HomeAnalysisSadc @37: Poverty amid vast mineral riches

Sadc @37: Poverty amid vast mineral riches

South Africa is hosting the 37th summit of the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) this week.

Candid Comment Brezhnev malaba

This regional grouping means different things to different people, depending on how you measure success or failure.

The most vocal critics have denounced Sadc as a club of dictators, in clear reference to the authoritarian tendencies of some of its leaders. In fact, it would be a misnomer to describe them as leaders—they are more of feudal rulers or medieval overlords.

Broadly speaking, there are four widely considered categories of regime: full democracy, flawed democracy, hybrid and authoritarian. Using that measure, there are only a few proper democracies in Africa.

To its credit, southern Africa has done commendably well in terms of fostering peace and security. Southern Africa is the most stable region on the continent.

Although Zimbabwe is ranked among the most fragile nations in the world, the region boasts several stable countries such as Botswana, Namibia, Mauritius, Seychelles, South Africa and Tanzania.

But governance deficits are the order of the day in much of the region. Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe are glaring examples of how not to run a civilised nation in the 21st century. These countries are richly endowed with mineral and human resources, but most citizens are languishing in poverty. There is really no excuse. The problem is failed leadership. Southern Africa is rich in diamonds, gold, platinum and oil but most of its 258 million people are poverty stricken. How do you explain this paradox of plenty? The resource curse is real.

Take Zimbabwe, for instance. The United Nations says 72% of the population lives in “extreme poverty”. And here is the grotesque irony: politicians are always reminding the masses, ad nauseum, that Zimbabwe has the second largest platinum reserves in the world—as if the starving toddlers of Binga are going to find solace in that superlative achievement. A few years ago, we were told that Zimbabwe’s Marange diamond fields were the biggest gem discovery in a century. Today, the diamond fiasco seems like a sad joke.

Economists often cite a high HIV prevalence burden (the highest in the world) as one of the major challenges facing southern Africa. Like hopeless charlatans, they are tinkering with the symptoms, of course, while the elephant in the room is ignored.

The real calamity is leadership failure, which makes it impossible to convert platinum and gold earnings into a better quality of life for long-suffering citizens.

If Sadc is to be taken seriously, it must begin addressing member states’ severe governance deficits and weak institutional frameworks which are making it difficult to mobilise funding for socio-economic development.

This weekend, we can expect regional leaders to indulge in pointless banter, pat each other on the back and continue doing the same old things while expecting different results.

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