Southern African News Features.
By Joseph Ngwawi.
22 December 2016 – The curtain comes down on 2016 amid great optimism in southern Africa over an expected improvement in food security and the dawn of the official countdown to a continental free trade area set for 2017.
Other key issues this year are energy demand and access, equal opportunities for women, protection of the region’s wildlife, plans for greater self-reliance by the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and a new SADC university.
The year started with fears of food shortages in many parts of southern Africa and concerns over political instability in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Lesotho.
Combined food-relief efforts by SADC member states, with support from the international community, averted food shortages in most countries. According to the SADC Early Warning and Vulnerability Assessment Systems, the region faced an estimated cereal shortfall of 9.3 million metric tonnes.
To address the food security situation and coordinate a response, SADC established a regional El Niño Response Team in May, in close collaboration with member states.
The team prepared a US$2.7 billion regional humanitarian appeal for assistance and by November a total of US$757 million was raised, including US$222 million from member states and US$535 million from International Cooperation Partners.
Energy issues continued to dominate the regional integration discourse. Significant progress was made on the development of a regional strategy for alternative energy and to develop innovative ways of using less energy to power the development agenda.
Energy experts from the region approved the Regional Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Strategy and Action Plan (REEESAP) in October in Johannesburg, South Africa.
The 36th SADC Summit held in Swaziland in August witnessed the launch of the inaugural SADC Energy Monitor as well as the sixth edition of the SADC Gender and Development Monitor, both produced by a SADC knowledge partner, the Southern African Research and Documentation Centre (SARDC).
The SADC Energy Monitor, the first of its kind in southern Africa, documents progress on the implementation of energy policies and initiatives, including the SADC Protocol on Energy.
The 36th SADC Summit approved a landmark agreement to take full charge of its integration agenda by funding its own developmental plans – the Agreement on the Operationalization of the SADC Regional Development Fund.
It is estimated that only 9% of regional projects are funded by SADC member states while the balance comes from international partners. This has compromised the ownership and sustainability of regional programmes.
The past year witnessed the commencement of the process to develop a cost action plan for the industrialisation strategy and roadmap for finalization in the first quarter of 2017 when southern African leaders plan to hold an Extra-Ordinary Summit.
The plan will focus on the first 15 years of the strategy to create an enabling environment for industrial development as a driver of economic transformation; and to establish an enduring alliance for industrialisation consisting of the public and private sectors as well as strategic partners.
Six SADC member states – Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland – signed an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), the first of its kind, with the EU.
The six members negotiated the EPAs under the SADC Group banner. Angola is expected to join this SADC Group in future. The other mainland SADC countries negotiated for EPAs under the Eastern and Southern Africa banner, while the island nations are negotiating under the Pacific Group.
Continental Free Trade Area
Negotiations for the Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) are expected to conclude by the end of 2017. When operational, the CFTA will bring together all 54 African countries, creating a combined population of more than one billion people and a combined Gross Domestic Product of more than US$3.4 trillion.
Finally, a major development during the past year was the start of the process to review the organisational structure of the SADC Secretariat to ensure that it adequately responds to new and emerging issues in the region’s revised development blueprint.