Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 05/2009

Southern Africa: Threats and Capabilities

Gavin Cawthra

November 2008

International Peace Institute


The southern African region is now generally defined in political terms as those countries that are members of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) (the geographic definition is usually somewhat more limited). Currently there are fifteen member states of the SADC: Angola, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, the Seychelles, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. These countries are disparate in many ways: they vary greatly in size, population, and levels of economic growth, and include some of the poorest countries in the world, but also some of the richest in Africa. Six of them are landlocked; two of them are Indian Ocean islands. They share a common history of colonization—variously involving French, British, Belgian, and German imperial powers—and this continues to impact significantly on the nature of governance and politics in the region. Many, but not all, of the countries of the region experienced periods of European settler colonialism, resulting in armed liberation struggles for independence. Several of them also endured apartheid or various forms of racial segregation and oppression as a result of that history of settler colonialism.