Do we have the vision, courage and passion to recognise the potential of SADC?

South Africa takes over the chair of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) later this year in August. This will be a chance for the government to push an agenda that reinvigorates regional economic integration. There is always much said by our leaders about the importance of creating a regional market that encourages the development of Southern Africa as a whole but in reality there are still significant gaps between the commitments on paper and the actions of SADC Member States.

A colleague with a long history of working in support of regional integration, Gideon Phiri, posed the following questions at a recent workshop on SADC hosted by the Centre for Conflict Resolution in Cape Town.[1] To paraphrase, Gideon asked – do we have the vision, courage and passion to realise the dreams of regional integration in Southern Africa? Based on my own experiences of working in the region I use these three concepts below to explore the outstanding challenges of implementation of the regional agenda in SADC.

First, it is critical that the vision for SADC is shared. Implementation will only happen if the end goal resonates not just among political leaders in the region but also with the citizens of SADC and the ultimate beneficiaries of integration, such as the private sector. There is a strong need for greater communication about the nature of integration and its potential impacts outside of just the meetings between the elite and senior officials of the region. It is critical, for example, to work more closely with young people in SADC who will be in a position to refine the vision in line with changing times.

At present, we suffer from a lack of active champions pushing a broader perspective on development that transcends national boundaries. This is hardly surprising in light of the more nationalist tendencies we see taking hold in other parts of the world. It does however undermine the fact that our fate is intimately intertwined with that of our neighbours. Take, for example, the South African business community that continues to trade and invest in all other SADC countries but still seems to prefer to go it alone in many cases rather than positioning itself as a constituency willing to push a regional agenda. A more forward-looking vision is required by all stakeholders, not just governments.

A successful vision cannot be imposed from outside of the region. We can learn from other parts of the world that are also pursuing integration objectives but the model adopted needs to reflect the reality of SADC. It should be mutually beneficial and not alienate members in favour of the interests of a few. The regional goals must address the key challenges of Southern Africa, including poverty, inequality and unemployment, through actions that are accompanied by concrete timeframes and milestones.

Second, regional integration is not for the faint hearted. It requires courage as Gideon rightly identified. Democratically elected representatives are notoriously short sighted. A politician must be willing to take a risk when pushing regional issues that might not result in more votes at the next election. This is particularly the case while countries in SADC view each other as competitors vying for jobs, investment and economic growth. Regional integration is not an issue that will find widespread favour with voters until we are able to better communicate and share the vision described above.

Another aspect of the required courage from leaders in the region is the willingness to be held accountable for decisions taken in SADC. The track record in this regard is dismal. There are numerous examples where SADC Member States have sought to weaken those mechanisms put in place to monitor progress or ensure compliance. The most notable of these was the decision taken to review the SADC Tribunal in 2010 but there were also changes to the Protocol on Gender and Development in 2016 that saw the removal of previously agreed benchmarks for achieving greater levels of equality in the region. This reluctance to ensure that regional decisions are implemented at the national level is one of the most pressing challenges facing SADC and other regional economic communities in Africa.

By allowing greater access to the decision-making and discussion platforms of SADC for civil society, private sector, researchers, Parliamentarians and the media there would be enhanced accountability. Again this requires a display of courage on the part of regional leadership who to date have shown some reluctance in this regard. To their credit, civil society and business have continued to pursue a regional agenda in some areas, such as gender issues, poverty and infrastructure development.

Third is the concept of passion. Such an emotive term is not normally associated with regional integration but there are many individuals, organisations and leaders who are passionate about achieving results for SADC countries. These champions must be supported and encouraged to maintain their passion. It is important that they are also given the opportunity to pass on an enthusiastic understanding of a regional agenda to the next generation in a way that makes regional integration relevant for the every day lives of the citizens in SADC. There are many successes that have been achieved by SADC to date and it is by telling these stories and sharing experiences that passion will be ignited.

There are many technical reasons usually given for the lack of implementation of regional integration commitments and these are important to acknowledge. The reality however is that vision, courage and passion would go a long way to moving the SADC agenda forward.

[1] The full poem from his presentation follows below.

Photo credit: GovernmentZA via Visual hunt /  CC BY-ND

My SADC,

My Southern Africa

Gazing from the warm Western shores of Madagascar

In the distant horizon, Southern Africa beckons

 

This corner of Africa is my birthright

Topped by the evergreen Mauritius and Seychelles

This Southern Africa, so rich, so diverse, so uniquely connected

 

The mighty Zambezi River meanders over 3 000 kilometres

Pouring life into six of our nations

Recreating the majestic “smoke that thunders” – Musi-oa-Tunya, The Victoria Falls.

The Maluti Mountains in Lesotho give birth to the mighty Senqu

Gives birth to the prolific Orange-Senqu River basin

A living web of arteries that unite four nations to one life source

 

I have heard, the tongue of the people of the Kingdom of Swaziland

In praise songs of their distant relatives

The Ngoni Tribes in the far lands of Malawi, Tanzania & Zambia;

You would have heard of the Lozi-Sotho-Tswana cultural and language belt

Stretching from Western Zambia to the Kingdom of Lesotho

Anchored by Botswana and South Africa

Four nations, different shades, one people

 

WHO WOULD HAVE KNOWN

When in 1884, with a pen, they cut up this land

That Botswana would be a shining jewel?

That children of Zambia would be born with a copper spoon in their mouths?

That Southern Africa would be one?

 

WHO WOULD HAVE KNOWN

From the oil endowed Angola, standing firm in Africa’s Atlantic sunset

To the rising Mozambique, blooming in the morning Indian Ocean Sun

Southern Africa would be one?

 

WHO WOULD HAVE KNOWN

From South Africa where the Rainbow is anchored in Gold and MandelaThe epitome of selfless leadership

To the united Tanzania – The Cradle of Mankind

Southern Africa would be one?

 

WHO WOULD HAVE KNOWN

The people of Namibia

Detached from their Homeland

By the dunes of an unjust war

Now reconnected by a cry for freedom

A people rising, so full of promise

Would become a natural tenor to the Southern African tune?

 

WHO WOULD HAVE KNOWN

The scenic Mountains of the Kingdom of Lesotho

A source of life for a distant enterprise, would become?

The talent rich, resilient Zimbabwe, would become?

The mineral rich Democratic Republic of Congo, would become?

The warm throbbing heart of Africa – Malawi, would become?

 

INDEED WHO WOULD HAVE KNOWN

That with the 19th Century Cape-To-Cairo scheme

A 21st Century Southern Africa would become?

 

IT IS OUR CHILDREN WHO NEED TO KNOW:

For they must realise this dream, this vision

For they must live this reality, this creation

For this is their Africa, their land

 

TEACH THEM

To open their mouths not only to talk challenges

But to hunger for action

To lend their ear not to sneer

But to understand and learn

To extend their hand, not to take

But to be prepared to earn

To cherish this land, its people, their inheritance

 

CHALLENGE THEM

To soar beyond the 1884 dream of our captors

To break out of cages created by our detractors

To embrace this entirety. Its destiny

To become citizens of Southern Africa

 

SUPPORT THEM

To walk free this entire land as did their forefathers

To harness to their best, the wealth at their feet

To reach out to their neighbour,

For united they walk sure footed

To recreate a borderless Southern Africa

 

SOUTHERN AFRICA

Bound together by its deep cultural & natural roots;

Ancient bonds from the Cape to the Equator

Linking us one to the other

Our shared and common Heritage

Denying the changing times

Firmly rooted by life

WE BELONG HERE

THIS IS THE LAND WE CALL HOME

 

TOGETHER, LET US SHOUT THE UNITING CRY

THIS REGION – ITS 15 NATIONS – 

IS ONE LAND, ONE PEOPLE 

THIS DREAM IS LIVEABLE 

THIS VISION IS POSSIBLE 

DO YOU FEEL THE URGENCY 

DO YOU HAVE THE PASSION 

ARE YOU DRIVEN BY THE COURAGE 

TO LIVE THIS VISION

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