Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Regional integration will also require a change of mindset

About twenty nine years ago, 14 countries met and formed what was by then known as the Southern African Development Coordination Conference (SADCC). Today it has given way to the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC). However, the transformation from SADCC to SADC has not given way to proportionate reform of the institution.
This is despite the fact that the change in name envisaged a change of roles.

When it started, the member states sought to reduce over dependence on South Africa, then a racist, white minority controlled outpost.
That said, complete integration and harmonisation of trade rules have always been the aspiration of the new look SADC.

SADC’s main goals have always been driven by a desire to form common political interests as well as supporting greater trade and investment flows between member countries. An up-liftment of the people through enhanced trade, political freedom and guaranteed security.

The SADC Free Trade Area (FTA) has been heralded as key to achieving these goals, a linchpin of the SADC organisation as we have come to know it in recent years.

By last year August, about 12 of the 14 SADC member States had joined the bandwagon on free trade.

The others are saying they want to join but they want to sort a few issues first.

We emphasise trade here because economic interaction has been identified as the cornerstone of SADC’s development and regional integration.

The SADC FTA creates a regional market worth US$360 billion with a total population of 300 million and including economies growing by up to 7% a year.
If Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo also join their counterparts, it will be a major boost of a further US$71 billion and 77 million people to the SADC market. Sadly, however, all this remains a pie in the sky, a wild goose chase.

Since 1993, SADC members have signed several protocols or what is supposed to provide a legal basis for achieving regional integration. For years, Heads of State have been meeting for numerous SADC summits, yet the common man on the street cannot identify with SADC or its aspirations. A series of round the table meetings have also not been helpful.

Public patience and tolerance, we want to point out, cannot be expected to be eternal.

SADC has to be seen to be helping the people if the organisation is to remain relevant.

The lingering question remains, with so many possible benefits that can accrue in favour of the people within the SADC region, what has forestalled efforts aimed at achieving regional integration?

It is not in dispute that the SADC organ on Politics, Defence and Security, which has a specific task of safeguarding the development within the region, especially against instability arising for instances from a breakdown in law and order, intra-state conflict, inter state conflict and aggression has made significant achievements. But there still is a lot of room for improvement.

However, not only is the common man unable to identify with the ideals of SADC, but there is a general feeling of mistrust and resentment, which continue to be barriers.

Some member states are still to fully commit themselves to the ideals of democracy for which they have signed up. Intolerance across nations and within nations remains a concern.

Mention foreign nationals or any talk of broadening the horizons, then one will be surprised by the social stereotypes that come as a response. Generally, foreign nationals are accused of grabbing all the jobs, responsible for some of the social problems seizing our society, overcrowding and so forth.

It was only last year when South African townships were set alight as people were literally burned alive because they were not South Africans.

Back in Botswana, it is not an exaggeration to say that our success as a nation state has made us close our eyes to options beyond our borders.

No one ever wants to pause and reflect on the brighter side. No one ever wants to even imagine Botswana as being part of a regional bloc. Not even the lowering of tariffs can get rid of this scourge.

About a few years ago, there were talks of even engaging the private sector as a partner in developing free trade within the region. How would it be possible to rope in the private sector when the common man on the street cannot even identify himself with SADC?

The SADC trade protocol envisaged a free trade among members by 2012.It is on this note that this paper wishes to urge all Batswana to start embracing SADC’s ideals by merely appreciating that Botswana is part of the region.

What’s more, with a population of less that 2 million, the only way Botswana goods can finds sustainable markets can only be outside our borders.

There is an urgent need to change our mindset if we are to be part of a group of regional states that share the same ideals.

We call on all Batswana to roll the welcome mat to foreign nationals who are not only potential investors but also make up the market for envisaged production growths.

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The Telegraph September 23

Digital edition of The Telegraph, September 23, 2020.