The 35th Ordinary Summit of SADC heads of State and Government which was held in Gaborone last week exposed the regional block secretariat to diplomatic disasters.
It was clear when the summit began that the secretariat has done a shoddy job only for them to be always rescued by Botswana Government Communications department led by Russ Molosiwa.
During the official opening of the meeting of the SADC Council of Ministers there was confusion on the seating arrangement as there were no ushers leading to some delegates venting out their frustrations on some government officials.
Ahead of the summit it was announced on Thursday that Malawian President Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika will not make it to the summit but will be represented by Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr George Chaponda.
Chaponda who was addressing the media revealed that President Mutharika has personally communicated to the outgoing Chairperson President Robert Mugabe and incoming chair President Ian Khama. He said that one of the reasons Mutharika decided not to come was due to budget constraints as they are still recovering from Cashgate , a looting of public funds at Capitol Hill, floods and lack of budgetary support hence cutting on the number of delegates to the summit.
On Monday when the heads of state were arriving at GICC for the opening ceremony it seems the SADC Secretariat was not aware that President Mutharika was not around as they displayed their ignorance in front of heads of state and delegates.
Introducing heads of State at the summit, Head of corporate communications at SADC Secretariat Lefa Martins shocked many when he introduced Chaponda as President Mutharika. When advised that the Malawian President is not present, Martins publicly declared that, “I was not informed that President Mutharika is not around and has delegated minister of foreign affairs.”
President Ian Khama exposed her blunder by jokingly saying that he has just texted President Mutharika that he has been overthrown at the SADC Summit. This forced Martins to come back and apologise that she erred and introduced Dr Chaponda as representative of president Mutharika.
This shocked many as it is a norm that as head of communications at SADC she must be aware that President Mutharika didn’t attend the summit. One diplomat quipped that, “this is just an embarrassment how is she not aware of Mutharika’s absence right now,” as he shook his head.
While the head of states and delegates were still reeling from the diplomatic mishap by the SADC head of communications, she later introduced African Union Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma although she was not present. She would later apologise and introduced Dlamini Zuma’s deputy Erasrus Mwencha who was delegated to represent her amid murmurings among delegates.
Members of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit GmbH or GIZ in short, also had rude awakening when they were not accredited for the opening ceremony. A source at GIZ said that they were informed that the summit was an African affair and that their input was not needed. “We were really shocked because we were the sponsors of SADC Success stories at 35 and we were expected to launch it on Saturday,” said a disappointed GIZ official.
GIZ, a German company that specializes in international development has been funding SADC in its development projects for more than 20 years. Asked about the diplomatic mishaps during the summit, SADC head of communications, Martins denied that there was any diplomatic misunderstanding.
On why the Germans were not invited or accredited during the opening the summit, she said that international partners were only invited for the opening and closing ceremonies of the ordinary summit for head of States and Government but not during closed door meetings.