SADC TRADE PROTOCOL READY FOR IMPLEMENTATION
|The SADC Summit, held recently in Maputo, Mozambique, declared the Trade Protocol,
which seeks to gradually introduce a free trade area in southern Africa, will take effect
in January 2000 following its ratification by seven of the eleven countries that signed
the pact in 1996, while two more have pledged to ratify before the end of 1999.
Lesotho and Malawi joined five other countries - Botswana, Mauritius, Namibia, Tanzania and Zimbabwe - who had already ratified the Trade Protocol before the SADC Summit, held on 17-18 August in the Mozambican capital Maputo. The seven countries now make a two-thirds majority.
South Africa and Swaziland have also indicated they will ratify the protocol, seen as the key to meaningful regional integration, before the end of the year. This, said the summit in a communique, will ensure that the protocol enters into force in January 2000 as scheduled.
Economic commentators say, however, that although it may be legally binding that with seven countries, the protocol can come into force, much will depend on South Africa. Without its support, they say, the protocol will be difficult to implement. South Africa controls more than two-thirds of the regional economy put together.
However, the South African President Thabo Mbeki, who handed over the SADC chairmanship to President Joaquim Chissano at the same summit, gave his assurances saying his country will speed up the process of ratification, hoping to complete it before the end of the year.
Four other protocols on Shared Watercourse Systems; Illicit Drugs; Transport, Communications and Meteorology; and Energy, are already in force.
The summit, which ratified two new protocols on Health and Wildlife, urged member states to speed up the process of ratification for the other remaining protocols on Mining; Education and Training; and Tourism.
In an attempt to increase regional competiveness, the summit endorsed a declaration on productivity. The declaration is a follow-up to the resolutions taken at a Consultative Conference which was held in 1997 in Windhoek, Namibia, under the theme: "Productivity - Key to Sustainable Development in SADC".
On the political situation in the region, the summit "expressed concern at the setbacks, which are reflected in the emergence of unrest and conflict in Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)".
Addressing a closing press conference, the new SADC Chairman, President Chissano said the member states agreed to give the government of Angola "full support" in its war with the rebel movement UNITA, but will not send troops.
"The Angolan delegation did not ask for weapons or soldiers. They asked for moral, political, diplomatic and humanitarian support," he told reporters, adding, "The people who are fighting [Angolan armed forces] also need food, medicine and clothing."
On the DRC conflict, Chissano said SADC would continue the Lusaka process including soliciting for signatures from all adversaries in the war.
Presidents Yoweri Museveni and Pascal Bizimungu of Uganda and Rwanda respectively, who attended the summit as guests, reiterated their commitment to the Lusaka Cease-fire Agreement which they signed on 10 July, alongside four other countries involved in the DRC war.
The Movement for the Liberation of the Congo (MLC), one of the rebel groups, has since appended its signature to the agreement, while the Rally for a Democratic Congo (RDC) has remained evasive.
DRC President Laurent Kabila left early before the actual summit, citing pressing commitments at home. He had held consultations with the allied forces.
The summit resolved that the SADC Organ on Security, Defence and Politics will remain under the guidance of Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe, chairman since 1996. Chissano dismissed perceptions that by "clinging on to the organ", Mugabe was defying SADC decisions.
"President Mugabe has always respected decisions of SADC, and the member states have always respected decisions taken by the security organ. He will chair the organ, and everything will run very smoothly. There is no problem," Chissano told reporters.
The 1999 summit was unique in that it brought together SADC leaders to participate in day-long activities to mark SADC Day, 17 August.
Nigerian President, Olusegun Obasanjo, who spoke as guest of honour at the celebrations to mark SADC Day, called for closer economic cooperation between SADC and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
"Africa's biggest handicap so far has been our lacklustre progress in economic cooperation and integration," said the Nigerian president.
"In 1970 we began the process with the adoption of the Lagos Plan of Action and the Final Act which envisaged an African Economic Community by the turn of the century. Unfortunately, the consequent progress towards our integrational goals has been slow and deficient in political will and determination," Obasanjo added.
He said the Abuja Treaty of 1991, which also seeks to establish the African Economic Community, is the main hope. Obasanjo said the treaty is the platform for consolidating the vision of a viable continental community, capable of promoting common interests and lift Africa into the global mainstream of contemporary economic interaction.
"We have been unable to complete the projects and programmes set out for the first stage of the Abuja Treaty. But we should not despair," said Obasanjo who described SADC and ECOWAS as "two dynamic organisations with enormous potential to be cornerstones of the African integration process."
The Abuja Treaty hopes to use regional economic blocs, such as SADC and ECOWAS, as the cornerstones of the African Economic community, which is spearheaded by the Organisation of African Unity (OAU).
It is in light of this that Obasanjo said, "I see our two regions beckoned by history to provide the impetus for a timely realisation of the African Economic Community of our dreams. I therefore call on our two communities to explore, immediately, the prospects and possibilities of cooperation, both at the institutional level of the two secretariats and in enhanced bilateral interaction between the various member states, under an inter-regional framework."
The SADC summit mandated the Council of Ministers to review operations of SADC institutions, including the Secretariat. To facilitate this process, said Chissano, SADC Executive Secretary Kaire Mbuende had asked to be replaced.
President Chissano confirmed that "there is an uneasy relationship between the executive secretary and most, if not all, members of the Council of Ministers".
He said the summit had "discussed in a very friendly way with him [Mbuende] and he decided, in a very humble fashion, to help the organisation by proposing that he be replaced. This was accepted and we shall discuss with him the modalities and the period".
Mbuende, a Namibian national, replaced Zimbabwe's Simba Makoni as executive secretary in 1993. He was currently serving his second four-year term, renewed in 1997 when the summit met in Malawi.
Chissano will be deputised as chairman by Namibian President Sam Nujoma, who will host the first summit of the new millennium. (SARDC).
Read more news on this summit here.
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