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.

Gideon Phiri, a colleague with a long history of working in support of regional integration, recently posed the question: “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 with political leaders in the region but also with the citizens of SADC and the ultimate beneficiaries of integration, such as the private sector.

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 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. This is particularly the case while countries in SADC view each other as competitors vying for jobs, investment and economic growth.

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.

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.

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 everyday lives of the citizens in SADC. 

Catherine Grant Makokera is a senior consultant and director at Tutwa Consulting Group. She is also a research associate at the trade law centre at Stellenbosch University. She teaches international business on the MBA programme at Wits Business School, and international political economy in the International Relations Department at Wits University.

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