None ourselves but can create the SADC that we want

The just-ended 37th SADC Summit in Pretoria, South Africa, prove once again that there is more that unites the region than that which divides it and that the 15-member trading bloc needs to keep the momentum towards industrial development.

For the fourth year running, the issue industrialisation dominated the discussions with leaders brainstorming over how to further develop their economies and improve the lives of their peoples.

Incoming chairperson, President Zuma of South Africa pledged to drive forward SADC’s industrialisation agenda, first mooted in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, in 2014, by building on the “remarkable progress” made by his predecessor, King Mswati III of Swaziland. President Zuma said South Africa would use its chairpersonship to drive regional industrialisation and integration, through various potential growth paths including, agro-processing and mineral beneficiation.

It was no wonder therefore that the theme of this year’s summit was “Partnering With the Private Sector in Developing Industry and Regional Value Chains”.  The SADC leaders must therefore be commended for efforts towards ensuring the development of their region through industrialisation and beneficiation of minerals and commodities found in the region.

But we must hasten to say away from the summit rhetoric, the region’s leaders must now grasp the nettle and gird their loins to ensure that what has been agreed upon must be implemented without further delay.  There is a need to move away from the talk shows and get down to serious business that must be done at both government and private sector levels in the region.

The first port of call would be to work on projects that have been identified in the region, and these range from the power and energy sectors, water, construction, roads, railways and ports to health and social programmes that will improve the lives of the people of the SADC region.

As President Zuma said, the region is sitting on huge reserves of gas.  There is no reason why these must not be exploited for the betterment of the people in the region, a majority of whom still lack access to energy.  Exploiting gas and using it as form of energy has the added benefit stopping desertification in the region, where the majority of the people still use wood as fuel for cooking.   

Experts say Southern Africa is most likely sitting on massive natural gas reserves of more than 600 trillion cubic feet which the region must exploit to reduce a heavy reliance on biomass energy and wood.

That the region is sitting on these massive gas reserves found in Angola, Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique, Namibia, Tanzania and Zimbabwe which have gone untapped is an indictment on the leadership which must now act to exploit these.  We hope the leaders at the summit took heed of President Zuma’s call to form an inter-state committee to explore ways of exploiting the gas reserves.

Power projects such as the Grand Inga have been on the drawing board for a long time, yet SADC faces power deficits.  Again there is a need for countries in the region, working with partners like the African Development Bank, to implement these projects and ensure there is more power for industrial development.  There is no doubt that without power, there won’t be any industrialisation and beneficiation.

Solar power must also be pursued as an alternative form of energy for lighting, especially in rural areas that off the main power grids. The region enjoys abundant sunshine throughout the year but sadly, hasn’t taken advantage of this God-given resource to light up homes.

Infrastructure projects like roads, railways, sea and air ports must be speeded up if SADC is to achieve its long cherished goal of economic emancipation.

There is also the much-talked about univisa which allows for free movement of people in the region to promote trade and tourism and we believe there has not been enough political will to implement this.  Tourism is one of the fastest growing industries in the world and the SADC region is endowed with flora and fauna that promotes tourism.  A promotion of intra-SADC tourism will go a long way in luring tourists from abroad to also visit to the region, and thereby go a long way in developing the tourism industry.

But this cannot happen when there are still issues on cross-border trade between countries.  It was quite embarrassing that as the SADC leaders were meeting, the national airlines of South Africa and Zimbabwe were involved in a war of attrition that resulted in the grounding of planes from either countries.

A few weeks before the meeting, Botswana and Zambia, and Zambia and Namibia had also tiffs on trade issues.  As we reported a few weeks ago, fishermen from Zambia were blocked by Botswana authorities from crossing the border with catch from that country.  In February, about 70 Namibian trucks carrying timber from the DRC were impounded in Zambia and had to endure more than six months held up in that country.

This certainly is not the SADC that we want and there is a need for practical solutions to problems bedeviling the region.  We hope during their closed door meetings, the SADC leaders tackled these issues and ironed out problems so as to create the enabling environment for regional integration.  It is none but ourselves who will create the SADC that we want.

August 2017
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