Region must address economic issues to tackle multifaceted problems

After so many years of independence, citizens in Southern Africa still struggle to access economic resources as well as opportunities, real or perceived.

As a result and like most African countries, Southern African Development Community (SADC) member-states suffer from diseases, chronic poverty, lack of advanced agricultural technology, minimal governmental regulations, weak distribution channels and the fragmentation of agricultural land, which is split between several families or communities because of a lack of effective regulation or legislation.

Wilbert Zvemoyo, a Harare based civil engineer, also says unplanned growth of shanty settlements, pushed by rapid urbunisation is an additional challenge for some, is not all, SADC states.

“While urbanisation is a main driver for development and economic growth, unplanned growth of shanty settlements around towns and cities in Southern Africa is a threat to SADC’s main cities,” he said.

Another headache for SADC leaders, according to Teresa Nogueira Pinto, an African Affairs expert, is caused by unemployment, mainly among the youths as most of them are jobless, and those who are employed fall under the vulnerable employment category, that is the sum of the employment status groups of own-account workers and contributing family workers.

This problem, adds Pinto, is further heightened by SADC’s bulging population.

Vusi Mavimbela, South Africa’s Ambassador to Zimbabwe, conversely, believes regional leaders need to move with speed to ensure the development of their own economies as well as the stability of their societies.

“SADC, without doubt, must address economic issues to tackle multifaceted problems that are stalling socio-economic transformation, and undermining the very basis of harmony and peaceful societies.

“Countries in Southern Africa seriously need to industrialise, integrate economies over and above transform economies in line with the demographics of their respective societies to ensure that the region achieves its sustainable development goals,” he said.

Mavimbela added: “Regional countries need to reduce inequalities, harness the potential of women and the youths, improve livelihoods, maintain ecosystems, and reduce the drivers of conflict and instability.

“They need to secure respectable positions amongst the developing and developed economies of the world, work together to positively transform multilateral institutions as well as educate citizens to build and defend thriving democracies.”

He added that states in Southern Africa also need to fight corruption and promote healthy citizens as well as healthy habitats so as to prevent the scourge of diseases in the region.

Helen Clark, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Administrator, believes steadily increasing revenues can create more opportunities to transform economies and societies, clearing a way for an emergent Africa.

Accordingly, SADC countries need to implement adequate tax and social security systems as well as policies and strategies which contribute to the expansion of the private sector, job creation and increase in productivity levels if they are to achieve the region’s main purpose – to advance socio-economic cooperation and integration, and foster political cooperation and security among its southern African member-states.

Chris Paizis, head of Markets Distribution for Greater Africa at Barclays, says SADC’s ability to address multifaceted challenges will be strengthened by looking at ways to increase investment in the region.

“To address social and economic challenges bedeviling the region, SADC states need to look at ways to increase investment in the region. 

They need to court regional as well as international investors.

“However, foreign investors do not have enough visibility about what is happening in regional countries; therefore, the onus is on SADC-based entities to deliver that knowledge and vision to the rest of the world,” he noted.

Paizis added: “Companies operating successfully in the region know local conditions and understand local risks. 

They are in the best position to explain the realities of working here.”

Harare based research and development analyst, Masimba Mavhudzi, believes infrastructure development is one of SADC’s greatest needs as well as one of the most important ways to create jobs and spur economic growth.

“SADC must not only resolve to enhance political and military co-operation, but should come together on trade and economic issues, especially infrastructure growth.

“Infrastructure development leads to regional integration, which is happening in the region, but not quickly enough,” he said.

Mavhudzi added: “More commitment is needed from government sectors and development partners to make regional projects work – close the infrastructure gap, and the promotion of regional trade, regional integration, infrastructure and other economic intervention is crucial in tackling multifaceted problems stalling development in the region.”

Speaking at the panel discussion on the future of Africa’s capital markets at the World Economic Forum on Africa in Cape Town recently, Barclays Africa chief executive, Maria Ramos, said regional countries need to trade more with themselves to ensure efficient production, contribute towards climate improvement for domestic, cross-border and foreign investment, and enhance economic development, diversification and industrialisation of the region.

“SADC is a region that trades very little with itself. This must change. Member-states need to open borders and confluence towards a uni-visa travel system that allows free movement of goods and people, including capital mobility,” she said.

Ramos added that economies across the region stood to gain enormously from market integration, but this calls for political will and financial support.

Irene Petras, director, Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, asserts that human rights are central to achieve sustainable development and regional integrations.

Accordingly, she urged SADC states to press for human rights improvement across the region, a fact shared by Deprose Muchena of Amnesty International, who said “SADC should strive to create conditions for all to enjoy their economic, social, civil and political rights.”  

On the other side, Pinto suggests that to address economic issues, SADC countries need to shift economies away from their dependence on commodities.

“Total SADC trade is still largely dominated by commodities. 

This means there is very limited value addition locally and limited retention of value of these exports.

“Countries, therefore, to add value to their raw and material resources if they are to promote sustainable and equitable economic growth and socio-economic development,” she said.

While there is a lot that governments in Southern Africa can do, particularly in providing policy and regulatory certainty, the private sector has an important role to play in unlocking SADC’s opportunities.

“Private sector players in the regional grouping need to provide governments with both technical as well as financial support to prop up job creation, reduce inequality and lift citizens out of poverty,” added Pinto.

SADC’s future success, honestly, depends on stability, sound policies and solid institutions. 

Accordingly, it is time for political and business leaders to rebuild SADC economies through addressing socio-economic issues for the region is to realise focused on its vision, to build a region in which a high degree of harmonisation and rationalisation would enable the pooling of resources to achieve collective self-reliance in order to improve the living standards and quality of life of its citizens.

July 2015
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