Tuesday, March 5, 2024

SADC at 40: Restoring relevance in a difficult world

SADC was established in 1980. That makes the body forty years this year.

This is a big milestone.

And as is to be expected, SADC leaders will spend the whole year in a celebratory mood.

But that sense of achievement will not make much sense to a majority of SADC citizens across the sub-continent.

Many of them remain poor, insecure and with not much rights than was the case forty years ago.

At inception the regional body was called Southern Africa Development Coordinating Conference.

Key among its objectives at inception was to help South Africa attain independence and also a multi-racial government.

That happened in 1994.

When it was founded, SADC was not as big as it is today. There were fewer countries in it.  While challenges were numerous the goals were few and clearly spelt out.

It was largely about self-determination and also achieving peace for the rest of the sub-continent as a number of countries were involved brutal civil wars.

It evolved over time to focus more on economics.

SADC has become a club of Heads of State.

Ordinary people that make up the region have been totally forgotten.

Leaders close ranks against each other.

And the rules have been drafted such that a leader cannot even be criticised by another under the guise of sovereignty and also no interference.

As it marks forty years of existence albeit under various incarnation, SADC has to confront its various problems.

Of course there are issues that have to do with structure.

Borders continue to undermine the sub-region’s economic full potential.

Security remains an overriding concern for many SADC citizens.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, there are still many internally displaced people.

Regional integration has remained elusive. Yet integration is supposed to be the lynchpin of SADC.

Tariffs continue to be a real headache.

The Sub-region’s potential, with a population that is young and technologically savvy cannot be over-emphasised.

A recognition has to be made that going forward SADC has to change and from transform from within.

Staying stiff would amount to an existential threat.

A system has to be created to safeguard against abuse of human rights for citizens by those in authority.

Right now the citizens of Zimbabwe are being abused by their own government, but SADC is mum because there is as yet no entry point for the regional body to even comment on Zimbabwe.

That is as unpardonable as it is unsustainable.

SADC citizens have to be empowered by giving them more not less voice. A Human Rights Tribunal has to be restored.

Forty years in existence can only be worth celebrating if there is clear hope for the future. That hope includes clear evidence to embrace change by those in leadership.

Regional leaders need to show why SADC is still relevant. Many citizens cannot help but ask themselves the wisdom and indeed utility of continuing to pay huge subscription fees just to stay as a SADC member. Not surprisingly, SADC leaders have sharply different visions of the future when it comes to the regional body.

But none of the visions, also unsurprisingly, has citizens at its centre, much less human rights for those citizens.


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