Although the SADC region, and by extension Africa, has benefited from the surge in commodity prices over the past decade, the commodity boom is only a small fraction of Africa’s growth story. SADC Chairman Robert Mugabe, who was in Botswana on a tour of the developmental bloc’s secretariat last week, says Africa’s slow pace in industrialisation stems from the colonial history of many of its countries.
The Zimbabwean President also blamed the region’s economic giant, South Africa for its intolerance of competition from businesses from outside its borders. However, he revealed that the issue was discussed at an SADC meeting on trade protocol in Harare last month.
“South Africa acts like a giant in the region. Right now some of us are complaining about the prohibitive size of South Africa because it inhibits the growth of other SADC economies. That’s what we discussed at the meeting, because we are trying to establish our industries and South Africa is blocking us,” he said.
He gave an example of a Zimbabwean pharmaceutical company that found it very difficult to export to South Africa.
“We produce some drugs and they are in high demand in South Africa. When we try to export them, trade officials say they will only accept them if they come by air, which is very costly. They refuse to accept drugs that are transported by road. This is unreasonable.”
He added that South Africa’s behaviour is contrary to the SADC’s free-trade principles, adding that the situation calls for more dialogue between member states. In its 2013 African economic outlook report, the World Bank noted that it is easier for African countries to trade with the rest of the world than within the continent. It further challenged African countries to urgently simplify border controls, improve transnational infrastructure and synchronise legal and financial trading rules. The dramatic fragmentation of Africa has resulted in losses of billions in Gross Domestic Products (GDP) and millions of jobs that ought to have been created, the World Bank has warned. Research shows that African countries maintain high tariff barriers to trade within the continent (9% as opposed to around 3% abroad). Current levels of intra-African trade stand at around 10 percent, compared to intra-North American trade at 48 percent and intra-Europe at 72 percent. Global markets figures also show that intra trade in Asia is about 52 percent while that of Latin America is about 26 percent.