Asean just as helpless as African counterpart
T HERE are echoes of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and Zimbabwe in the way the SADC's counterpart, the Asso­ciation of South East Asian Nations (Asean), is dealing, or not dealing, with the current crisis in Thailand.
The SADC has been widely and fre­quently criticised for its impotence in deal­ing with the mess in its member country Zimbabwe. But the SADC looks quite dynamic, in some respects, compared to Asean. The SADC did at least - and at last -get off its butt and persuade the Zimbab­wean political rivals to negotiate the cur­rent coalition government, for all its mani­fold flaws.
By contrast, at least to the naked eye, Asean has done nothing about the Thai cri­sis, which is steadily spinning out of con­trol.
Even though the Thai army has smashed the Red Shirts protesters in their base in central Bangkok, a possible incipi­ent civil war may have re-ignited in rural areas. This crisis is hurting the Thai econ­omy and surely can't be helping the region
climb out of the recession.
But Asean has a strict code of non-inter­ference in the internal affairs of its member states, stricter, it seems, than the SADC's, and so has done nothing visible and said very little.
However, this week, just before the Thai army moved to suppress the Red Shirts, some Asean members, though apparently not Asean itself, began to voice public dis­quiet.
On Tuesday Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said Asean needed to take a common stand to show that it cares about finding a peaceful resolution to Thai­land's crisis.
Indonesian Foreign Ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah later told the Voice of America that Jakarta was willing to help Thailand end the political violence, if asked.
But, he said, it should be Asean as a group which lent support, because the cri­sis was bad for Thailand and the region as a whole.
"We don't want to appear to be interfer­ing in the domestic issues of the country," he quickly added, in the standard Asean dis­claimer, but then said Asean "can't sit back and watch if one of our countries has a problem on its own".
Teuku expressed concern that foreign investors might be inclined to view the whole south-east Asian region "as a single concept", punishing Indonesia and others for the sins of Thailand.
Though he thought not, many econo­mists are less sure, believing the economic impact will spill across borders.
That was and to an extent still is the con­cern of other SADC states about Zimbabwe.
Though South Africa silently absorbed the knock-on effects, in the form of a huge surge of refugees, an outbreak of xenopho­bic violence and so on, Botswana's Presi­dent Ian Khama openly criticised Mugabe and refused to acknowledge him as presi­dent after he claimed victory in the farcical and violent 2008 election.
Academics have urged Asean to inter­vene in Thailand, at least by pushing the Thai government to refrain from using excessive force against its own people, as this would violate Asean's charter on human rights.
This echoes the similar calls on the SADC to intervene to try to stop Mugabe's unleashing of violence against the MDC, also in violation of the SADC's charter.
In a paper written for the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singa­pore, Vinod Aggarwal and Jonathan Chow lament that Asean's strong non-interfer­ence culture even prevents the organisation from tackling relatively simple regional problems like the choking and hazardous haze from Indonesian forest fires.
They note that Asean's strong culture of non-interference is firmly rooted in the fear of its founding members, at the time of its creation in 1967, about the intentions of Indonesia's bellicose President Sukarno, who was then threatening his neighbours.
Perhaps the SADC's similar culture partly dates back to South Africa's destabil-isation policy during the apartheid years.
But, in both regions, it is what govern­ments do to their own people that has become the more pressing issue.
Both organisations need to modernise their cultures.
Association of
South East Asian
Nations fails to put
end to Thai crisis-
as the SADC failed
with Zimbabwe