“SADC is all about its citizens”
By Clarkson Mambo.
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) was established for the socio-economic benefit of its citizens and decisions taken by the regional organization are ultimately for that purpose.
In line with this objective, steady progress has been made by SADC since its inception in 1980 to ensure citizens live in a peaceful society and enjoy opportunities presented by belonging to a shared community in southern Africa.
Former SADC Executive Secretary, Dr Stergomena Lawrence Tax said this in response to some perceptions that argued the regional group is an “elitist organisation which does not do enough for its citizens.”
“SADC is all about its citizens… all policies, strategies and programmes are geared to the benefit of SADC citizens,” Dr Tax said, as she reflected on her eight-year tenure in an interview published in August in the 41st SADC Summit Publication.
Dr Tax, who made history by becoming the first woman to hold the post of SADC Executive Secretary in August 2013, ended her tenure at the helm of the Secretariat on 31 August 2021.
The new SADC Executive Secretary, H.E. Elias Magosi from Botswana, has said he will vigorously pursue the implementation of the SADC integration agenda.
Dr Tax said policies, strategies and programmes to benefit SADC citizens cut across the socio-economic and political divide, adding that the region will continue to review these in line with the ever-changing environment.
Such policies and strategies include the SADC Vision 2050 and the Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan (RISDP) 2020-2030.
Dr Tax said since the establishment of SADC in 1980, deeper political cooperation among the Member States has enabled countries in the region to gain independence and to end the apartheid system in South Africa in 1994.
Political independence has set the stage for southern Africa to advance economic cooperation, as well as increase people-to-people interaction as envisaged by SADC founders in their 1980 declaration, Southern Africa: Toward Economic Liberation.
On the economic front, the region has seen an increase in intra-SADC trade as goods and services can now move more easily across borders.
The creation of the SADC Free Trade Area (FTA) has allowed citizens to get better products at lower prices due to increased production in the region, as producers benefit from a tariff-free trade for goods originating within the region, with a few specific exemptions.
Long-term targets as approved by the 41st SADC Summit held in August include a regional central bank and monetary union where the Member States will use a single currency, easing the way of doing business in the region.
With regard to education and labour, the establishment of the SADC Qualifications Framework (SADCQF) has promoted common standards of education and the easier movement of learners and workers across the region.
Despite these multi-faceted and tangible achievements by SADC since its establishment, the milestones have generally been unreported.
In fact, the SADC integration narrative has largely remained untold, hindering efforts to fully exploit the benefits and opportunities that exist in the shared community of southern Africa.
To address the information gap, Dr Tax said, “SADC has put in place programmes aimed at taking the organization to the people, to enable SADC citizens and other stakeholders to understand its objectives, achievements, and the benefits that citizens derive from being part of SADC.”
She said the region is using different communication tools and channels to disseminate information about the integration agenda of SADC.
These tools and channels include the SADC Success Stories publication that highlights some of the benefits, impacts and opportunities of belonging to a shared community of southern Africa.
Other tools are the SADC website, and the publication on 40 Years of SADC: Enhancing Regional Cooperation and Integration, published in three languages, which presents the achievements and milestones achieved by SADC since its formation in 1980 and its transformation from SADCC in 1992.
The publication was produced by the SADC Secretariat in partnership with the Southern African Research and Documentation Centre (SARDC), a SADC knowledge partner that also produces the periodical Southern Africa Today/SADC Today. These publications are accessible through the website for sadc.int and sardc.net
There is now more active engagement between SADC institutions and non-state actors to improve the information-sharing process in the region.
This engagement is evident in the establishment of SADC National Committees (SNC) in the Member States, as well as extensive consultations in creating “The SADC We Want”.
The SNCs, which comprise of key stakeholders from government, private sector and civil society in each Member State were established to coordinate and oversee the implementation of programmes at the national level.
However, Dr Tax said the task of bringing SADC closer to the people is a collective effort and there is a need for other stakeholders, particularly the media to tell the SADC story.
“SADC recognizes the pivotal role of the media in informing and educating citizens about the benefits and values of awareness about the benefits of belonging to a shared community of southern Africa, and ensure that these are enjoyed, and reach the lives of all SADC citizens,” she said.
“This will enable the citizens to actively participate in and benefit from the SADC Vision 2050 that envisages a peaceful, inclusive, competitive, middle-to-high-income, industrialized region, where all citizens enjoy sustainable economic wellbeing, justice and freedom,” Dr Tax said.
Approved in August 2020, the SADC Vision 2050 sets out the aspirations of the region for the next 30 years.
The Vision is based on a firm foundation of Peace, Security and Democratic Governance, and premised on three interrelated pillars, namely: Industrial Development and Market Integration; Infrastructure Development in support of Regional Integration; and Social and Human Capital Development.