All Work, No Play …As leaders chart roadmap for SADC
The leaders came in their numbers. Security details were everywhere. Officials were on their toes sorting out the logistics for the event. There was an unusually heavy movement of these big vehicles in the sweltering heat of Victoria Falls, the resort town whose main economic activity is characterised by foreign tourists trudging up and down Livingstone Road under wide-rimmed sun hats, and curio shops lining both sides of every street.
The rather serene environment was intermittently punctuated by the high-pitched sirens of motor cycle outriders, as they brought in Heads of State and Government from Victoria Falls International Airport for the 34th SADC Summit held on August 17 and 18, 2014.
Something big was in the offing.
Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe took over the regional bloc’s rotating Chair from Malawi’s newly-elected president, Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika, at a ceremony attended by nearly all the 15 SADC leaders. Two of those who could not make it for one reason or other, sent senior representatives.
There was not much glamour. There was little fanfare. It was clear the new Chair had an agenda ready for his tenure.
The theme for the summit, “SADC Strategy for Economic Transformation: Leveraging the Region’s Diverse Resources for Sustainable Economic and Social Development Through Beneficiation and Value Addition” is consonant with the grouping’s 15-year Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan (RISDP) adopted by SADC leaders in 2003, as a roadmap for regional integration and development.
But this is being reviewed to give it more focus, to set more specific targets.
President Mugabe stated in his acceptance speech after assuming chairmanship of SADC that revision of the RISDP should be “reality check” rather than just “an academic exercise”.
Despite the region’s rich mineral endowment, it is still classified among the poorest on the continent.
Earlier in the week Zimbabwe’s Foreign Affairs Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi told colleagues, as the incoming chair of the SADC Council of Ministers, “It is not how many meetings we hold that will determine how effective we are. It is not how many agreements we sign that will determine our impact on the people that we serve.”
He then posed the big question from the people, saying citizens were always asking, “What is SADC doing to uplift the quality of their lives to rid them of poverty, underdevelopment and other social ills?”
He responded, “Our success should be measured by the impact of our actions on the people.”
President Mugabe was more emphatic, “We should not be tempted to introduce or embrace too many programmes which in the end we fail to fund from our own resources. We, therefore, feel that the current process underway to review the Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan should not be a mere academic exercise but a reality check, which should redirect us.”
President Mugabe made it clear that foreign funding of regional programmes “compromised ownership”. He said industrialisation should be a priority for the region to promote beneficiation and value addition to minerals and agricultural resources.
Echoes of value addition were very loud in the theme for the conference. They reverberated in the presentations by SADC Executive Secretary, Stergomena Lawrence Tax, and African Union Commission Chair, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
“Our economies continue to be characterised by high dependence on agricultural, mineral and other natural resource-based commodity production and exports, with too little value addition and limited forward and backward linkages to other sectors of the economy.
The key challenge for SADC countries is how to design and implement effective policies to promote industrialisation and economic transformation,” Tax said.
It was interesting that these pronouncements were readily accepted as self-evident truths and priorities in SADC while in Zimbabwe they have been met with cynicism about their feasibility, especially on the issue of funding.
Earlier in the week Minister Mumbengegwi was forced to confront robust questions of resource-ownership by at least three journalists from the region.
They wanted to know how SADC intended to carry out beneficiation and value addition in the region when most mines were owned by foreign companies. What was the level of commitment to this undertaking?
The minister was very modest about Zimbabwe’s own radical approach. He acknowledged the dilemma raised by the journalists, but pointed out, “We in Zimbabwe have chosen the 51/49 percent ownership structure to deal with the issue of ownership. We are not saying other countries should follow our example but that is how we are doing it. It is a serious dilemma.”
He said it would be “un-SADC-like” for Zimbabwe to dictate policy issues to fellow member states on how to resolve that dilemma. It was enough that the theme for the conference was agreed through consultation and consensus. The leaders would have to confront it head on.
President Mugabe stressed that the issue of funding would be dealt with through beneficiation of primary resources to add value. He pointed out that there was a huge market to promote regional trade. What was key was co-operation and to balance the demands for industrialisation by a majority of SADC member states and the desire to liberalise trade. Dlamini-Zuma added her voice, pointing out that, given its natural endowments, SADC could easily rival the Asian Tigers. She noted that by exporting raw materials, Africa was also exporting desperately needed jobs.
According to the AU Commission chief, to achieve a prosperous, integrated, people-centred Africa, the governments need to transform their economies, and use the continent’s diverse resources through value addition and beneficiation.
“We need to skill hundreds of thousands of our people, focusing more on science, technology, research and innovation,” she said.
Minister Mumbengegwi had earlier cautioned in a briefing to journalists about what amounted to a conspiracy by industrialised countries to keep Africa under the heel of dependency by denying it technologies. He noted the resistance by multinational companies to beneficiate locally, claiming importing plant was too expensive.
There is no doubt that they want to protect jobs back home while denying the same to the owners of the resources.
The summit resolutions to make industrialisation the driver of regional integration shows SADC countries are beginning to think more about funding their own programmes. Development partners might still be important, but there is a realisation that African resources are being grossly undervalued by being exported unprocessed