SADC Summit 2014. Preparing for more floating projects
It is amazing what spin political leaders can put on progress that is in fact due to the efforts of the private sector. It is even more astonishing that they can gloss over glaring discrepancies as if these do not exist, when talking about SADC integration, and of the big Renaissance that will shortly flood southern Africa.
At a meeting of infrastructure ministers in Harare a week ago, grandiose plans were thrown about of linking Walvis Bay to Beira and Cape Town to Dar es Salaam. Apparently this meeting is in preparation for the Heads of State summit scheduled for August, where, I suppose more hot air and fluff will be spun. But the futility of the ministers’ meeting hits one squarely in the face when reading the verbose statement released afterwards.
Ministers must meet. Nobody doubts that. And it is also good that Heads of State get together for a summit every now and then, but my experience of the past fifteen years is that these meeting produce very little concrete progress. As Marie Antoinette said, how else will we entertain the peasants if we do not provide them the odd occasion to witness the pomp and splendour we (the royalty) enjoy.
Dreaming big is certainly a requirement for any aspiring politician. Next on the list of priorities is making a lot of noise regardless how senseless that noise is most of the time. But I realise that certain decisions regarding the development of the region can only be taken when Heads of State meet. But other than the suspension of the SADC Tribunal, I am at a loss to recall one decision taken at a Heads of State meeting, that has actually lead to some form of progress across the SADC region.
And thinking back to the summit where the SADC Tribunal was so unceremoniously dismissed, brings which possibly brings the biggest obstacle to the fore, that of foreign investment.
The type of infrastructure projects that are loosely discussed at the ministers’ meeting would require massive amounts of investment. I can not think of a single SADC member state that commands sufficient own resources to bring these major infrastructure projects to fruition. By definition, and by necessity, they must be financed on a regional basis, relying heavily upon the goodwill and positive inclination of an army of foreign investors.
But foreign investors are very wary of entering jurisdictions where there is no functional mechanism to resolve disputes. How are we going to convince these skeptical investors to put their money into southern Africa’s infrastructure across many national borders, when there does not exist a competent court to sort out disputes when they arise.
It is completely baffling that fifteen years after the Zimbabwean president forced his country’s economy to its knees, he is still in charge, and he endorses many of the infrastructure plans assuming that the linkages will include his own country.
Foreign investors want to be assured of property rights and of the right to legal discourse when the in situ mechanisms fail to resolve a dispute. I believe it is a rather futile endeavour to entice those investors with enough clout to afford funding SADC infrastructure projects, to become involved in the Southern African Development Community. One of the Heads of State publicly flaunted all property rights, then when these had repercussions for him personally, all the Heads of State together dispensed with the irritating institution, the SADC Tribunal, that was causing all the trouble for the demented leader.
If we want large (massive) cross-border, regional projects to become reality, first and foremost, we’ll need the financial mechanisms. The moment these come into play, there will be contractual agreements, and for these to be finalised, there must be a mechanism of resolution.
In the absence of a competent organ to adjudicate over matters of international concern, it sends out a strong negative signal to investors. In every country, for every part of a project, when there is a dispute, it means they will have to engage the opposing party in a national court.
Say, for instance, there is a dispute over the cost of rebuilding the bridge over the Zambezi below the Falls, whose jurisdiction do the investors go to for compensation? Zimbabwean courts are notoriously biased, and probably lacking the competence to hear cases of international law. I mean, if there is zero Rule of Law, how will we convince the investors their investments are safe.
It is my contention that these grandiose infrastructure projects will not materialise in the absence of a ratified regional court. Even if we do re-institute the SADC Tribunal, investors will still view it with suspicion, as everybody will remember with what joyful abandon our Heads of State got rid of it, overnight.