The Complexities Of Integrating Southern Africa

The Complexities Of Integrating Southern Africa

Should we be seriously concerned about this so called economic integration of Southern Africa; if so, why; what exactly does it entail; when is it expected to be complete; how much ground has the process covered thus far and why? Answers to these questions particularly the last one, will shed light on the complexities of integrating Southern Africa – if they do exist.

To begin with, the economic integration of Southern Africa would be a significant milestone towards making our region an equally significant player in the global economy. It is purely in this spirit that its eventual integration must be a serious concern to each Southern African. This notwithstanding, the onus is primarily on the political and private sector leadership in each Southern African country to expedite the process.

What is the long and short of this process? In a nutshell, it entails the achievement of three ideals these being; trade and financial liberalisation; competitive and diversified industrial development and lastly; increased investment. Amongst all these noble ideals, only the first one has been realised to date and it is easy to see that the establishment of the SADC Free Trade Area in 2008 is the reason behind that success.

However, the SADC’s plan/schedule had forecasted that the FTA would be followed by three more milestones by virtue of which the economic integration of Southern Africa would have reached full circle. These are the SADC Customs Union which should have been established two years ago, the SADC Common Market by 2015 and SADC Monetary Union by 2016.  Since the SADC Customs Union has not materialised as planned, it is obvious that the establishment of both the Common Market and the Monetary Union will have to be rescheduled for later dates. Our only hope is that such dates are not too late.

Since the goal of this piece is to explain in the simplest and briefest terms why the process of economically integrating Southern Africa has sort of hit a brick wall, the reader is invited to think around the obstacles so that we, as a people, at least have the same appreciation of the facts. This is of crucial significance if one looks at it from the perspective of a common consciousness and its virtues.

In passing, let us just say that when in that state i.e. of a common consciousness, we the common folks would be easily mobilised to support the movement either by the government or civil society organisations working for the economic integration of Southern Africa. Mind you, the aforementioned mobilisation will not be automatic. On the contrary, a good civil society and a good government knows everything there is to know about being its catalyst and will thereby work earnestly for its actualisation, knowing well its virtue i.e. .the support for development initiatives.

Now back to the issue at hand, why was the establishment of the SADC Customs Union as the second stage of economically integrating Southern Africa deferred? Let’s take only two of the leading reasons. In the first instance, some of the fifteen countries that constitute Southern Africa are members of more than one regional trading arrangement. SACU is one of such as is SADC, COMESA and EAC.

The problem with this i.e. toward the establishment of the SADC Customs Union is that it contravenes GATT Article XXIV which among others, proclaims that no single country should have membership of more than one regional trading arrangement. Since the goal is for the SADC Customs Union to comply with the provisions of the WTO, the powers that be found it wise to hold their horses for a while, while figuring out the solution to their paradox. We must applaud them.

Here follows tangible evidence (by Adwell Zembele) pertaining to the contravention of WTO Agreements by Southern African countries, which they rightly want to avoid in the case of the SADC Customs Union. Malawi, Zambia, and Zimbabwe belong to both SADC and COMESA; Tanzania is a member of both SADC and the East African Community (EAC) while Swaziland is a member of SADC, COMESA, and SACU. For the sake of compliance with regard to the SADC Customs Union, these overlaps must be dealt with first.

(This article first appeared in the Public Eye issue of July 25, 2014)

I am passionate about all activities directed at cutting Africa's ties with underdevelopment.

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