MAPUTO — The 15-member regional bloc known as the Southern African Development Community, or SADC, began meeting in the Mozambican capital, Maputo on Friday. During the two-day meeting, heads of state will address several regional issues including Zimbabwe's ongoing political impasse. SADC leaders are pressing Zimbabwe's leaders to agree on a draft constitution amid signs that President Robert Mugabe is unhappy with it.
The sudden departure of South Africa's president, Jacob Zuma, overshadowed the first day of the SADC summit. Zuma decided to fly home Friday after labor unrest led to shootings and deaths at a platinum mine in his country on Thursday.
His departure highlighted the difficulty SADC leaders face - policing their peers when their domestic problems overshadow other regional conflicts.
As SADC mediator on Zimbabwe, Zuma's presence in Maputo was vital. Nevertheless, Zimbabwe's Movement for Democratic Change party (MDC) said it hoped the SADC could pressure President Robert Mugabe, leader of the ZANU-PF party, to stick to seven resolutions, previously drawn up by the regional body, which were aimed at getting the country to agree on a new constitution and hold fresh elections next year.
The finance minister in Zimbabwe's fragile unity government, Tendai Biti of the MDC party, said he feared the SADC might leave space for further mediation on the issue of the draft constitution.
"Where there was some ambiguity, resolution Six says if there is a problem around the constitution then the facilitator will come in and intervene," he said. "That seems to anticipate that there will be a challenge given that the ZANU-PF politburo has already come up with an alternative draft constitution."
Meanwhile the SADC's newest conflict showed signs of a faster resolution.
Earlier this month, Tanzania said it was prepared to go to war with Malawi over the right to extract fuel from Lake Malawi, which both countries share.
Malawi's president, Joyce Banda, clearly stated before arriving at the summit she wanted peace. Officials from both countries are meeting on the margins of the conference.
Michael Sata made a joke about the spat. "And I was joking with Malawi and Tanzania to say if they started fighting we are going to welcome the refugees from Tanzania and Malawi but they cease fire before they even fired one bullet," said Sata.
Other problems, however, will prove more difficult for the 15-member bloc to resolve. Those include the unfolding crisis in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where fighting in the east has displaced a quarter of a million people, as well as the impasse in Madagascar, where ousted president Marc Ravalomanana wants to be able to return to contest elections.