The journey has been long but worthwhile.
From a series of consultations held in the late 70s by representative of the Frontline States to forge closer alliance, southern Africa was finally able to form a vibrant regional organization, the Southern African Development Coordination Conference (SADCC) in 1980, which was later transformed to the Southern African Development Community (SADC) in 1992.
Initially made up of nine countries namely Angola, Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland, the United Republic of Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe, SADC has grown to 15 members which now include the Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Mauritius, Namibia, South Africa and Seychelles.
Closer cooperation among the 15 Member States has seen the region achieve a number of milestones aimed at advancing political freedom into broader socio-economic independence that ensures improved living standards for its people.
For example, the region has broken down colonial barriers by opening up its borders to encourage the smooth movement of goods, services and people within the region.
This development has improved intra-regional trade, and facilitated the movement of skilled personnel in the region, as well as deepened people-to-people exchanges.
Unlike in the past, it is now possible for SADC citizens to easily move within the region without first obtaining a visa, as most countries have signed bilateral agreements between themselves to remove any stringent measures.
On the economic front, SADC citizens are now getting better products at lower prices due to increased production as a result of the implementation of the SADC Protocol on Trade in 2000 and the ultimately launch of the SADC Free Trade Area (FTA) in 2008.
By attaining the status of the FTA, producers and consumers in the region benefit from a tariff-free trade for all goods originating within the region. An estimated 85 percent tariff on all goods was attained by most SADC countries in 2008, while maximum liberalization was finally reached in 2012 when tariffs on sensitive products were removed.
All SADC countries, with the exception of Angola and DRC are members of the FTA. The two countries are expected to join the FTA soon, after requesting time to rebuild their economies following decades of armed conflict.
The next stage for SADC is to consolidate the gains of the FTA by creating a Customs Union, Common Market, Monetary Union, and eventually adopt a Single Currency for the region.
With regard to energy development, more SADC citizens now have access to sustainable modern energy services.
This has been made possible through a number of initiatives including the establishment of the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP) – a regional body that coordinates the planning, generation, transmission and marketing of electricity on behalf of SADC Member State utilities.
In 2013 alone, SAPP added 1,360 Megawatts (MW) of new electricity to the regional grid, and the region plans to install more than 6,000 MW in 2014 with the hope of ensuring that sufficient generation reserves of installed capacity is achieved in the few years to come.
The recently launched SADC Regional infrastructure Master Plan identifies a total of 73 power generation projects to increase generation from the current 56,000 MW and surpass the projected demand of 96,000 MW by 2027.
Another major regional initiative that has improved access to energy for SADC citizens is the commission of the competitive electricity market, commonly known as the Day Ahead Market (DAM) in December 2009.
The DAM has allowed SADC countries to easily sell and buy surplus electricity from each other, thereby helping some Member States to meet their growing demand for energy.
Improving energy access is a top priority for all SADC countries, and the region is working together to fully exploit the rich energy resources in the region which include solar, hydro and wind.
On the political scene, SADC has succeeded in consolidating peace and security. Political stability, peace and security are seen by SADC as the foundation for socio-economic development.
Except for one or two trouble spots such the political situation in eastern DRC, the SADC region is considered as one of the most stable regions in Africa.
In 1998, SADC-led troops helped DRC defend its sovereignty when some neighbouring countries tried to invade it, and the region continues to support DRC’s road to recovery and the restoration for total peace in eastern part of the country.
The involvement of SADC in Madagascar and Zimbabwe is yet another success story, which gives credence to the ability and effectiveness of SADC to solve its own challenges without unnecessary outside interference.
With respect to gender, SADC has made significant progress to elevating women in decision-making positions. August 2013 was the historic appointment of Dr Stergomena Lawrence Tax from Tanzania as the first women to assume the position of SADC Executive Secretary.
At the parliament level, SADC countries are making efforts to attain 50/50 representation in all decision-making positions by 2015.
According to the SADC Gender Monitor 2013 released at the 33rdSADC Summit held in Lilongwe, Malawi, representation of women in the Lower House of Parliament ranges from more than 40 percent in Seychelles and South Africa to around 10 percent in Botswana and the DRC.
Average SADC representation by women in parliament was 25.8 percent as of mid-2013, marginally up from 20.6 percent in 2005 and 23 percent in 2011, but still short of the 50 percent target.
Six SADC countries are significantly close to the target of parity in parliament, having gone above the 30 percent threshold set previously by regional leaders for representation of women.
These are Seychelles at 43.8 percent representation of women as of 2012, South Africa (41.3 percent), Mozambique (39.2 percent), Tanzania (36 percent) and Angola (34.1 percent). Zimbabwe, since the July 2013 elections, has 31.5 percent representation in the National Assembly and 47.5 women representation in the Senate.
As the momentum builds towards the 34th SADC Summit in Victoria Falls, SADC should aim at consolidating these gains and ensure deepen integration among Member States.
The 34th SADC Summit whose theme is “SADC Strategy for Economic Transformation: Leveraging the Region’s Diverse Resources for Sustainable Economic and Social Development through Beneficiation and Value Addition” will be held on 17-18 August.
SADC was established on 1 April 1980 in Lusaka, Zambia when nine independent states signed a Declaration titled “Southern Africa: Towards Economic Liberation,” whose main objectives were to reduce dependence, particularly on apartheid South Africa, as well as secure international understanding and support.
The transformation from SADCC to SADC was achieved in August 1992 in Windhoek, Namibia when the leaders signed the SADC Declaration and Treaty.
The leaders realised that, although the coordination conference had served them well and had demonstrated the crucial need to cooperate in their development efforts, the time had come to give the organisation a more formal legal status.
There was also a need to shift the focus of the organisation from coordination of development projects to a more complex task of integrating the economies of Member States.