2014 – Driving regional integration

by Kizito Sikuka – SANF 14 no 64
This year has provided an opportunity for southern Africa to consolidate gains and make plans to advance broader socio-economic independence and integration as a region.

A major milestone for 2014 was the decision by the 34th SADC Summit held in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe to prioritise industrialisation in the ongoing review of regional plans under the Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan (RISDP).

Industrial development has been identified as one of the main drivers of the integration agenda in southern Africa as the region moves away from an economic path built on consumption and commodity exports onto a sustainable developmental path based on value addition and beneficiation.

SADC Member States acknowledged that industrial development is central to the diversification of their economies; development of productive capacity; and the creation of employment in order to reduce poverty and set their economies on a more sustainable growth path.

However, the RISDP, which is a 15-year blueprint for SADC regional integration and development, currently under review, was previously silent on the matter.

As a result,the SADC Ministerial Task Force on Regional Integration was directed by Summit to develop a strategy and roadmap for industrialization in the region.

In this regard, an Extraordinary SADC Summit is planned for early 2015 to discuss industrialization, and ultimately approve the Revised RISDP.

With regard to infrastructure development, the year 2014 saw the vision of southern Africa as an emerging economy with infrastructure that works coast-to-coast, move closer to reality when the region approved a declaration that aims to strengthen cooperation in the development of regional infrastructure projects.

When regional infrastructure such as roads, rail and energy transmission lines are in good condition, this lays the basis for numerous other benefits, including the smooth movement of goods, services and people across the region, thereby increasing intra-regional contacts and trade.

The SADC Declaration on Regional Infrastructure Development pays particular attention to the transport needs of landlocked countries, which, “due to their geo-political circumstances, have special needs for transport and transit services and bear high costs for capacity and access to external markets.”

The declaration builds on the Regional Infrastructure Development Master Plan that was launched in 2012, targeting a total of 418 infrastructure projects to be implemented by 2027.

These cross-border infrastructure projects cover the priority sectors of energy, transport, tourism, water, information communication technology and meteorology.

On agriculture, SADC made significant progress towards food security by approving a regional food and nutrition strategy to ensure its citizens have access to both adequate and nutritional foods.

To be implemented from the period 2015-2025, the Regional Food and Nutrition Security Strategy aims to serve as a regional mechanism to facilitate the attainment of universal physical, social and economic access to safe, health and nutritious food to ensure the wellbeing of the people of southern Africa.

It is historic that SADC adopted the strategy in 2014 – a year that was declared by the African Union as the Year of Agriculture and Food Security.

The SADC region also witnessed a major step towards the promotion of sustainable use and management of the environment, through the approval of the Protocol on Environmental Management for Sustainable Development.

Previously, SADC had several protocols dealing with various aspects of the environment, most of which were sectoral in nature and did not take a holistic approach towards sustainable use and management.

Therefore, the adoption of the Protocol is an important step in the process of harmonizing the laws that deal with environmental issues.

With regard health, the region intensified preparedness and response to monitor and prevent the spread of Ebola – a deadly disease that has affected parts of West Africa.

Among Member States, only the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has reported Ebola cases, which were quickly dealt with, while none has been reported in the other 14 SADC Member States.

However, medical specialists note that the strain of Ebola in DRC is different from that in West Africa, and has not spread from there, but is a separate strain that appeared in the 1970s.

On the political situation in the region, southern Africa witnessed positive developments with five countries holding national elections — Botswana, Namibia, Malawi, Mozambique and South Africa.

In Namibia and Mozambique, these were transitional elections that produced new presidents Hage Geingob of the ruling SWAPO party and Filipe Nyusi of the FRELIMO respectively, as the previous Heads of State are standing down after a fixed term of office.

Stability also returned in Lesotho, with support from its neighbours in SADC.

Lesotho has experienced some political challenges that worsened in August in the wake of the suspension of Parliament and an alleged coup plot.

SADC, through its facilitator Cyril Ramaphosa, who is the South African deputy President, facilitated a dialogue among Lesotho’s political parties to address the challenges facing the mountain kingdom.

The stakeholders have agreed to bring forward the General Elections to February 2015 from its original date of 2017, on a date to be set by King Letsie III.

The year 2014 also saw SADC lift its suspension on Madagascar following the restoration of constitutional order under a SADC mediation process.

The island nation was suspended from SADC in 2009 when the country slid into a political turmoil after the opposition leader sized power from the then president.  However, noting the progress in resolving constitutional order in Madagascar, SADC invited the country to resume its participation in all SADC activities.

2014 was mostly stable from a political perspective with relative peace in the more unpredictable parts of the region such as the DRC, although latest developments in the east of the country remain a cause for concern.

With regard to trade, SADC together with other regional economic communities — the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the East African Community (EAC) moved closer to signing a historic agreement to establish an expanded market covering 26 countries.

The agreement will boost intra-regional trade, increase investment and promote the development of cross-regional infrastructure, as the so-called “Grand” Free Trade Area (FTA) has a combined population of some 600 million people and a Gross Domestic Product of about US$1 trillion, covering half of the member states of the African Union, spanning the entire southern and eastern regions of Africa – from Cape to Cairo.

The Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe became the SADC chair in 2014, taking over from his Malawian counterpart, President Peter Mutharika, at the SADC Summit held in August.

Mugabe will be deputized by Botswana’s President Seretse Khama Ian Khama, and as such the 2015 SADC Summit will be held in Botswana.

Presidents Armando Guebuza of Mozambique and Hifikepunye Pohamba of Namibia also bid farewell as southern African leaders at the SADC Summit.

Both leaders are serving their second and last terms in office as per their national constitutions, have been instrumental in pushing the regional integration agenda forward, and are firm believers in the notion that SADC member states have a lot to gain from working together.