No. 4: Region-building in Southern Africa / Merle Lipton / International Affairs, November 2012

Published in: International Affairs, Vol. 88, No. 6, pp. 1372-1373, November 2012

Region-building in Southern Africa: Progress, Problems and Prospects, Chris Saunders, Gwinyayi A. Dzinesa and Dawn Nagar, eds., London: Zed Books, 2012. 350pp. Index. Pb.:£21.99. ISBN 978 1 78032 178 3.

These two books provide much information, and some insights, into the Southern African Development Community (SADC), one of eight sub-regional organizations of the African Union (AU). The SADC covers 275 million people in 15 countries. Its ambitious agenda covers both economic and security functions, including the establishment of a common market and currency, and a regional standby brigade.

The SADC is very heterogeneous: alongside relatively well-developed South Africa, which accounts for over two-thirds of SADC's trade and its GDP, it includes some of Africa's smallest, poorest states, as well as the conflict-ridden Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The SADC grew out of a defensive alliance formed by South Africa's neighbours to defend themselves against the apartheid state's destabilization of countries supporting the armed struggle, and to reduce their economic dependence on the country. In 1992, this aim was reversed when post-apartheid South Africa joined them in an enlarged organization aimed at promoting economic integration and reducing conflict in this troubled region. The SADC's origins left a legacy of solidarity and anti-imperialism among the 'liberation leaders' in power in most of its member states — and the feeling that South Africa owed them much.

The SADC has an elaborate institutional structure, modelled on the European Union. Its treaty and protocols commit it to promoting democracy and human rights and provide, inter alia, for monitoring elections, establishing food security and developing common foreign policy approaches. There are annual summits of heads of state; regular meetings of ministers; a secretariat to implement its programmes; and a judicial tribunal to adjudicate disputes. In practice, these newly established states, striving to establish their national identities, have been reluctant to allow infringements on their sovereignty or to allocate scarce resources to regional projects. Hence, the SADC has been 'strong on rhetoric [but] weak on commitment and engagement'; its small secretariat has 'meagre resources' (p. 54) to implement its ambitious agenda; and its numerous committees are often little more than bureaucratic shells (see chapters by Chris Landsberg, Kaire Mbuende and David Simon in Region-building in southern Africa).

There has been some progress with functional and infrastructural development (transport, energy, water, agriculture, meteorology). Chapters by Dawn Nagar and David Monyae list numerous projects, but do not provide an overall picture of their significance for region-building. More informative on SADC-related activities are Gwinyayi Dzinesa's chapter on attempts to deal with the HIV/AIDS pandemic, of which the region is the 'global epicentre'; David Simon on lack of a coordinated response to alarming projections of the impact of climate change; and Francis Nyamnoh and Patience Musasa on challenges to the protocol on free movement posed by outbreaks of xenophobic violence in South Africa and by opinion poll findings that over 90 per cent of people in various SADC countries want illegal migrants deported and controls on all migrants tightened.

There has been little trade liberalization or market integration. Obstacles include the existence of multiple, overlapping trade deals: some SADC members also belong to the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa, and there exist, within SADC, the smaller five-member Southern African Currency Union (SACU}. These cross-cutting arrangements complicate attempts at integration, as well as dealings with outsiders. This is evident in the EU's tortuous renegotiation of its Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA}, involving both its Lome-type trade/aid package with most SADC countries and its separate (less generous) deal with South Africa. Mzukisi Qobo maintains that the European Union's 'massive financial assistance ... has effectively locked SADC into Brussels' sphere of influence' (p. 251) in the face of growing competition from the BRICs, and that its divisive approach undermines South Africa's position as regional leader. Richard Gibb warns that the EPA could also undermine the long-established SACU, whose revenue-sharing formula provides major budgetary support for the smaller countries. Ironically, the EU's 'massive' aid is directed not only at individual countries, but also at promoting regional cooperation. In 2009-10, over 70 per cent of the SADC's budget came from western donors who appear to give with one hand (aid, investment, selected trade preferences} while taking with the other (policies impeding regional integration and discriminating against some exports).

Chapters by Nomfundo Ngwenya and Garth le Pere, respectively, discuss the growing interests tn this mineral-rich region on the part of the United States and China. Most authors note the support provided by donors but complain that they often act in their own interests. Similar complaints are made about South Africa's dealings with its smaller neighbours. This raises a question not addressed in this volume: what drives state behaviour? Do not all states act in their own interests? And is it in South Africa's interests to give priority to the region, which accounts for 10 per cent of its trade, rather than to the AU and BRICs, to whom its actions, if not its rhetoric, give greater weight?

Merle Lipton
Africa Programme, Chatham House

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