25 Aug 2014

SADC needs to overcome flaws to benefit region

Written by  Adekeye Adebajo

No. 308: Sadc needs to overcome flaws to benefit region / Adekeye Adebajo / Business Day
25 August 2014

Media reports of last week's summit of the 15-member Southern African Development Community (Sadc) in Victoria Falls appears to have focused disproportionately on its host, Robert Mugabe, who became the body's new chairman. President Jacob Zuma became chairman of Sadc's security organ. Twelve heads of state attended, with the leaders of Angola, Zambia and Swaziland absent.

African Union (AU) Commission chairwoman Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma stressed her organisation's commitment to collaborate with Sadc on peace and security issues. The summit focused on political challenges in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Lesotho, and called for national reconciliation in Madagascar. The leaders also discussed industrialisation, free trade, food and nutrition, gender equality, the prevention of diseases, and the emasculated Sadc tribunal. Despite its lofty goals, this diplomatic banquet failed to tackle Sadc's institutional flaws.

Sadc seeks to promote regional integration and economic development, eradicate poverty and ensure peace and security in Southern Africa. Decision-making within the institution is, however, centralised in its annual summits and dominated by its heads of state. This tends to promote consensus rather than majority voting, often resulting in decisions being based on the lowest common denominator.

Historical loyalties and solidarity among the subregion's liberation movements are thus frequently determinant in decision-making. In addition, decisions are sometimes taken in informal sessions outside of formal Sadc structures.

The organisation's ambitions have often exceeded its capacity, resulting in Sadc making and missing unrealistic deadlines for achieving a free-trade area and customs union. While intraregional trade tripled between 2001 and 2011, most of this was based on exports from SA, which accounts for 70% of Sadc's gross domestic product though only about 20% of its 281-million population. Sadc has also failed to diversify its manufacturing base, with four broad sectors accounting for 98% of intra-Sadc trade: unprocessed agricultural goods, food manufactures, textiles and clothing.

The Sadc summit of 2001 agreed to restructure its secretariat in a bid to increase institutional capacity and efficiency. The organisation closed 21 country-based sector units, and transferred policy formulation and administrative functions to its centralised directorates in its Botswana-based secretariat. The executive secretary, Tanzanian technocrat Stergomena Tax, manages the directorate of the organ on politics, defence, and security as well as the four units of gender, internal audit, macroeconomic convergence surveillance and public relations. Two deputy executive secretaries focus on regional integration, and finance and administration.

But this restructuring failed to address Sadc's leadership and resource challenges. The directorates still have staffing and capacity constraints. Sadc appears to be good at creating institutions, but not at capacitating and empowering them. Both financial and human resources remain sorely lacking. Co-ordination between Sadc's directorates is often poor. Its Strategic Indicative Plan for the security organ and its Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan need to be more focused and complementary.

Sadc must also interact better with civil society and donor partners. It is ironic that a subregion with world-class think-tanks does not reap the full benefits from them. Donors remain unclear on Sadc priority areas, while subregional leaders remain wary of external actors funding its security initiatives.

Sadc has adopted more than 30 protocols and declarations to harmonise policies and legislation over the past two decades. Most have been ratified by member states, but implementation and integration into national policies remain weak. Subregional leaders must also strengthen the Sadc secretariat to promote regional integration. The executive secretary should be empowered to initiate useful projects. The secretariat lacks the technical capacity to prepare position papers for Sadc decision-makers, and should draw more on expertise within the subregion, as well as work closer with the private sector.

Subregional foreign ministers often meet outside Sadc structures at the AU and the United Nations to take decisions on the organisation without any representation of Sadc secretariat officials. The secretariat must attend such meetings, and work more closely with Sadc national committees and its committee of ambassadors.

Sadc members have often failed to keep their accounts current. It still remains largely financed by external donors, with $51.5m out of an $83.5m 2011-12 budget (61%) covered by foreign donors. Overtures have been made to China and Japan to support subregional infrastructure projects. Brazil and India are also being courted. But Sadc will urgently need to address its political and institutional flaws if it is to promote region-building in Southern Africa more effectively.

Adebajo is executive director of the Centre for Conflict Resolution.

This article is part of a series of fortnightly columns written by Adekeye Adebajo for Business Day every other Monday.

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