SADC seized with resolving DRC-Zambia border dispute

SANF 20 no 26 – by Innocent Gore
There is a close nexus between peace and security and economic development for there cannot be peace and security without development, and vice versa.

Cognisant of this important linkage, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) has prioritised the maintenance of peace and security as a prerequisite for its overall regional integration agenda.

It is for this reason that Pillar C on Peace and Security anchors the other three priority pillars in the Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan, which is the development blueprint for SADC.

Using mediation and other forms of conflict resolution, SADC has over the years been able to intervene in potentially destructive conflicts between and among member states.

One of those conflicts is that one involving the border dispute between the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Zambia.

SADC deployed a team of technical experts in July to investigate the dispute. The team is expected to submit a detailed report to the chairperson of the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation, President Emmerson Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe.

The report is expected to be part of the agenda of the virtual Organ Troika summit scheduled for 15 August. The Organ Troika comprises Zimbabwe as chairperson, Botswana as incoming (deputy) chairperson and Zambia as immediate past chairperson.

The Technical Experts Border Issue Team Mission was deployed following a clash of security forces on the DRC-Zambia border in the Lake Tanganyika and Lake Mweru/Mwero region in March this year.

The mission was led by a representative of the chairperson of the Organ and comprised experts from Botswana, DRC, Zambia and Zimbabwe, supported by the SADC Secretariat.

The mission was constituted after the two countries in May sent special envoys to President Mnangagwa, seeking mediation to resolve their long-standing border dispute.

The Organ chairperson then directed SADC Executive Secretary Dr Stergomena Lawrence Tax, to facilitate the deployment of the team of technical experts to conduct a mission to the affected border areas.

The team was deployed on 23 July at Chibanga, Kibanga, Kalubamba, Musosa, Luchinda and Pweto towns along the border of the two countries.

SADC said the objective of the mission was “to conduct sensitization campaigns for various target groups in order to secure full cooperation of the local population, facilitate the adoption of common system for determination of the border coordinates, and a phased approach for the border demarcation and identification of key reference beacons along the border.”

The neighbouring countries were for nearly two months early this year locked in a bitter wrangle over the control of a territory along the border.

The dispute erupted when the DRC accused Zambia of moving to occupy part of its territory in Moba region.

The Congolese government resultantly beefed up its military presence in the area, leading to clashes between soldiers from the two countries soldiers, and sparking fears of war.

The DRC-Zambia border dispute dates back to the colonial era and has flared on and off since the British and the Belgians divided up Zambia and the DRC for themselves.

Zambia‘s northern border was legally signed in the Anglo-Belgian Treaty of 1894, long after the 1884 Berlin Conference.

This showed that the triangle of land at the north-western point of eastern Zambia from Pweto to as far south as the Lunchinda River was under Zambia although the Belgian colonisers in the Congo had administered the area for many years as a matter of local convenience under a gentleman’s agreement.

There was an attempt to settle the issue in 1989 when a treaty was signed between former Presidents Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia and Mobutu Sese Seko of DRC when beacons were placed along the border.

The treaty has, however, not been very effective as evidenced by the frequent disputes.

The DRC and Zambia have had misunderstandings over a part of their common 1,600km border, the latest arising from a late 1980s attempt to demarcate the frontier with beacons.

The DRC-Zambia issue is not the first time that SADC has been approached to discuss border disputes between two member states.

In the 1990s, the regional organisation was asked to intervene in a dispute between Botswana and Namibia over ownership and control of Kasikili/Sedudu Island on the Chobe River, which forms part of their border.

The matter was subsequently referred to the International Court of Justice, with the court ruling in 1999 that the island belonged to Botswana.

These and other mediation efforts are part of the quest by SADC to resolve disputes amicably among the 16 member states and create conducive conditions for deeper regional cooperation and integration.

This is provided for in the Strategic Indicative Plan for the Organ on Defence, Politics and Security (SIPO) whose objective is to create a peaceful and stable political and security environment through which the region will realise its objectives of socio-economic development, poverty eradication, and regional integration.

SIPO is key in the implementation of the Protocol on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation. 

This Protocol is based on the over-arching objectives and Common Agenda of SADC as stated in Article 5 of the SADC Treaty, and is directly linked to the Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan (RISDP), which is considered to be the blueprint for development in the region.

Essentially, in planning for development in the SADC region, policy makers must consider that an enabling environment of peace and security is required for regional integration and development to take place.

Economic growth and development cannot be realised in conditions of political intolerance, security and absence of the rule of law.

Southern African News Features offers a reliable source of regional information and analysis on the Southern African Development Community, and is provided as a service to the SADC region. 

This article may be reproduced with credit to the author and publisher.

SANF is produced by the Southern African Research and Documentation Centre (SARDC), which has monitored regional developments since 1985.      Email sanf[at]     

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