Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa has escalated the raging border dispute between Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) after the two countries last month separately requested the mediation of the regional defence Troika he chairs.
The neighbouring states have for nearly two months been locked in a bitter wrangle over the control of a territory on the border measuring approximately 13 square kilometres.
The dispute erupted when the DRC accused Zambia of moving to occupy part of its territory in Moba region early last month.
The Congolese government resultantly beefed up its military presence in the area, leading to clashes between the two countries’ soldiers, sparking fears of war.
The United Nations Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) disclosed at the time the armies’ clashes had resulted in massive displacements in Moba.
DRC President Felix Tshisekedi on May 11 sent a special envoy, Marie Nzeza — who is also the country’s Foreign Affairs minister — to Harare requesting Mnangagwa’s mediation in the dispute.
Presidential spokesperson George Charamba said, in an interview with the Zimbabwe Independent this week, Mnangagwa, who chairs SADC’S Organ on Politics, Defence and Security, has now taken up the matter with the regional grouping by embarking on a fact-finding mission. Mnangagwa has briefed SADC heads of state subsequent to Nzeza’s visit.
“There is actually a fact-finding mission which will be dispatched by SADC to establish the chronology of events so that we have a starting point for mediation.
“This issue comes under the purview of President Mnangagwa in his capacity as the chairman of the Organ on Defence, Politics and Security,” Charamba said.
“For there to be good mediation, it means he has to have a certain picture in terms of what transpired. So there is a fact-finding and verification team which is hard at work. We were working on the terms of reference and we are now just done with those.”
He also said Mnangagwa was in the process of trying to bring the two countries to a common understanding that SADC meant well in the mediation process so as to gain their confidence.
“We must enlist the support of countries involved in the dispute so that we get maximum cooperation if the mediation is to become meaningful.
The good thing is both countries aren’t inclined to escalating matters into a full-blown armed conflict yet and both have actually appealed to the chairman of the organ, which is a very good starting point for us,” Charamba said.
“Both countries recognise they are members of Sadc and that they must coexist peacefully. Disputes will always arise around borders but the key thing is always finding peaceful means of resolving them. When we are in this Covid-19 environment, the least we can afford as Southern Africa is an accentuation of the crisis by importing another issue which is really of a military nature.
“Let the team go on the ground and we will see what facts they will establish and what counsel they will share with the chairman so that we can get the two brotherly countries to an agreement.
“Until now, it had not been brought to the attention of SADC and, as such, it had remained a bilateral issue, but this time they have come to a multi-lateral structure and we will start from there.”
The dispute dates back to the colonial era and has been raging for decades although it has escalated over the past month-and-a-half.
There was an attempt to settle the issue in 1989 when a treaty was signed between then presidents Kenneth Kaunda (Zambia) and Mobutu Sese Seko (DRC) when beacons were placed along the border.
The treaty has, however, not been very effective as evidenced by frequent disputes. Random border disputes, such as between Botswana and Namibia, Nigeria and Cameroon and between Malawi and Tanzania, have arisen out of ambiguities or incomplete information in a colonial treaty.
Botswana and Namibia, for instance, had a fierce conflict over control of the Kasikili/Sedudu Island in the Chobe River, which forms part of the border between the two countries.
The matter, also mediated by Zimbabwe, was settled by the International Court of Justice in 1999 which ruled that the island belongs to Botswana.