SADC must play its own tune

“It is quite disheartening that there is negligible trade between and among African states. It is a sad fact that we are primarily suppliers of raw materials with very few industrialised nations among us. Equally important is the need to continue to scale up implementation of regional infrastructure, given that it is a key enabler to economic integration and development.”

The above words were aptly put across by incoming SADC chairman, President Ian Khama of Botswana, at the end of the regional trading bloc’s summit in Gaborone.

The need to increase trade among African countries and the call for the beneficiation of raw materials must be followed through and it is our hope that President Khama sees it through and runs with the baton he was handed by outgoing chairman, President Robert Mugabe. Increasing trade among African countries is something the continent is presently engaged in judging by the successful launching of the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa-East African Community-SADC Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA) in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, in June this year.

But more needs to be done to operationalise these programmes given that there doesn’t appear to be meaningful trade going on among African states if statistics are anything to go by.

While there has been political will to see the free trade areas work, there is need for greater private business involvement so that these do not just become political statements. What is needed now is moving away from the political rhetoric to practical engagements that will take not only the SADC region forward, but the entire continent. The region, one of the most peaceful, if not the most peaceful and development-oriented on the entire African continent, has come of age in terms creating harmonious relationship among its 14-member states.

The peace prevailing in the SADC region bodes well for investors who are the drivers of economic development and this tallies with its strategy of ensuring that industrialisation is brought to the forefront through the adoption of sound policies that support value addition and infrastructure development.

It is an unpalatable paradox that Africa is endowed with vast natural resources — iron, copper, cobalt, nickel, platinum, gold, diamonds, chrome, coal, bauxite, oil, uranium, rubber and timber — but cannot process these on the continent. In most cases, the minerals are exported in their raw forms to industrialised countries at a cheaper prices. These countries process them and add value to the raw materials and re-export the goods they make back to Africa at higher prices.

We have said it before and we will continue saying it: Africa must add value to its raw materials and this is the only way that the continent can move out of poverty. SADC has led the way through adopting the revised Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan (RISDP) and Industrialisation Strategy and Roadmap and we hope other regional trading blocs that make up the African Union will also follow its footsteps and come up with policies that are aimed at uprooting poverty on the continent.

We are glad that the region this year chose to continue on the path of industrialisation and infrastructure development and followed up the theme on beneficiation of raw materials adopted at the SADC Summit in Victoria Falls last year.

Zimbabwe has been at the forefront of this clarion call for Africans to be their own economic liberators through its empowerment policies, some of which are being adopted by other SADC member states.

The country recently gave platinum miners a deadline by which they should set up a refinery to process the platinum group metals in the country, failure of which the state would come down hard on them. If all countries in the region were to process their minerals and processing them, this would have far reaching effects on their economies as well as the regional economy. It means there would be vast employment opportunities right from the extractive and processing industries to downstream industries.

That would boost their economies and provide citizens with employment opportunities. Pictures of Africa immigrants crowded on rickety boats on the Mediterranean Sea and some drowning while headed for Europe to seek employment are depressing, to say the least, and must spur leaders on the continent to redouble their efforts to develop the motherland. While commending SADC for working resolutely towards its vision to transform itself into an independent, prosperous and self-sustaining region, we urge the region to fund its own programmes and desist from heavy donor dependency.

Member states must therefore pay their subscriptions on time and use this money to fund SADC programmes. Heavy donor dependency can only derail programmes and the regional trading bloc must be wary of the old adage that “he who pays the piper plays the tune”.

SADC must play its tune and that tune is increasing regional trade, economic integration, industrialisation and beneficiation of raw materials for the benefit of all the people of the region.

November 2015
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