Southern African News Features                                           SANF 12 No 11 , March 2012

SADC integration Ė 20 years on

by Joseph Ngwawi

The year 2012 marks 20 years since the historic signing of the SADC Treaty and Declaration and presents an opportunity for southern Africans to forge ahead with the regionís integration agenda.

On 17 August 1992, at their Summit held in Windhoek, Namibia, the Heads of State and Government signed the SADC Treaty and Declaration that effectively transformed the Southern Africa Development Coordination Conference (SADCC) into the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

In pursuit of the regional integration agenda, SADC Member States have since 1992 signed 26 protocols and a number of declarations, charters and memoranda of understanding on various matters, ranging from trade, mining and finance and investment to illicit drugs, forestry and shared watercourses.

The shift in focus from a coordinating conference to a development community led to the restructuring of SADCís institutions starting in 2001.

The exercise saw the restructuring and centralization of SADC functions, from 21 sectors based in Member States and dealing with a diverse range of development issues from health, environment and mining to trade, tourism and investment, into four (now five) directorates based at the SADC headquarters in Gaborone, Botswana.

The reform of the SADC structure and its institutional framework since 1992 represented a strategic shift of intention to consolidate regional economic and political integration by Member States and the willingness to address broader development issues, while accelerating the process towards an integrated Regional Economic Community (REC) as part of the envisaged African Economic Community.

Another milestone achieved since the transformation of SADC was the Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan (RISDP), a 15-year development blueprint produced in 2003 that provides strategic direction to the organisation and aims to operationalise the SADC Common Agenda towards poverty eradication.

The overriding target is to attain annual economic growth rates of at least seven percent, necessary to halve the proportion of people in the region living in poverty by 2015.

To realign the RISDP with new realities on the continent, SADC leaders have ordered a review of the blueprint.

SADC leaders, at their Summit in Angola in 2011, directed the Ministerial Taskforce on Regional Economic Integration to review the RISDP to identify priorities and reorient the regionís integration agenda.

The taskforce is expected to table a report on the RISDP review during the 2012 Summit to be held in Maputo, Mozambique.

The reorientation of SADCís priorities comes in the wake of ongoing Tripartite negotiations between SADC, the East African Community (EAC) and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA).

This has meant that SADCís integration agenda can no longer be discussed in isolation from the Tripartite.

Despite staff shortages and other administrative challenges, SADC has also significantly moved forward on many substantive issues related to its restructuring programme.

The Organ for Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation has made progress in establishing procedures and mechanisms for intervention.

SADC-initiated dialogue in Lesotho and in Zimbabwe, for example, has yielded positive results in resolution of national political disputes, thus helping to maintain stability in the region.

Similar dialogue is ongoing for Madagascar, which was suspended from membership of SADC following a military takeover in 2009.

However, perhaps the biggest achievement for SADC since the signing of the Treaty was the 2008 launch of a Free Trade Area (FTA) in the region.

The SADC FTA came into force on 1 January 2008 following implementation of agreed tariff phase-down commitments between 2000 and 2007. From 2008, producers and consumers no longer pay import duty on an estimated 85 percent of all trade on goods between participating Member States.

Two countries, Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo, have said they will join the FTA later. Twenty years after SADC opted for a development integration approach, 2012 presents another opportunity for regional leaders to consolidate the gains made so far and move the regional agenda forward.

The 2011 Summit also directed the Ministerial Task Force on Regional Economic Integration to expedite work leading to agreement and common understanding on the roadmap for the proposed SADC Customs Union, which was initially set for launch in 2010.

Launch of the Customs Union has been postponed to allow Member States more time to consolidate the implementation and gains of the FTA, which SADC governments feel is a more manageable and practical agenda.

Work is expected to continue this year on the long-awaited SADC Infrastructure Master Plan, which will guide development in key infrastructure such as road, rail and ports in the region.

The regional infrastructure master plan, initiated by SADC leaders in 2007 and initially set for launch last year, would focus on key areas such as energy, transport, telecommunications, water infrastructure and tourism.

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SANF is produced by the Southern African Research and Documentation Centre (SARDC), which has monitored regional developments since 1985

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