Last week provided a great opportunity for Zimbabwe in so far as regional co-operation, integration and dominance were concerned.
This was made possible by the nation hosting the 34th Southern African Development Community (Sadc) summit at the Victoria Falls.
The summit, attended by more than 450 delegates began with ministers of foreign ministries and permanent representatives having their discussions before the heads of state and government held their deliberations from the 17th to the 18th of August.
Hosting such an event was significant in itself as it revealed Zimbabwe’s prominence within the 15-member bloc. Such a feat, from the ruling party’s perspective also sent a defiant message to Western nations regarded as perpetrators of its measures aimed at economic and social subjugation.
They are also held responsible for seeking to isolate the nation from other regional and international nations through “sanctions’’. Over and above this, by simply playing host to the summit, the government regarded the Sadc body as having endorsed its July 2013 elections as credible and fair. Aside from being the hosts, Zimbabwe also assumed the rotational chairmanship for the 15-member body up to August 2015.
Botswana was appointed as the deputy chair and will assume the chairmanship in August 2015 when it hosts the summit.
The theme of the summit was dubbed, “Sadc Strategy for Economic Transformation: Leveraging the Region’s Diverse Resources for Sustainable Economic and Social Development through Beneficiation and Value Addition”.
As is traditional when assuming the chairmanship, the head of State gave his acceptance speech which focussed on various areas affecting the Sadc region. Much emphasis was however put on utilisation of own resources, value addition, beneficiation, industrialisation and ensuring democratic elections. Although these areas are critical for the region, a closer assessment may be necessary for the benefit of member nations within the Sadc community.
Whilst the head of State read out the roadmap, especially on value addition, beneficiation and avoiding the dependency syndrome, how believably and feasibly can this be attained? Such scepticism is premised on the fact that Zimbabwe has failed to register sustainable economic growth dating back to the early 1990s.
Except for 2009-2014, the nation has suffered from significant negative growth and hyperinflation – a period termed the “lost decade.”
The economy has witnessed massive capital flight, the demise of a once vibrant manufacturing industry and the loss of its “bread basket’’ status.
As such one is tempted to question the genuineness of espousing such objectives when their proposers have failed to achieve such goals in their own nation. Thus most local and foreign investors and economic analysts regarded the acceptance speech as routine lip service where there is more talk and less action. Yet the reverse is surely what is required to liberate the economy.
Furthermore, utterances by the government on reducing the dependency syndrome for the bloc were also arguable.
On the one hand, self-sustenance is ideal as it strengthens freedom in the management of own resources especially given the host of minerals with which the region is endowed. However, for a bloc with only one industrialised economy — South Africa — whilst others are among the most less-developed, it would be folly to opt for such a move.
This is because ownership of resources alone does not translate into economic prosperity. Capital is an integral part to economic growth and this has been extremely scarce within the bloc. As such, policymakers within the region may need to choose investors who do not only focus on milking the region’s natural resources but those who add economic value to them.
The Sadc community just like the African continent cannot survive entirely on its own.
There is need for win-win mechanisms to be put in place between investors whether coming from the West or East with particular emphasis on benefitting every citizen within the member countries.
Going forward considering that Zimbabwe has assumed chairmanship, there is need for policymakers to focus on ways that promote its regional integration.
This should be an opportunity to redress many areas that have been found wanting and have led to brain drain, capital flight, high corruption and low rankings in as far as democratic processes are concerned.
The nation can achieve this by firstly attracting foreign capital through coming up with investor friendly policies as this remains the missing link in attaining positive economic growth. By accessing capital, all sectors will then be able to re-tool whilst those that have failed to access working capital will be in a position to do so. Such developments will then enable the nation to improve its manufacturing sector and reduce the import dependency syndrome for both capital and basic goods and services.
Overall, as Zimbabwe assumes its new role for the next twelve months, objectiveness in making economic and political decisions may be one pillar that is required if ever the Sadc community is to progress. Management of diverse economic resources is also critical but as is often said, charity begins at home.
Thus, proper management of resources through promoting transparency will also be a success factor and will create greater opportunities for the nation as well as the region as a whole.