The rich members of SADC are sabotaging regional integration efforts, choosing to protect their riches oblivious to the greater benefits of a bigger market, easy access to high quality labour and related resources.
South Africa, Botswana and Mauritius have been singled out as key saboteurs. However as the richest member South Africa has received the most flak.
University of Witwatersrand International Relations expert, Dr Mopeli Moshoeshoe, said in an interview with The Patriot on Sunday: “Anecdotal evidence seems to point squarely to lack of interest by some member states, particularly those that are economically better off,” he said, noting that there are enormous economic disparities and welfare levels between SADC member states.
He said the disparities and inequalities between member states reinforce fears that any opening of borders may lead to mass movement of persons or economic migrants from poorer to wealthier member states.
SADC chairperson, Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe - who was on a familiarisation of the SADC secretariat in Gaborone this week – did not spare South Africa, saying that their big brother mentality is stalling the implementation of the protocol as they don’t want to tolerate businesses across the border.
The 91-year-old no nonsense Zimbabwean President - who is also the African Union chairperson – said that they discussed the issue of the protocol and South Africa’s bigness mentality at their last summit in Harare recently.
“If we are trying to establish our industries in South Africa, they are blocked,” said Mugabe, adding that some of their pharmaceutical companies have been given difficulties when they tried to export to South Africa. He said this is against the free trade principle which was agreed by member states.
Zimbabwe has some of the biggest pharmaceutical companies in the region which include CAPS Holdings and Datlabs.
Dr Moshoeshoe said that other countries that have not shown enthusiasm towards the Free Movement of Persons Protocol are Botswana and Mauritius and said that this has created problem because if some members do not support a particular position the regional block is stuck.
Regional integration is one of the strategies that continental regional blocks believe will bring economic prosperity to their member states. In 2003 SADC member states signed the Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan (RISDP) whose aim was to set the roadmap for the region’s integration.
The plan provided for the establishment of a free trade area by 2008, a customs union in 2010, a common market in 2015 and monetary union in 2016 and the introduction of a single currency in 2018. All these targets have not been met.
In 2005 SADC came up with the Protocol on Free Movement of Persons whose aim was for progressive elimination of obstacles to the free movement of capital and labour, goods and services and of the people of the region amongst member states. Almost 10 years later, the protocol is yet to be ratified and implemented by member states.
The maverick Zimbabwean President, who is one of the oldest presidents in the world, took a jab at South Africa accusing them of one-way trade, noting that other SADC countries are importing even beer from them. Earlier when addressing SADC members of staff, Mugabe called upon them to follow up members who are reluctant to implement what has been agreed upon.
The recent xenophobic attacks in South Africa have been regarded as a draw back on the liberalisation of the regional borders and opening up trade. The Wits University academic observed that the opposite is the truth. “I do not think so. If anything good tight immigration policy will create better conditions for regional and Africa wide cooperation.”
Dr Moshoeshoe reasoned that orderly, peaceful and harmonious environment would be good for regional integration and limit spontaneous mass reactions that journalists refer to as phobias.
According to SADC chairperson, the issue of xenophobia attacks in South Africa has been addressed recently at their Harare summit and will be discussed at the AU summit. Mugabe blamed the late South African President Nelson Mandela, saying that he thought freedom was the best thing and didn’t care about the issue of land when negotiating his release and ultimate end of Apartheid.
He argued that the freedom South Africa got was not freedom with African rights but with European privileges and this has led to the frustrations of the black South Africans.
“They are not talking in the country of whites being unemployed. It is blacks who are unemployed. This is what they must address first and foremost,” Mugabe said.
Visa restrictions in the SADC region
SADC region is still regarded as one of the closed up regional blocks in Africa due to its stringent Visa requirements and most of the countries affected by the restrictions are fellow African countries. This has translated into missed economic opportunities for intra-regional trade.
According to the 2015 Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Report, two aspects are needed within the sub Saharan African region which is mostly made up of SADC countries in order for its tourism sector to grow is openness to other countries. The Report recommends that the region should introduce visa policy that enables free movement of people across member states and thus offering a larger market to international travelers. The Report, however, notes with concern that, “most countries in the region still have significant travel restrictions in place and there are even discussions of tightening visa policies in countries such as South Africa.”
Dr Moshoeshoe slightly differs with the report, noting that SADC has some concerns about the impact that various restrictions may have on the regional economies.
“And indeed the intra-SADC travelling arrangements have been softened slightly. We have SADC drivers’ licenses, SADC visa requirements less stringent but there is still a general perception that the remaining restrictions/requirements have negative effects on the regional economies,” he said.
One of SADC RISDP was to have a single currency by 2018 but Dr Moshoeshoe is skeptical that this will happen on the agreed time due to lack of enforcement and frequent policy slippage which is a norm in the regional block. He however confirmed possibility of having a single currency in future.
“The date for the inauguration of the common currency has already been missed given the failure to adhere to the original plans in RISDP,” observed the academic.
One of the challenges for the introduction of a single currency, according to Dr Moshoeshoe, are the huge asymmetries between its member economies, which make harmonisation of monetary policies or any policies much more challenging task.
“Initiatives to reach minimum harmonisation of monetary policies are already afoot - Protocol on Finance & Investment of 2006 – which among others targets to achieve deeper integration and urges members to cooperate in finance, investment and macroeconomic policies issues among others by harmonisation of SADC Capital Markets and closer policy coordination between the 10 regional Stock Exchanges,” he said.
He noted that SADC member states have shown open reluctance to relinquish control over elements of their monetary policies. “Once more the preferences of advanced SADC economies seemed irreconcilable with those of smaller economies.”
Some of the countries that have shown reluctance to change positions is Botswana, Mauritius and South Africa due to their stronger currencies and prefer to have their national exchange rates, retain national regulatory frameworks and national regulators in their financial sectors, said Dr Moshoeshoe.
The EU case
The academic compared SADC with the European Union (EU), saying integration results with some loss of national sovereignty as power gets transferred to the regional structures/institutions from national ones. He said that this is currently causing discomfort across a number of European public who feel that the EU is taking away their political right to hold their elected officials accountable. The elected leaders have found themselves increasingly losing control or power of decision making to EU institutions in Brussels.
“While this seems like a worthy and necessary political price to pay for integration, it surely creates a legitimacy crisis,” he observed.
Dr Moshoeshoe, however, noted that the costs have to be understood in the context of the many economic, diplomatic, political, security and other gains that integrations brings with it. There are some who are suggesting that some SADC member states are reluctant to give regional integration thumbs up for fear of losing political power. Loss of political or policy sovereignty for smaller/weaker SADC members is possible, said Moshoeshoe and added that the second risk is economic one.
The hub development phenomenon in which most of the investments is attracted to the bigger economies at the cost of smaller ones leading to concentrations in development areas and marginalisation of the poorer regions, observed Dr Moshoeshoe.
SADC leaders naïve?
President Mugabe believes that SADC region is the most progressive regional block hence most countries want to join it.
Addressing SADC secretariat staff, Mugabe said that SADC region has implemented lot of regional integrations policies compared to other regional blocks like ECOWAS. He gave example of the building of the Kazungula border project which is a partnership between Botswana and Zambia.
Dr Moshoeshoe believes that SADC leaders are not cowards but like all politicians they are ambitious and a bit dishonest or diplomatic. To him, the integration policy does not only involve politicians but other experts to advice and guide them.
“The main issue here is that, sometimes the knowledge and the level of expertise may not exist and when it comes to formulating various types of regional arrangements; it is not always easy to formulate successful regional initiatives; it is worse where political decisions weigh too heavily over technical decisions,” he said.
Dr Moshoeshoe said that different regional cooperation initiatives raise different challenges or cooperation problems, meaning that they require specific approaches or models if they are to be sustainable or successful.
The tendency in developing countries is that all regional initiatives are approached the same way despite their different structural features and the peculiar challenges that they raise. This is a highly technical matter that poor politicians have no idea about, observed Dr Moshoeshoe.
He said the disproportionate power of the SADC Summit versus the experts at the secretariat is telling.
“My feeling is that the technical dimensions of regional integration often do not receive sufficient attention; the process happen to be politically driven, based on naïve, empty or meaningless but romantic slogans-about Ubuntu, common history, Pan Africanism etc, “ he said.
To Wits University expert, politicians enthusiastically sign these agreements without clearly understanding what is required, what the challenges or implications are, and added that this is common on the African continent hence the frequent failures.
SADC executive secretary Dr Stergomena Lawrence Tax has vowed that her secretariat is committed to the cause of regional integration and development agenda.