Business Day Those who live in southern Africa often hear news of progress made in building the European Union (EU), and how it has gradually enlarged over time to encompass 27 countries and 500-million citizens, as well as of the financial crisis threatening the euro.
How many of the 250-million citizens in our region know that 14 members of the key regional organisation, the Southern African Development Community (SADC), are now gathering for the annual summit, being held in Windhoek, Namibia, where SADC was inaugurated in 1992?
How many know that SADC’s headquarters are in Gaborone, Botswana, or that this is the year in which SADC’s regional standby peacekeeping force is supposed to become operational? How many know what economic ties bind the region? There has been hardly any news coverage of the summit and what it may or may not achieve. It is rare to read about SADC at all.
SA joined SADC in only 1994, and before that the regional organisation was mainly concerned with countering the apartheid regime. We can now recognise that allowing countries to join SADC unconditionally was a mistake (the EU’s strict requirements for, and limits upon, admission have been crucial in helping to build that regional organisation). In retrospect, it is not clear that SADC should have allowed overlapping membership with other regional organisations.
Further , former South African president Thabo Mbeki arguably erred in putting so much emphasis on the African Union and the continent instead of on the region. Africa’s regions have emerged as essential building blocks for a continental union. Namibia is now mooting the creation of a SADC parliament as it takes over the chair of the organisation.
This SADC summit will address southern Africa’s regional economic integration efforts. To date, attempts to implement the SADC free trade area and establish a SADC customs union have been stymied by the fact that most SADC members belong to more than one economic community. In addition, SADC states have adopted different responses to the economic partnership agreements with the EU that are to replace nonreciprocal trade that had previously favoured developing countries. The EU-SA Trade Agreement has caused large revenue losses to other SADC states.
SADC should work to strengthen national institutions, empower parliaments, support independent judiciaries, and institutionalise anticorruption and human rights commissions. The Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition has called on SADC to act at the Windhoek summit to ensure the country adheres to the electoral guidelines that SADC drew up a few years ago.
SADC countries face other severe challenges. The organisation should tackle food insecurity by boosting agriculture, implement early warning systems for disasters such as droughts and floods, and harness the region’s natural resources.
With the region having more than 30% of the 40-million people worldwide living with HIV, a regional policy on HIV should be implemented.
Another issue is the free movement of people, given the horrifying xenophobic attacks in SA in 2008 and the recent fear of a recurrence following the World Cup.
The summit should address southern Africa’s peace-building challenges and assess how external actors such as the United Nations and the EU can aid post-conflict reconstruction.
Greater peace and economic growth in recent years offer the region the opportunity to reduce its dependence on the EU for funding, and to put more resources into SADC.
Whether this happens will depend on the leaders of the states that make up the community. A strong regional organisation cannot be built without strong national leadership. Civil society should play its part to build peace in the region through helping SADC to develop the appropriate institutions and ensuring the development that its name promises.
Greater media coverage, which helps engage key actors and populations at large, can help promote SADC’s evolution into an organisation of which the region can be proud.
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