convened.
Mr Zuma, SADC's mediator in Harare, reported on progress in his mission in Harare. Sources said the troika criticized the crackdown on the MDC and civic groups.
The leaders also called for the full implementation of the 2008 Global Political Agreement for power sharing in Harare, and said they want a clear road map to elections, adding that they would send monitors to Zimbabwe for the elections, as yet unscheduled.
President Mugabe was said to have objected, saying Zimbabwe is a sovereign state. But the troika members said that because SADC like the African Union was a guarantor of the power-sharing arrangement following 2008 elections, they must monitor the next elections which many hope will yield a government with full powers.
Tsvangirai spokesman Luke Tamborinyoka earlier told VOA Studio 7 reporter Blessing Zulu that Mr. Tsvangirai's main demand was for a clear road map to elections.
Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition Regional Coordinator Dewa Mavhinga, lobbying on the sidelines of the mini-summit, welcomed Mr. Banda’s remarks on reform.