Convergence of vision vital

THE Sadc heads of state and government summit in Maseru, Lesotho, ended inauspiciously for a gathering of this sort. Four countries, among them Zimbabwe, did not sign the Finance and Investment Protocol on th

e last day of the meeting on Friday. Normally such functions end happily with lots of praise for each other and what has been achieved during the term of the outgoing chair, although this is often hard to demonstrate on the ground.

President Robert Mugabe reportedly left prematurely for technical reasons to do with the airport. There were other reports that he was angry that Zimbabwe was put under the spotlight at a closed session of the summit for frustrating investment and stifling regional economic progress.

Top of the summit agenda was regional integration.

Outgoing Sadc chair, President Festus Mogae of Botswana, lamented lack of commitment by member states. This was evident in the absence of funding for regional projects and over-dependency on donor aid. He said Sadc members contributed as little as 31% towards regional programmes while they expected donors to fork out the balance. This is unsatisfactory for any bloc that wants to chart an independent course of development.

Mogae also set an idealistic timeline of 2008 for a Free Trade Area, a Customs Union by 2010, and a speedy resolution of multiple membership to Comesa and Sadc.

Incoming Sadc chair, Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili of Lesotho, made clear some of the problems facing the region. He said while the community had made progress towards political freedom and democratic governance, lack of peace and stability and rampant poverty rendered rapid economic and social transformation almost impossible.

The high mortality rate from the raging Aids pandemic was reversing all health gains made in the past three decades. Regional food security also posed a big challenge, he said.

These basic issues had already been resolved among European Union members before they could talk about economic integration. Sadc is trying to model itself on the EU.

The Europeans also set stringent rules on government spending, interest rate regimes, and inflation targets for would-be members. Sadc appears to be concerned only with symbolic matters and practises little of the democracy it preaches.

South Africa has failed to coordinate the process by reason of its financial dominance. It is being accused of playing “Big Brother”. President Thabo Mbeki has watched his African renaissance and Nepad mothball because fellow leaders are opposed to its “peer review” clause which is seen as a Western impost.

While Sadc GNP grew by 5% last year, Zimbabwe has been on a precipitous slide for the past seven years. The resultant mass dispersal of its citizens has had a detrimental impact on regional economies. In fact, economic refugees from Zimbabwe are causing social dislocation across the region while the African Union and Sadc treat it as an internal affair.

The fallout from Zimbabwe’s land reform programme has contributed to widespread food insecurity that now haunts the region. There are just too many political, social and economic distortions to make a mockery of any talk of integration. Each country is raising its own barriers on the movement of either people or goods without regard to calls for increased intra-regional trade, itself a prerequisite for economic integration.

Sadc leaders must agree a set of sanctionable economic and political standards of behaviour before they can be taken seriously. The grouping has raised the expectations of its people. But these will remain hollow so long as there is no convergence of vision, strategies and programmes towards their fulfilment among African leaders.

Which makes it the more ominous that President Mugabe should leave Maseru without signing the Finance and Investment Protocol out of personal vanity that his peers dared tell him politely in a closed session that what he is doing is wrong.

The peoples of the region deserve better.

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