Peace and security, political stability, solidarity, establishment of a free trade area and increasing intra-regional trade are some of the major achievements in Southern Africa over the past 40 years, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Executive Secretary, Her Excellency Dr Stergomena Lawrence Tax, has said.
In an interview with Dr Shaka Ssali on Voice of America’s, Straight Talk Africa, H.E.Dr Tax highlighted SADC’s major successes over the past 40 years, saying these were underpinned by peace and security.
Right from the outset, solidarity among Member States that formed the Frontline States, namely Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, Tanzania, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe, had led to the independence of Namibia in 1990, and the end of apartheid in South Africa, culminating in free and fair elections that ushered in a majority government in that country in 1994.
The formation of the Southern African Development Co-ordination Conference (SADCC) in April 1980, and the independence of Zimbabwe at the same time, had cemented the solidarity of the countries of the region, which had together waged a bitter struggle against colonial rule in Zimbabwe, and apartheid in Namibia and South Africa.
Southern Africa in August this year commemorated the formation of SADCC, which was transformed into the Southern African Development Community (SADC) at its summit in Windhoek, Namibia, in 1992.
Responding to questions on the region’s achievements over the years, H.E. Dr Tax said, “Indeed we are very happy and very proud as a region to have reached this long journey. We have a long history, the region, the organization, has a long history. Let me begin from April 1980 when SADCC was established, by then there was a declaration towards economic liberation .... we had worked together for political liberation and the intention was that all the countries which had not reached political liberation do that.
“So through that cooperation, Namibia became independent in 1990 and then the leaders decided to form SADC, the Southern African Development Community, in its current form through a declaration in August 1992. That was in Windhoek, Namibia, the first one (SADCC) was in Zambia in 1980.
“Since then we agreed that we are to co-operate, to first sustain our peace and security, as well as, political stability because they are very critical for us, and also to accelerate development and economic integration. So since then, there has been a number of policies, strategies protocols which we have put together, which we are implementing.”
The major outcome of the summit, H.E. Dr Tax said, was the adoption of two major documents to succeed the Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan (RISDP) 2005-2020 and the Strategic Indicative Plan for the Organ on Defense, Politics and Security (SIPO).
The main objective of the RISDP 2005-2020 was to provide a coherent and comprehensive long-term development framework. It identified a number of time-bound socio-economic and political priority areas and targets. SIPO was aimed at creating a peaceful and stable political and security environment through which the region would realize its objectives of socio-economic development, poverty eradication, and regional integration.
The region had been guided by these two strategic documents over the past 15 years, and they had now reached their end so it was important that they be replaced by successor strategic documents to move the regional integration agenda, H.E. Dr Tax said.
Thus at the 40th Summit, SADC leaders approved Vision 2050 which is based on a firm foundation of Peace, Security and Democratic Governance, and premised on three interrelated pillars, namely Industrial Development and Market Integration; Infrastructure Development in support of Regional Integration; and Social and Human Capital Development. The Summit also approved RISDP 2020-2030 to operationalize SADC Vision 2050 and to succeed the Revised RISDP 2015-2020 and Revised SIPO 2015-2020, which, lapsed in March 2020. Vision 2050 sets out the long-term aspirations of SADC over the next 30 years while the RISDP 2020-30 outlines the proposed development trajectory for the region until 2030. With the adoption of the RISDP 2020-2030 and the SADC Vision 2050, SADC will be guided by the SADC Vision 2050, which envisions a peaceful, inclusive, middle to high income industrialized region, where all citizens enjoy sustainable economic well-being, justice and freedom.
Another major achievement for SADC on the economic front, H.E. Dr Tax said, was the establishment of the Free Trade Area in (2008) which had managed to improve intra-trade. Intra-SADC trade rose from 16.3 percent in 2008 to 21.6 percent in 2016, but slowed down to 20.0 percent in 2017 and again to 19.3 percent in 2018.
While performance has been mixed, at times, the speed was slow, there is hope that intra-SADC trade would grow and that Member States needed to improve their competitiveness by addressing the supply-side constraints, including strengthening cooperation in cross-border infrastructure, she said. “And now the orientation has been on industrialisation. Notwithstanding having a Free Trade Area, we realized that we need to enhance our competitiveness and productive capacities to utilize the free market which we have established,” she said.
The SADC FTA creates a larger market for goods and services, allowing traders and investors to enjoy tariff-free trade, in an integrated market of 16 SADC Member States, with a combined GDP of US$720 billion and a population of 340 million. The SADC FTA is complemented by the Tripartite (COMESA-EAC-SADC) Free Trade Area (TFTA) with an integrated market of 26 countries of the three regional economic blocs, a combined population of 700 million and a GDP of over US$1.4 trillion.
H.E. Dr Tax said the 40th SADC Summit, that was under the Chairpersonship of Mozambique, on 17 August, was historical in that this was the first time in the history of SADC that a Summit of Heads of State and Government was virtually convened, and was due to the challenges brought about by COVID-19.
“It was very important that we hold that summit. As a region we agreed and we said here we are in a situation where we are faced with COVID-19, that was since March when we had our first case in South Africa, which is a SADC member, and we said no, we need to move forward and as we move forward what should we do? “Immediately there was a decision that from now on, we conduct our regional activities virtually. But the summit was a different thing altogether. Bringing together 16 Heads of State in a virtual summit was not easy. And it was a bold decision to make. But we managed.
People ask why do you feel that it was a difficult decision? Yes, these are Heads of State, you have to ensure their security in terms of content, physical security, we live in a cyber-sophisticated environment so it was a big job and a bold decision to take,” she said.
SADC’s strength, H.E. Dr Tax said, was on peace and security and the region had put in place mechanisms of conflict management and resolution, which have enabled the region to intervene, and support SADC Member States, including the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Kingdom of Lesotho and the Republic of Madagascar, where it had recorded successes in bringing stability and constitutional normalcy. For example, SADC had assisted the DRC to have peaceful elections, and to contributed to peace keeping efforts, especially in the northern and eastern areas, through a Force Intervention Brigade which is part of the United Nations Troops. The region also continue to assist Lesotho to have political stability after years of instability brought about by frequent changes in administration. In Madagascar, the regional bloc had managed to bring different parties together, through a process mediation led by the Former Mozambican President H.E Joaquim Chissano, resulting in political stability and constitutional normalcy.
Watch the Interview of the SADC Executive Secretary H.E. Dr Tax and Dr Shaka Ssali on this link: https://www.voanews.com/watch/straight-talk-africa