Leaders of the Southern African Development Community have ended a three-day summit in Malawi. The group has chosen a new leader of the SADC strategic defense and security arm, which was previously run by Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.
The Southern African Development Community leaders chose Mozambican President Joaquim Chissano to head the organization's so-called Organ for Politics, Defense and Security. It has been led by Zimbabwe's president since its inception in 1996.
In recent years, there has been increasing pressure to strip the organ's leadership away from Mr. Mugabe, who used it to justify military intervention in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Zimbabwe, Angola, and Namibia, all members of SADC, have sent troops to support the Congolese government in its war against rebels backed by Rwanda and Uganda.
Regional security experts have seen the Mozambican president, Mr. Chissano, as one of the few candidates who could run the defense organ with credibility.
"We see Mr. Chissano as a leader, a player who is astute enough to chair the organ in its first year of legal existence, but also is not involved in any one of the many intricate and overlapping regional conflicts," said Mark Malan, an analyst with the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria.
But Mr. Malan dismisses the notion that losing the leadership of the SADC defense arm is a real blow to Mr. Mugabe. He says the chairmanship was always supposed to rotate between member states. And as the immediate past chairman, the Zimbabwean leader will still have a say in the organ's affairs.
The SADC leaders were also scheduled to adopt a defense and security protocol that will govern the defense organ's operations. Details of the defense and security protocol are still emerging, but Mr. Malan says it is likely to be the most important development to come out of the SADC summit in Malawi, not the leadership of the defense organ itself.
The protocol is supposed to form a coordinated defense and security policy for southern Africa. It is likely to include some kind of mutual defense pact, under which SADC member states facing either an internal or external security threat could call on each other for military help. But Mr. Malan says it will probably be quite some time before the idea becomes reality. "The way SADC has been doing business," he said, "its capacity to intervene in complex emergencies is not going to be enhanced overnight. No matter who chairs the organ, no matter what the protocol states in terms of a mutual defense pact, it will be very much business as usual I think."
Regardless of what the defense protocol says, it will not become operational until two-thirds of the 14 SADC member countries have ratified it. That process could take months.