President Joyce Banda yesterday assumed the chairpersonship of Southern Africa Development Community (Sadc) with a call to the regional bloc to be more people-centred.
“As chair of this great community, I hope to drive initiatives that bring Sadc closer to the people for whom it works; a people-centred Sadc. In short, a Sadc for the people and by the people,” said Banda in her acceptance speech soon after Mozambique’s Armando Guebuza handed the mantle to her.
Banda said as Sadc leaders gather each year to discuss ways of addressing problems that confront people of the region, they must also know that the expectations of the people were high; and that as new chair she also feels the weight of such expectations.
She cited millions of young people struggling to survive and find jobs, millions failing to go to school or secure employable skills while women and men struggle in poverty, deprivation and underdevelopment as some of the major challenges dogging the region.
Banda said millions more are hungry, die from preventable diseases while women die giving birth, are raped in their homes or communities and others suffer violence at home or at school.
Added President Banda: “Many of them have lost their dignity through no fault of their own. These are the Sadc citizens who pay taxes. These are Sadc citizens who vote. These are our citizens and our neighbours. They work for us and we work for them.
“And yet, when they hear our voices and observe our actions, they see that in reality, sometimes we do not always work for them. Our actions suggest that the poor should care for the poor.”
Banda told the gathering that she strongly believes that to achieve durable and long-lasting peace and stability in Sadc countries, the bloc should start with fighting poverty.
Apart from the 14 heads of State, the opening ceremony was also graced by African Union (AU) chairperson Nkosazana Dhlamini-Zuma, Malawi’s former president Bakili Muluzi and leader of opposition in Parliament John Tembo.
There was also a prize-giving ceremony to winners of Sadc Secondary School Essay competition and Sadc Media Awards in which Vincent Khonyongwa of Malawi Broadcasting Cooperation came top in the radio journalist category.
Before the summit started, concerned citizens who were marching to the venue of the summit to present a petition to the gathering leaders under the Southern African People’s Summit Network (SAPSN) had to be stopped almost a kilometre away where they were followed by Sadc officials to get the petition.
SAPSN secretary general Daliso Kubalasa of Malawi Economic Justice Network (Mejn) presented the petition and Sadc director of the Organ on Politics, Defence, Security Cooperation Tank Mothae and director of International Cooperation in Malawi’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Charles Kambauwa received it.
Among some of the issues raised in the petition is the disputed presidential elections in Zimbabwe, which members of the grouping want the leaders to have on the agenda.
The Sadc Heads of State Summit was opened yesterday and is expected to end today.