THE Southern African Development Community has made significant progress towards achieving its vision of a united, prosperous and integrated region.
SADC chairperson and Namibian president Hage Geingob said major milestones recorded by the regional body include the launch of a free trade area (FTA) in August 2008.
Geingob said this while presenting a report on the status of regional integration in SADC to the inaugural African Union (AU)-Regional Economic Communities (RECs) coordination meeting held in Niamey, Niger, earlier this month.
The FTA, which covers 12 member states, has led to an increase in SADC intra-regional trade to above 22% of the collective gross domestic product, compared to the pre-FTA era high of around 16%.
Furthermore, the launch of the SADC FTA has allowed consumers in the region to get better products at lower prices due to increased production, while producers are benefiting from tariff-free trade for all goods originating within the region.
The main aim of the FTA is to promote the smooth movement of goods and services across SADC borders, as well as to encourage member states to harmonise trade policies to promote equal competition and increased trade.
Another achievement for SADC is the establishment of a regional payment system to settle cross-border transactions faster without having to rely on intermediary banks from outside the region.
Commonly known as the SADC Real Time Gross Settlement System, it was established in July 2013 and piloted in four countries – Eswatini (Swaziland), Lesotho, Namibia and South Africa.
The system is now operational in 14 SADC member states, except for Madagascar and the Union of Comoros.
“The SADC cross-border Real Time Gross Settlement System has improved efficiency and reduced transaction costs,” Geingob said.
He said the system has “performed impressively with 81 banks participating, and over 1,2 million transactions settled by the end of 2018, representing N$5,21 trillion worth of SADC’s intra-regional trade.”
On the energy front, the establishment of the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP) has provided a platform for power utilities within the region to share electricity across borders, thereby allowing countries to manage their energy surpluses and deficits.
All mainland SADC member states, with the exception of Angola, Malawi and Tanzania, are interconnected to the regional grid through SAPP, allowing them to trade electricity.
The island states of Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius and Seychelles are not yet members of the SAPP.
The region has witnessed significant investments in renewable and non-renewable energy sources, a development that has seen a number of power generation and transmission projects being implemented during the past decade.
Such investments have led to increased generation capacity in the region, which has faced power deficits since 2007.
With regard to peace and security, the region has remained largely stable and continues to put in place measures to promote and strengthen its stability.
For example, as part of the good governance and democracy tenets, SADC states have been encouraged to adhere to the revised SADC principles and guidelines governing democratic elections, which provide a normative peer review framework to measure adherence to standardised universal best practices in relation to the conduct of elections and, ultimately, the prevention of election-related conflicts.
In this regard, since the adoption of the SADC principles and guidelines governing democratic elections, the region has successfully deployed electoral observation missions to observe elections in member states.
In 2018 and 2019 alone, observer missions were deployed to the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Kingdom of Eswatini, Madagascar, Malawi, South Africa and Zimbabwe. The deployment of the observer missions, supported by the SADC Electoral Advisory Council, has by and large, contributed to the enhanced credibility of electoral processes in member states and towards deepening democracy in the region.
Geingob, who will hand over the chair to Tanzanian president John Magufuli at the 39th SADC summit set for 17-18 August in Dar es Salaam, said the SADC standby force has strengthened capacity for collective defence and rapid response to security threats in the region and in Africa.
Established in 2007, the SADC standby force successfully assumed Africa Standby Force (ASF) roster duties from 1 January 2019 to 30 June 2019.
The assumption of the ASF standby duties entailed that the SADC force had the primary responsibility of being the first responder to conflict situations on the continent by providing a rapid deployment capability.
The ASF is an important tool of the African peace and security architecture for the prevention, management and resolution of conflicts on the continent.
To mainstream gender in peace and security, SADC has developed a regional framework that will serve as a guide on regional peace and security systems and processes.
Geingob said despite these achievements, various challenges continue to hinder the ability of SADC to make the benefits of belonging to a shared community in southern Africa enjoyable by all its citizens.
“Some plans and commitments are either unrealistic or are not fully owned by member states. This negatively affects the implementation of the plans and the ultimate realisation of the set milestones,” he said.
Other obstacles to deeper integration is limited participation in regional programmes by non-state actors, including the private sector, civil society and the media.
“We need to effectively bring on board the private sector as a critical partner to regional integration,” Geingob said, adding that “the lack of prioritisation and implementation of plans and activities that promote regional integration” is another challenge that should be tackled if SADC wants to achieve deeper integration.
He said to address these challenges, the region has also “pursued a developmental approach to integration that focuses on sectoral cooperation.”