Regional Integration: A Test of Political Will
Lusaka – Africa still lacks infrastructure to accelerate regional integration from Cape to Cairo despite numerous investments poured into the continent’s 54-member states.
China has pledged to invest more than US$10 billion in the next few years through access to natural and mineral resources. And the African Development Bank, among other co-operating partners, has joined the race to make Africa attractive for much-needed direct foreign investment to develop the continent.
However, Zambia believes all African countries need to step up efforts in rebuilding rundown infrastructure ‑ which continues to stifle the continent’s development, as well as increase the Gross Domestic Product and reduce grinding poverty among the citizenry.
In recent years, there has been a deliberate policy by the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), East African Community (EAC) countries and Southern African Development Community (SADC) to enhance infrastructure development – a vital cog for developing the continent.
Zambian Finance Minister, Alexander Chikwanda, recently noted Zambia’s commitment to remove bottlenecks such as poor cross-border facilities and trade imbalances in its quest to promote regional integration earmarked for implementation by 2018.
“The sub-regional economic communities namely SADC and COMESA have identified the North-South corridor as one of the most critical infrastructure requirements for regional integration,” he said when he officiated at the opening of the US$6-million Katima Mulilo one-stop border facility.
“We cannot continue to do business as usual without the complete overhaul of infrastructure and harmonisation of trade policies if we want the North-South corridor to meet the challenges of inter-regional trade,” he said.
Minister Chikwanda stressed that the opening of the Katima Mulilo facility would help promote the smooth and efficient flow of goods, facilitate increased intra- and inter-regional trade, reduce the cost of doing business and improve the flow of foreign direct investment and ultimately increasing growth and prosperity of the region.
At the same occasion, Zambia’s minister of interior (home affairs), Edgar Lungu, said the Katima Mulilo facility would ease the movement of people of Namibia and Zambia, especially after the signing of the SADC Protocol by Zambia.
Namibian representative, Cletus Sipapela, said the border facility was a milestone in the harmonisation of the bilateral relationship between the two countries.
Zambia has earmarked various infrastructural development programmes to make the country compatible with other countries in the three economic groupings that seek to be part of the new era.
The Zambian government has initiated a programme to develop major roads linking the country to various border points under the US$5.6 billion ‘Link Zambia Project’ as well as rehabilitating more than 2 000 kilometres of roads in various cities and local towns in the country.
The country has also approved the construction of a US$1-billion private-owned railway line, to link Zambia with Angola and Lobito Bay, to ease the flow of goods and services among SADC member states that will link up with the North Western Railway company.
COMESA, boasting of a membership of more than 20 countries, is seeking to issue a US$1 billion bond to boost infrastructure development in member countries to accelerate regional integration.
Various economic groupings and donors have taken interest in the integration initiative, including the African Development Bank, which has pledged more than US$100 million to enhance infrastructure development.
Meanwhile, SADC has scheduled a high-level infrastructure investment conference for June 27 to 28, 2013, in Maputo, Mozambique.
According to the regional grouping’s master plan seen by The Southern Times in Lusaka recently, one of the objectives of the conference is to lure potential investors into the rolling-out of the Regional Infrastructure Development Master Plan (RIDMP) Vision 2027, which was adopted by SADC Heads of State and Government at the Maputo Summit last August. The 15-year blueprint will guide the implementation of cross-border infrastructure projects between 2013 and 2027.
The conference whose theme is: “Accelerating infrastructure investment through sustainable and innovative financing” has attracted the SADC Troika Heads of State from Angola, Malawi and Mozambique.
Heads of State and other dignitaries expected include South Africa’s Jacob Zuma (in his capacity as champion for the NEPAD Presidential Infrastructure Championship Initiative (PICI)), presidents of the African Development Bank and World Bank, Chairperson of the African Union Commission, leading private sector representatives and ministers responsible for infrastructure-related sectors in the SADC member states.
The SADC RIDMP would be implemented over three five-year intervals – short-term (2012-2017), medium-term (2017-2022) and long-term (2022-2027).
So far, priority infrastructure projects worth about US$500 billion have been identified and the Maputo Investor Conference is part of the marketing strategy to mobilise resources for their implementation. Other interventions include road shows planned to take place in Asia and Europe.
The master plan is in line with the Programme for Infrastructure Development of Africa (PIDA), which is a continental initiative of the African Union Commission (AUC), in partnership with the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), African Development Bank (AfDB) and the NEPAD Planning and Coordinating Agency (NPCA).
The SADC Secretariat ‑ in collaboration with SADC ministries responsible for energy, transport, tourism, ICT and postal, meteorology and water ‑ would formulate frameworks to guide the implementation of efficient, seamless and cost-effective trans-boundary infrastructure networks.
However, some financial and economic experts in SADC, including South Africa’s SAIAA ‑ the economic think tank based in South Africa ‑ say regional integration in Africa remains a long way from succeeding until the countries concerned consider dropping their “newly acquired sovereignty”, which restricts them from actively competing with other countries on fair trade terms to protect their local industries.
Mark Pearson, a regional integration expert, recently told journalists meeting in South Africa that, “There must be a political will for each government to accept to spend money on rebuilding infrastructure, according to the master plan which costs billions of money.”
“The question is, are various countries willing to give up their sovereignty to protect their products from competition?”
Among the key barriers to accelerated trade in all regional blocs is lack of political will to agree favourably on various harmonised trade terms coupled with human and technical barriers. Among others, free movement of people across SADC, COMESA and EAC ‑ which have a combined population of more than a billion.
RIDMP Priority Projects
The master plan is expected to address four key areas of energy, security, improving access to modern energy services, tapping the abundant energy resources in the continent and up-scaling financial investment while enhancing environmental sustainability.
The master plan prioritises strengthening institutions, preparation of bankable strategic water infrastructure development projects, increased water storage to prepare for resilience against climate change, increasing access to safe drinking water; and enhancing sanitation services for SADC citizens, facilitating and co-ordinating the SADC Regional Water Programme.
The transport sector plan focuses on effective regulation of transport services, liberalisation of transport markets, development of corridors and facilitation of cross-border movement, construction of missing regional transport links, corridor management institutions establishment for Beira, Lobito and North-South Corridors, and harmonisation of road safety data systems.
Information Communication Technology
The plan focuses on addressing harmonisation of SADC regional ICT policy and regulatory frameworks, SADC regional ICT infrastructure development, international and regional coordination, co-ordination and harmonisation of SADC ICT and postal strategic plans and programmes, facilitation of policy dialogue and implementation of the Transport, Communication and Meteorology Protocol.
In the tourism sector, the plan is geared towards achieving enhanced socio-economic development, facilitating joint marketing of SADC as a single destination, increasing tourism arrivals and tourism receipts from source markets, and developing the tourism sector in an environmentally sustainable manner. The plan focuses on ensuring availability of timely early warning information relating to adverse weather and climate variability impacts. Another highlight in the meteorology sector is the development of a framework for harmonised indicators for the provision of relevant climate forecasting information to facilitate preparations of mitigation measures against droughts, floods and cyclones n the meteorology sector.