The bankruptcy of SADC

Tuesday, 03 March 2015 17:14   |   Written by

The year of our Lord 2014 has come to a close. It’s time for well-meaning people, companies, organisations, multi-national and trans-national corporations of like mind to take stock, to reflect on the goals they had set out to achieve this year.
Introspection, self-criticism and stock taking are critical functions of organisations.

I pick this up, because there is one supranational organisation here at home, founded by men of goodwill, visionaries if you may, who desired a secure future for their region, free from the tyranny of settler colonialism, apartheid and other vices that divide mankind on the basis of skin colour or pigmentation. It’s been 22 years since Southern African Development Community (SADC) was formed. Its precursor, Southern African Development Coordinating Conference (SADCC) came to a screeching end in August 1992 when the treaty establishing SADC was signed in Windhoek, Namibia, hence the annual summit of heads of state and government. Whilst the treaty organisation did away with the sector coordinating approach to regional integration, through which every member of the organisation was given a sector to coordinate; the treaty organisation ushered in the new approach of Directorates all operating from a centralised Secretariat.

And in honour of the late Sir Seretse Khama, who alongside Zambia’s Kenneth Kaunda and the late Tanzanian president, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere (all of the Non-Aligned Movement), planted the seed that blossomed into this thistle-laden acacia tree, Botswana was chosen to host the Secretariat! One would have thought the gesture would have produced financial and economic spinoffs for the country, but lo and behold, we remain stagnated, even worse off than we were before the advent of the SADC.
On the political front, former President Sir Ketumile Masire’s over a decade-long chairmanship of SADC was the only fruitful era for the country. During that period, Masire presided over conflict resolution meetings between some of the member states and the belligerent and rebel groups in Angola, Mozambique, DRC and to a larger extent, played a critical yet central role in the thawing of relations between Apartheid Pretoria and the banned political parties culminating in the famous CODESA talks that paved the way for the watershed general election of April 1994, which thrust the late Nelson Mandela into the world stage, in the process dethroning the hitherto blue-eyed boy of the West-Robert Gabriel Mugabe!

Masire can be faulted for being myopic and failing to exploit the immense potential his chairmanship of SADC carried for Botswana. He failed to exploit the economic opportunities presented by a wider regional market. And it was in fact Mandela (when he assumed chairmanship of SADC), who played ball, by extending a hand of friendship to the late Laurent Kabila to become a full time member. This helped South African companies to invade the mineral-rich Democratic Republic of Congo. Remember how then President Festus Mogae remarked about DRC request to join SADC? “They are not like us, we don’t know how they do things!” in reference to that country’s unstable history, whose genesis can be traced to the destabilisation occasioned by imperial Belgium and the resultant rush for that country’s mineral wealth that attracted a hotchpotch of those nefarious Western nations, including the United States of America, as it joined the search for Coltan (used in Information Technology hardware).

It was this Laurent Kabila, who the international liberator and revolutionary, Ernesto Che Guevera had slammed as a ‘womaniser,’ when he (Che) had joined the liberation war in Zaire on the side of Patrice Lumumba, that opened that country’s diamond mines to Mugabe’s Army Generals when they helped him to fend off Rwanda and Uganda’s rebels that threatened his administration. It is significant to locate this historical perspective in order to understand the bankruptcy of SADC. The organisation has degenerated into at worst an ‘old boys’ club, not only a talk shop, but it also risks sinking deeper into insignificance, not out of its foundational basis, but precisely because of the dismal failure of its personnel, especially at the Secretariat.
During the transitional period almost all the executive secretaries of SADC- Zimbabwe’s Simbarashe Makoni; Namibia’s Kaire Mbuende and Mauritius’ Prega Ramsamy, were exceptional! But ever since the advent of the treaty organisation, the staff has slept on the job, especially in the communication department. It fails to respond to questions on time, it abhors interacting with journalists, the personnel has become so indifferent to the point of irrelevance.

They hide the executive secretary from the full glare of the media. It’s as if Botswana is not the Secretariat of the SADC, journalists here get to know about SADC events from without! It’s so demoralising! Under the circumstances, it’s such a cumbersome exercise for the Press to interrogate the full extent to which the Secretariat is carrying out its mandate. But, all things considered, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to spot the incongruence between SADC’s development blueprint (Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan) and the organisation’s Basic Law (Treaty). To the discerning observer it’s clear that SADC’s goal to become the vehicle for a regional economic community is being undermined by Member States’ clamour for national sovereignty.
 Herein lies SADC’s Achilles’ Heel, and indeed the stumbling block for all other RECs, which pretend to be the building blocks for ultimate unity of Africa- both politically and economically.

It’s self-defeating for the region to develop RISDP when the reality is that we are not a common geographic and political area! This is why 22 years later SADC has just mandated a Ministerial Task Force on Regional Economic Integration to “develop a strategy and roadmap for industrialisation in the region!” No doubt the Ministers will meet, as they usually do, make hefty sums of money from per diems and allowances as they crisscross the region; compile a strategy complete with a roadmap outlining timelines for regional industrialisation, as they’ve done before with other sectors of economic development, yet this will all come to nought in the final analysis.

Until all the artificial borders created by the Berlin Conference that parceled Africa into spheres of influence between the colonial powers have been dismantled completely, the dream of integration- whether at regional or continental level- will remain a ‘fleeting illusion to be pursued, but never attained.’ SADC’s Treaty recognised this truism in its General Undertaking, ‘that member states accord this Treaty the force of national law,’ but in practice, this doesn’t happen.

Instead, the common institutions of the regional body are being rendered Ivory Towers on the altar of political expediency. A clear example has been the collapse of the SADC Tribunal! In the meantime, poverty, illiteracy and underdevelopment go unabated while bureaucrats in the SADC Secretariat fail to meet set timelines. It’s a vicious circle.