|Southern African News Features SANF 09 No 50, December 2009|
|The year 2009 in retrospect
by Kizito Sikuka
The curtain comes down on a historic year for southern Africa, which has seen significant advances towards regional integration and African unity.
Two key indicators were the launch of the Chirundu One Stop Border Post and a ground-breaking agreement between three Regional Economic Communities (RECs) to form a single Free Trade Area by 2012.
The Chirundu One Stop Border Post between Zambia and Zimbabwe was formally opened for business in December, setting a new benchmark for regional integration among SADC Member States and a test case for the continent as a whole.
This is the first One Stop Border Post on the continent and others, such as Namanga between Tanzania and Kenya, are watching for lessons learned as they prepare to open the next one.
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) selected Chirundu a few years ago as one of the border posts for the pilot phase of the one-stop border initiative that aims to facilitate trade and free movement of goods and services among the 15-member regional community.
With the One Stop Border Post, travellers are cleared just once for passage into another country in contrast with the current situation in which travellers have to be sanctioned on both sides of the border often generating lengthy delays.
In the long run, the project seeks to harmonize customs and immigration laws at border posts within the SADC region.
In another major milestone for 2009, SADC agreed on a plan of action with the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the East African Community (EAC) to establish an enlarged Free Trade Area (FTA) encompassing 26 Member States in the three sub-regions by 2012.
This follows recommendations made at the inaugural Tripartite Summit held in 2008 by leaders from the three sub-regions to merge their FTAs into one grand market, in line with the continental integration envisaged by the African Union.
Secretariats from SADC, COMESA and EAC agreed on a plan of action in November and leaders from the three sub-regions are expected to approve and endorse the plan at their forthcoming Tripartite meeting scheduled for early 2010.
A single FTA will open borders to literally half of the continent, spanning the entire southern and eastern regions of Africa.
This will be, by any standards, a formidable economic community with a combined Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of more than US$625 billion and a combined population of more than 500 million.
The FTA will help to resolve the long-standing conundrum of overlapping membership, which has presented headaches for the three RECs in their quest towards deeper integration, as technically a country can belong to only one Customs Union.
The launch of the FTA by 2012 will result in the three sub-regions coalescing into a single free trade area with the ultimate goal of establishing a single Customs Union.
Among other developments in 2009, southern Africa was not spared from the effects of the global economic crisis.
The SADC Ministerial Task Force on Regional Economic Integration said the global economic crisis has had a negative impact on the economies of most countries in the region, a development that has impacted on regional macroeconomic convergence.
Mining, agriculture and tourism were the most affected sectors, thus hampering growth in Member States.
SADC leaders said at their Summit in Kinshasa in September that the effects of the crisis must be closely monitored with a view to implementing measures aimed at minimizing its impact on the region.
Regarding political developments, the region witnessed stability in most parts of southern Africa with five countries holding general elections.
The people of Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa went to the polls in 2009. Ruling parties in the respective countries were returned by the electorate with a resounding two-thirds majority, in electoral processes that were witnessed by the African Union and SADC election observers.
The latter ruled that all five elections complied with the SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections.
In Zimbabwe, the SADC-sponsored talks managed to broker a deal to form an inclusive government led by President Robert Mugabe with former opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai as Prime Minister.
The inclusive government, sworn into office in February 2009, has been credited for addressing many of the country’s political and economic challenges since its formation in February, although illegal international sanctions remain in place, imposed by the European Union and United States of America.
Peace returned to the Democratic Republic of Congo with SADC leaders expressing their confidence in the country by hosting the 2009 annual Summit in Kinshasa.
SADC elected DRC as chair of the 15-member organization for the period 2009/10, taking over the rotating chair from South Africa.
With regards to Lesotho, political parties were urged to continue with the peace dialogue to find a lasting solution to the challenges facing the country.
However, a major setback for SADC emerged again in March when Madagascar slid into political turmoil.
This was after opposition leader Andry Rajoelina seized power from President Marc Ravalomanana in a public demonstration backed by the military, similar to the method used by Ravalomanana when he seized power a few years earlier from his predecessor, Didier Ratsiraka.
SADC-led mediation efforts have seen both leaders together with two other former Madagascan presidents including Ratsiraka agreeing to set up a transitional government to govern the country until fresh elections are held in 2010.
However, implementation of this agreement continues to be a challenge as the year draws to a close.
On the environment front, southern Africa was in agreement with the rest of Africa on a common position for the Copenhagen Climate Change Summit in December.
Key points are that Africa will not accept a new pact to replace the Kyoto Protocol, and that Africa requires a scaled-up finance, technology and capacity support for adaptation and risk management.
The spirit and the principles of the Bali Action Plan must also be respected and guide all negotiations, Africa said.
The year 2009 also saw SADC Environment and Natural Resources Ministers launch SADC’s report on the state of the region’s environment, the Southern Africa Environment Outlook.
The outlook says that climate change caused by global warming is well underway, with average temperatures in the region having risen by 0.5 degrees Celsius over the last century, with the 1990s deemed the warmest and driest decade ever.
On South-South cooperation, SADC together with the rest of Africa strengthened its relations significantly with China and South America.
Under the Forum for China Africa Cooperation (FOCAC), the Asian nation pledged, among other things, a US$10 billion loan to African countries to construct 100 clean energy stations during the next three years.
African and South American leaders met in Summit in September and approved a plan to establish an African-South American Bank to finance development in respective continents as well as to promote trade.
On energy development, SADC continued to experience serious shortfalls as it advances toward the desired surplus power generation, expected in 2013 if shot term power projects are implemented on time.
The Southern African Power Pool in collaboration with the SADC Secretariat hosted a Power Sector Investors Roundtable in Livingstone, Zambia to attract investment to the energy sector for completion of some key projects within the next two years.
SADC Energy Ministers meeting in April called for a united stand in confronting the challenges, saying "no one country can individually tackle power shortages" presently being felt across the region.
Regarding gender development, southern Africa, one of the world’s leading regions in advancing the involvement of women in decision-making, witnessed the appointment of the first woman Vice-President in Malawi, Joyce Banda, and the first woman to occupy the post of Speaker of the National Assembly in Botswana, Margaret Nasha.
The appointment of Banda and Nasha signals another step towards gender equality in the region. However, the low number of women who made it into Parliament in the recent elections is a setback in a region committed to reach 50 percent parity in decision-making by 2015.
For example, out of a total of six women who took part in the Botswana parliamentary elections, only two won their seats.
As a means of tracking implementation of the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development approved in 2008, the SADC Gender Unit and Ministers responsible for Gender and Women Affairs launched their 2009 edition of the SADC Gender Monitor in October.
The SADC Gender Monitor also reviews progress toward the targets of the Beijing Platform for Action, set at the Fourth World Women Conference in 1995.
SADC leaders endorsed the candidature of Malawi to assume the chair of the African Union from Libya, whose tenure expires in January 2010. The chair rotates according to regions and the next chairperson should come from the SADC region
The year 2009 also saw Zimbabwe assume the COMESA chair at the launch of its Customs Union in June.
With 2009 having come and gone, attention now turns to 2010 with high expectations on the 2010 Soccer World Cup Finals to be hosted for the first time in Africa by South Africa and the 2010 African Cup of Nations in Angola, hosted in southern Africa only for the second time.
Both countries have made strong efforts to engage neighbouring countries to ensure that both events have regional ownership and support.
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This article may be reproduced with credit to the author and publisher.
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