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Why Africa united to fight illegal fishing

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Earlier this month, over 40 African Union (AU) nations signed a binding agreement to curb piracy and other maritime crime on the continent’s coastlines. The meeting in Lomé, Tongo, drew 18 heads of state – considerably more than most African Union meetings – a fact that demonstrates the importance to African leaders of curbing piracy, illegal fishing, and other crime on Africa’s economically endangered coastlines. The deal will establish a maritime security fund, and is also meant to strengthen cooperation and communication between governments.

The Lomé agreement brings together more than 40 nations with mutual interest in securing the continent’s shores. 90 percent of African imports and exports are transported by sea, making maritime security essential to the economic success of all African countries. Coastal states in West Africa are losing about $1.3 billion annually, just to illegal fishing alone. It is no wonder then that the agreement was praised as “historic” by Congolese President Denis Sassou Nguesso, while President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya said that it demonstrated an increasing ability to work together as a continent to solve such problems. Only a few years ago, outside powers such as the EU needed to be called in to help control piracy off the coast of Somalia.

The attention given to this problem is evidence of the vast economic impact of maritime criminal activity. South Africa alone loses billions of dollars every year to illegal fishing, especially to the poaching of abalone and lobster, prized by poachers for their high demand in places such as Hong Kong, China, and other parts of East Asia. Last year, 74 fishing vessels operated by Chinese Distant Water Fishing companies were found to be fishing illegally in prohibited West African fishing grounds and falsifying their gross tonnage, according to a two-year Greenpeace investigation. Most of those cases dated between 2000 and 2014, off the coasts of Guinea, Ghana, Senegal, and Guinea-Bissau. One report by the Overseas Development Institute estimates that West Africa could create as many as 300,000 jobs by ending illegal fishing.

Much of the illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing that goes on in West African waters is at the hands of Chinese vessels. Chinese companies have expanded operations in the region from 13 vessels in 1985 to 462 in 2013. IUU fishing by Chinese vessels has been increasing in other parts of the world as well, but in Africa, these practices pose a particular threat. African governments have historically had limited ability to enforce maritime law. One third of all fish caught in waters off of West Africa is obtained illegally by Chinese fishing vessels. Traditional fishermen, using wooden canoes and small nets are now forced to compete with Chinese fishermen using some of the most destructive and large-scale fishing methods the world has ever seen. For example, many of these vessels use massive “drift nets”, which were banned by the UN in 1992. These nets can range from 10 to 100 nautical miles long, connected between buoys on the surface and lead weights 40 feet below.

Since many impoverished Africans rely exclusively on fishing for not only income, but also basic sustenance, the influx of IUU fishing is an especially serious problem. In Mozambique, IUU fishing has reached critical proportions. A 2013 study revealed that out of the 130 ships operating off its coast 129 were foreign, and concerns increasing that within 10 years, the Mozambique Channel may be all but bereft of maritime life. With the country losing 65 million dollars a year to illegal fishing, Mozambique’s state-backed tuna fishing company EMATUM bought several patrol vessels to help protect the nation’s waters. The country is now embroiled in a multimillion-dollar international controversy, after creditors deemed the purchase too expensive.

Meanwhile, piracy in West African waters has increased, as pirate activity off the coast of Somalia has finally started to decline. Fueled by the rise of militant rebels on land in places like Nigeria, economic pressure on a rapidly expanding population, and slumping oil prices, piracy in the Gulf of Guinea has yielded some of the world’s most dangerous waters for seafarers. One report said that 1,225 seafarers were attacked by pirates there in 2015 alone. African nations have tried to deal with this problem on their own, but have found little success.

While efforts by individual nations are commendable, the nature of the causes and effects of piracy and IUU fishing mean that cooperation between governments is essential to tackling the problem. International policy observers have suggested that more regional coordination could be the next step for Africa’s maritime security. Coastal waters must be protected as a shared resource. Furthermore, nations could fill the gaps in their own security infrastructure with assistance from private sector security firms. Finally, African partners in China and the rest of East Asia must pressure Beijing to reign in illegal fishing operations.

The Lomé agreement is a step towards the kind of cooperation that is necessary to secure Africa’s coastline. The signatories should ratify the agreement as fast possible in order to reap the benefits from its operation. With so many countries dependent on fishing and other economic activity on the African coastline, measures like this one are crucial to stem a still growing problem.

Samantha is a freshly minted graduate in International Relations based in Cairo, currently working as a research assistant in a small think tank looking at development and inequality in Africa

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Will U.S. Sanctions Against Ethiopia Provide Russia with Regional Opening?

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Recently arrived refugees from Tigray in Ethiopia bring supplies to help set up their shelter in Raquba camp, in Kassala, Sudan. UNFPA/Sufian Abdul-Mouty

The U.S. has recently imposed sanctions against some Ethiopian officials who Washington blames for alleged human rights abuses in the country’s restive Tigray Province. The background context is that members of the previously most important party of the former Ethiopian ruling coalition, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), recently split with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s new Prosperity Party ruling coalition over serious domestic political differences related to his vision for the country. To admittedly oversimplify a very complex situation, Mr. Ahmed was earlier appointed by the EPRDF as a reformer in favor of substantive decentralization of Ethiopia’s federal system but then reversed course as a result of fears that his unprecedented “glasnost– and perestroika-like” rhetoric was inadvertently provoking “Balkanization” in this extremely cosmopolitan country that is also Africa’s second most populous.

In short, the TPLF fled to its native Tigray Province and launched an insurgency against the same government that it ironically used to lead. This prompted the central authorities to commence an overwhelming military operation to suppress this separatist threat, which led to accusations of human rights abuses and war crimes that have been difficult to verify due to the lack of access to the region by independent observers. Addis Ababa claims that it won’t sacrifice its sovereignty by allowing just anyone enter Tigray, which—while causing suspicion among some observers that it has something to hide—is nonetheless based in historical precedent considering prior Western meddling plots.

The irony is that a role reversal of sorts is presently taking place in Ethiopia which interestingly mirrors one that occurred during the Old Cold War but to a more localized extent. During the 1970s, Ethiopia was regarded as an American ally even after its Communist revolution, while the neighboring Somalia was a Soviet ally. The Ogaden War resulted in the superpowers trading patrons and thus ended with Ethiopia becoming a Soviet ally, while Somalia became an American one. Now, however, the TPLF is being at the very least indirectly supported by the U.S. through political means via the recent sanctions and despite the fact that the party has at times in its past been skeptical of America and closer to China. However, it also pragmatically engaged with Washington whenever it believed doing so would be mutually beneficial, like in the case of Somalia in the Ogaden War. Abiy Ahmed, who was initially considered American-friendly, is now cast as a villain by the U.S. due to the consequences of his military campaign in Tigray.

Some observers now expect Ethiopia to reverse its geopolitical course of recent years and more enthusiastically embrace China, just like the TPLF used to do when it was in power before Mr. Ahmed decided to recalibrate foreign policy during his now seemingly failed experiment with his country’s version of glasnost and perestroika. Since being appointed to power by the same ruling coalition that he was later responsible for replacing with his newfound Prosperity Party, he also moved a lot closer to the GCC. The latter has recently been more in support of Egypt and Sudan with which Ethiopia is embroiled in a bitter dispute over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) that some fear might one day lead to war. That being the case, Abiy’s reactionary embrace of China in response to U.S. sanctions and geopolitical disappointment with the GCC could lead to disproportionate geostrategic dependence on the People’s Republic.

Regarding geopolitical balancing as one of the top trends of the 21st century amid the world irreversibly transitioning to multipolarity, it would arguably be best for Ethiopia to preemptively balance its prospectively disproportionate geostrategic dependence on China with another party. Western countries side with the U.S. for obvious reasons, so are clearly excluded from this calculation, while it’s unrealistic to expect the GCC to abandon its support for its fellow Arab partners. This results in Russia being the only practical balancing partner for Ethiopia to engage with if it desires to balance China, especially in a friendly way that will not risk provoking any suspicions about its geostrategic intentions from the People’s Republic since Moscow and Beijing enjoy unprecedentedly close relations. Russia has also sought to return to Africa in recent years, as evidenced by its first-ever Russia-Africa Summit in Sochi in October 2019.

Reaching out to Russia right now wouldn’t just be for symbolism’s sake but could result in a slew of mutually beneficial outcomes for both countries. Ethiopia requires reliable military support more than ever, and Russia is known for its no-strings-attached military deals and used to be Addis Ababa’s top military partner during the Old Cold War. Furthermore, many Russian companies are world-renowned for the quality of their work, especially in the extractive and logistical spheres. Ethiopia could certainly use their expertise in the years to come if Western companies decide to leave the country due to pressure from their governments. Another point is that stronger Russian-Ethiopian ties would complement Moscow’s geostrategic reorientation towards the Global South since the onset of the Ukraine Crisis in 2014 which some regard as the start of the New Cold War, particularly since the Horn of Africa country is among the continent’s most promising markets.

With Ethiopia as its regional entry point, Russia could further expand its influence throughout the Horn of Africa and subsequently the rest of East Africa. In fact, visibly successful Russian-Ethiopian cooperation in the coming years, accelerated as it may be, could serve as a proof for why other African countries should follow in Addis Ababa’s footsteps by reaching out to Moscow as a pragmatic balancing partner even if they presently enjoy equally excellent relations with Washington and Beijing. After all, balancing between two great powers can be difficult to maintain indefinitely, but everything could be optimized if a third partner, such as Russia, were introduced into this geostrategic calculation. This would provide the host state with more opportunities to leverage its relationships to the most profitable end.

It is for these reasons why Ethiopia should reach out to Russia sooner than later. Not only would this serve its interests in the immediate moment, but it would also preemptively balance its prospectively disproportionate dependence on China as well as set a regional example for other countries to follow. Whether one agrees with Abiy’s vision for the country or not, to say nothing of the military intervention that he commenced in Tigray and its reported consequences, nobody can reasonably deny that the U.S. is putting pressure on Ethiopia through sanctions in the hopes of influencing its domestic policies and perhaps even encouraging regime change with time. The intriguing role reversal that just took place—whereby the previously Chinese-friendly and somewhat American-skeptical TPLF is now at the very least politically supported by the U.S., while the formerly American-friendly and Chinese-skeptical Abiy is cast as a villain—shows how flexible the U.S. can be in pursuit of its interests.

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Dr. Dolittles and Ben Alis: How Is the Collective North Responding to African Challenge?

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As we learned back in the Soviet times, on 25 May, all progressive people celebrate Africa Day, also known as the African Freedom Day. It commemorates the Organization of African Unity being established by thirty African leaders on 25 May 1963 in Addis Ababa. On this day, a great variety of events are held around the world: exhibitions, culture forums, concerts, film festivals and academic conferences to remind everyone about the African continent, its indisputable achievements and—equally obvious—unresolved problems. Africa Day was celebrated a short while ago, providing an occasion to discuss this part of the world.

It would be true to say that each of us gets to know Africa in their own distinct way. To me, then a child, Africa first showed itself from the pages of an old, well-thumbed copy of Korney Chukovsky’s book.* Later, of course, I read Louis Boussenard and Jules Verne, Mayne Reid and Alphonse Daudet, Nikolay Gumilev and Ernest Hemingway… Yet, none of these wonderful writers could ever superimpose themselves over the deeply imprinted images of the good Dr. Dolittle and the villain Ben Ali. My off-and-on trips to Africa, ranging from Egypt in the north to South Africa at the other end of the continent, have not erased these images either. Faded pictures in a children’s book sometimes keep resurfacing in my memory.

Incidentally, for Chukovsky, who never got to visit Africa, the continent was absolutely desolate. Chukovsky’s Africa is populated exclusively by anthropomorphic representatives of local fauna: crocodiles and hippos, gorillas and rhinos, and other good or bad animals. As for humans, in addition to the protagonists, Chukovsky only mentions the little Vanya and Tanya, who secretly ran away to Africa when their parents carelessly fell asleep. Most likely, there are no other people in the book because the author needed to turn the spotlight on the confrontation between the altruistic liberal Dr. Dolittle and the cynical realist Ben Ali.

However, when Chukovsky was working on his book a hundred years ago, Africa was rather sparsely populated indeed. Various estimates put the population of Africa in the early 20th century at 93–110 million people, which is significantly less than, for instance, the population of the Russian Empire at that time. By the mid-20th century, Africa already had a population of half a billion and, by the end of the century, this figure had risen to 800 million. Today, Africa’s total population (1.365 billion) is nearly ten times that of Russia; Africa is catching up with such demographic giants as China and India and will soon overtake them both.

Today’s forecast of Africa’s in 2050 population is at least 2.4 billion, and 4.2 billion in 2100. In other words, by the end of this century, Africa’s once vast desolate expanses will be home to nearly 40 per cent of the global population. The population of Nigeria alone will have reached almost a billion by then, that is, one in ten on Earth will be Nigerian. The population of Russia at the turn of the 22nd century will be comparable to that of a single large Nigerian state (Nigeria has thirty-six states, not counting the capital, which is a special status federal territory).

Getting away from the current political situation for a second and leaving aside the current confrontation between the great powers, we easily arrive at the logical conclusion that it is Africa, not Russia or China or India for that matter, that constitutes the principal challenge to the current, mostly western, world order.

Yet this long-term challenge has nothing to do with geopolitics, which has once again become trendsetting.

Africa is seeing a most chaotic urbanization at its fastest rates. Before our very eyes, huge and poorly governed metropoles are emerging, each of them with a population of tens of millions. Urban problems of the future will be epitomized by the larger in size than cities on other continents, though infrastructurally lagging behind Lagos, Cairo, Addis Ababa, Dar es Salaam, Luanda and Nairobi rather than New York or London, Shanghai or Karachi.

Africa is experiencing the fastest shrinkage of forests and expansion of deserts. The Sahara is advancing on the countries of the Sahel from the north, prompting waves of “environmental refugees” as well as exacerbating ethnic and denominational issues. The African Great Lakes in the east of the continent, including Lake Victoria, Lake Tanganyika and Lake Nyasa, are becoming shallow, yet they contain about a quarter of all the Earth’s fresh water.

Climate change is hurting Africa more than any other continent and will do so more and more as time goes on. Rising heat has resulted in the agricultural season becoming 50–100 days shorter in some areas. Most countries of the continent, including the most populous ones, are already incapable of feeding themselves; national food shortages tend to increase, as do economic and social inequality and the attendant potential for civil and inter-country conflicts.

How is the collective West or, rather, the collective North responding to this challenge? The African stage still has its Dr. Dolittles and Ben Alis. The outstanding European theologian Albert Schweitzer, philosopher of culture, humanitarian, musician, and doctor, was a surprising embodiment of the classical image of Dr. Dolittle. He dedicated most of his life to treating Africans in a village hospital in Gabon. Yet, far more often, the role of Dr. Dolittle is today played by the manager of a big charity foundation, the employee of an international development institution, or the official of a government agency providing technical assistance to foreign states. Today, an entire industry has emerged to render aid to African education, healthcare, agriculture, and social development.

The image of Ben Ali has also changed significantly over the last hundred years. There are still some colorful international adventurers, indefatigable condottieri and soldiers of fortune, be it the almost legendary weapons seller Viktor But, who is currently serving a twenty-five-year term in an American prison, or nameless soldiers of private military companies, who are fighting in many conflicts around the world, including in Africa. As a rule, however, Ben Ali is now disguised as a far less imposing head of a big transnational company working in energy, mining or finance. They have come to Africa to do business: to produce oil and gas, mine non-ferrous metals, operate a logging company, supply food and extend loans to African governments.

The problem is that neither the Dr. Dolittles nor the Ben Alis of today are capable of even slowing down the exacerbation of the continent’s problems, much less resolving them. For instance, big charity funding for leading African universities often results in boosting the “export sector” in African education: graduates of the continent’s best universities endeavor to use their abilities and skills somewhere in Europe or America rather than at home. And transnational corporations, both Western and Chinese, have so far done little to assist in transforming Africa into the world’s new “industrial workshop.” Recently, the interest of present-day Ben Alis in Africa has generally shrunk: total foreign direct investment has been falling for at least seven years and the number of new projects launched in Africa with foreign participation has dropped by nearly two-thirds amid the pandemic.

If you don’t come to Africa, Africa will come to you.

The global North will be unable to fence itself off from the global South, and the rapidly growing but poorly developing Africa will inevitably make its presence felt through multiplying regional conflicts and rising international terrorism, an exacerbated situation on the global food market and an increasing contribution to the overall global warming.

Even so, it will make its presence felt mostly through the inevitable increase in transcontinental migration flows. The likely scale of Africa’s impending migration pressure on the rest of the world is hard to predict, but it is quite obvious that we are talking colossal numbers, far exceeding anything human history has ever known. The European migration crisis of 2015 will seem like a minor trouble when compared to what may lie ahead for the developed countries of the North in the not-so-distant future.

At the same time, a young Africa, with its ebullient new blood, is not only humanity’s main potential challenge but also its main potential opportunity. Unlike the aging Europe, unlike North and East Asia, which are losing their bloom, unlike the U.S., which is past the peak of its power, Africa is a continent with everything ahead of it. It has many of the potential growth sources for the global economy in the second half of the 21st century and for the more distant future. It is not just an exotic place for little Vanya and Tanya’s magical adventures, it is the place where the future of humanity will be largely determined.

With that in mind, Africa should become a global project that could unite East and West, Atlantic liberals and Eurasian autocrats. They would be united not by the fairy-tale altruism of Dr. Dolittle, nor by the grotesque cynicism of the pirate Ben Ali, but by taking a sober account of their long-term national interests. The African project should involve coordinated global re-distribution of hundreds of billions of dollars invested annually in large-scale projects in agriculture, renewable energy sources, urban development, middle and higher education, public healthcare and municipal governance.

Instead of being targeted showpieces based on blueprints provided by today’s charity foundations, specific programmes should be systemic and comprehensive; they should span the entire continent and be implemented over several decades. Neither the IBRD nor the IMF will be able to handle the African project, which means that radically new institutional solutions are needed. Of course, no one likes to part with their money but the future of humanity is worth the global North assuming the generally feasible burden of an additional tax.

Let us stress once again that the main, planet-wide challenge of our century lies not in Atlantic-Eurasian confrontation; it lies in U.S.–China rivalry and in the deep rift between the North and the South. The African continent remains the indisputable center of the global South. Humanity will not be able to successfully move forward in the next hundred years without responding properly to the African challenge thought this century.

* The author is referring to a popular book by Korney Chukovsky, which is a Russian adaptation of Hugh Lofting’s The Story of Dr. Dolittle; the Russian version features Dr. Aybolit (Ouch-It-Hurts) and the villain Barmaley, who roughly correspond to Dr. Dolittle and the pirate Ben Ali, but the book differs significantly from its source.

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Lawrence Stargomena Tax Says Goodbye, and Calls for Scaling Up Sustainable Development

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Southern African Development Community (SADC), an organization made up of 16 member states, was established in 1980. It has as its mission to promote sustainable and equitable economic growth and socio-economic development through efficient, productive systems, deeper cooperation and integration, good governance and durable peace and security, so that the region emerges as a competitive and an effective player in international relations and the world economy.

Lawrence Stargomena Tax began as the fourth Executive Secretary in September 2013. According to the official information, her second term of office ends in August 2021. As Executive Secretary, her key responsibilities include engaging all the members as an economic bloc, overseeing and implementing various programmes and projects in the Southern African region.

She has a diverse employment career, including holding a top position as the Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and East African Cooperation from 2008 to 2013, thereafter appointed as the Executive Secretary of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) at the 33rd Summit of the Heads of State and Government held in Lilongwe, Malawi.

In this insightful and wide-ranging farewell interview with Kester Kenn Klomegah from Modern Diplomacy in May, Executive Secretary Lawrence Stargomena Tax discusses the most significant achievements and challenges in deepening cooperation and promoting socio-economic development as well as peace and security, and further makes suggestions for the future of Southern Africa. Here are the interview excerpts:

What would you say, in a summarized assessment about your work, especially achievements and challenges, during your term of office as Executive Secretary of the Southern African Development Community (SADC)?

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) Secretariat is the Principal Executive Institution of SADC, and the SADC Executive Secretary leads the SADC Secretariat as mandated by Articles 14 and 15 of the Treaty establishing SADC. Functions of the SADC Executive Secretary include overseeing: strategic planning for the Organisation; management, coordination and monitoring of SADC programmes; coordination and harmonization of policies and strategies; mobilization of resources; representation and promotion of SADC; and promotion of SADC regional integration and cooperation.

Achievements: SADC has recorded numerous achievements since its establishment, some of which were recorded during my term of office, from September 2013 to-date 2021. The functions of the Executive Secretary notwithstanding, the recorded milestones are a result of collective efforts by Member States, the Secretariat, and other Stakeholders, as well as team-work by staff of the Secretariat. Eight (8) years is quite a long time, as such several achievements and milestones were recorded during the eight years of my tenure in office, allow me to highlight some of the key ones as follows:

Consolidation of democracy, and sustenance of peace and security in the region. The SADC region remains stable and peaceful, notwithstanding, isolated challenges. This is attributed to solid systems and measures in place, such as our regional early warning, preventive and mediation mechanisms, which facilitate timely detection and re-dress of threats and challenges, and effective deployments of SADC electoral observation missions. Examples during my tenure of office, include SADC preventive mission to the Kingdom of Lesotho, SADC peace and political support to the Democratic Republic of Congo, SADC mediation in Madagascar, SADC facilitation in Lesotho, and effective deployment of electoral observation Missions to SADC Member States. To mitigate and address threats posed by cybercrime and terrorism, a cybercrime and anti-terrorism strategy was adopted in 2016. The strategy is being implemented at regional and national levels.

In the historical-political space, the Southern African Liberation struggles were documented through the Hashim Mbita Publication, a Publication that comprehensively and authentically documents the struggles in the three SADC languages, English, French and Portuguese. The Publication enables all, especially the youth to understand and appreciate the history and the Southern African Liberation.

Forging a long-term direction of SADC through the adoption of the SADC Vision 2050, that is transposed on the Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan (RISDP) 2020-2030. Vision 2050 sets out the long-term aspirations of SADC over the next thirty (30) years, while the RISDP 2020-30 outlines a development trajectory for the Region for ten (10) years to 2030. Vision 2050 is based on a firm foundation of Peace, Security and Democratic Governance, and premised on three inter-related pillars, namely Industrial Development and Market Integration; Infrastructure Development in support of Regional Integration; and Social and Human Capital Development. This also goes hand in hand with frontloading of Industrialization that aims at transforming SADC economies technologically and economically. Industrialization remains SADC main economic integration agenda since April 2015, when the SADC Industrialization Strategy and Roadmap 2015-2063 was approved.  By addressing the supply side constraints as part of the implementation of the SADC industrialization strategy, cross border trade continues to grow, and business environment has been improving, where cost of doing business has been declining steadily and gradually. In addition, values chains were profiled, specifically in three priority sectors, namely mineral beneficiation, pharmaceutical and agro-processing, and a number of value chains have been developed and are being implemented. The Industrialization Strategy has also recognized the private sector as a major player to SADC industrialization and regional integration as a whole.

The adoption of the SADC Simplified Trade Regime Framework in 2019, which has contributed to the enhancement of trade facilitation, and adoption of the SADC Financial Inclusion and Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) Strategy that has enhanced financial inclusion in Member States. Ten Member States have so far developed financial inclusion strategies, and there has been an 8 percent improvement in financial inclusion to a tune of 68 percent.

Introduction and operationalization of the SADC Real Time Gross Settlement System (RTGS), a multi-currency platform, which went live in October 2018. All Member States except Comoros are participating in the SADC-RTGS and a total of 85 banks are participating in the system. The SADC-RTGS has enabled Member States to settle payments among themselves in real time compared to previously when it used to take several days for banks to process cross border transactions. As of December 2020, 1,995,355 transactions were settled in the System, representing the value of South African Rands (ZAR) 7.81 Trillion.

Approval of the establishment of the SADC Regional Development Fund in 2015 which aims at mobilizing funds for key infrastructure and industrialization projects.

Realization of targets set in the SADC Regional Infrastructure Development Master Plan (RIDMP) that was approved in 2012, including the establishment of One-Stop Border Posts which entails joint control and management of border crossing activities by agents of the adjoining countries, using shared facilities, systems and streamlined procedure. These include:

One-Stop Border Posts at Chirundu Border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, and Nakonde -Tunduma Border between Tanzania and Zambia; a third One-Stop Border Post, about to be operationalised is at Kazungula Border between Botswana and Zambia, where the road-rail bridge has been completed.

Cross-border infrastructure projects, both hard and soft, that have facilitated assimilated, cost-effective, unified and efficient trans-national infrastructure networks and services were developed and are being implemented. These projects include cross-border transmission links in several Member States using optical fibre technology, thereby, allowing landlocked Member States such as Botswana, Eswatini, Lesotho, Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe to connect to the submarine cables on either or both the east and west coast of Africa. Five (5) Member States (Botswana, Eswatini, Namibia, South Africa and Tanzania) have achieved the 2025 SADC Broadband Target to cover 80% of their population, and eight (8) Member States, namely Angola, Botswana, Eswatini, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, have put in place National Broadband Plans or Strategies.

The installation and commissioning of more than 18300 Megawatts (MW) between 2014 and 2020 to meet the increasing power demand in the Region has been recorded. Connecting the remaining three (3) mainland Member States namely Angola, Malawi and United Republic of Tanzania to the Southern African Power Pool remains a priority, and to this effect the Zambia-Tanzania Interconnector is at construction phase.

The adoption of the Regional Water Climate Change Adaptation Strategy and Flood Early Warning System in 2015. This has contributed to improvements in climate and weather forecasting, whereby a Southern African Regional Climate Outlook Forum has been established. The forum provides a platform for Member States to review and discuss the socio-economic impacts and potential impacts of the climate outlook, including on food security, health, water and hydropower management, and disaster risk management.

The adoption of the SADC Disaster Preparedness and Response Strategy and Fund (2016-2030), which has contributed to the enhancement of regional disaster management and responses capacity.

A number of administrative milestones were also recorded during my tenure of office, including, institutional reforms, policy reviews, change management towards enhanced cooperate governance and effective delivery. Among others, the SADC Organization Structure was reviewed and streamlined in 2016 to deliver on the technological and economic transformation of the region, in line with the SADC Industrialization Strategy 2015-2063; and a number of policies and strategies, and guidelines were developed to enhance cooperate governance and change management.

As the first female Executive Secretary, since I joined the SADC Secretariat, Gender mainstreaming and Women empowerment were among the areas that I paid dedicated attention to. In this regard, all policies that were developed during my tenure mainstreamed gender and engendered women empowerment. A SADC Framework for Achieving Gender Parity in Political and Decision-Making positions was developed, and provides strategies, and guidelines for strengthening the implementation of the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development in order to ensure that at least 50 percent of all decision-making positions at all levels would be held by women by 2030, and progress is encouraging. 

The Region also continued to intensify the fight against HIV and AIDS, TB and Malaria. To this effect, harmonized minimum standards for the prevention, treatment and management of the diseases were developed to promote health, through support for the control of communicable diseases; and preparedness, surveillance and responses during emergencies.

Here are the challenges: Challenges are expected in any organization, the most important thing is to address them timely and effectively. Challenges that I encouraged included:

 A multi-cultural operating environment. This needed high level of patience, and approaches that will facilitate inclusiveness and ownership. The challenges sometimes affected speed in terms of delivery, as one had to get a clear understanding of issues at hand, and devise appropriate problem solving approaches.  

Another problem is balancing diverse interests by Member States. Sixteen (16) Member States is not a small number, each will have her own priorities and interests, which sometimes are not necessarily the same across the region, or regional priorities. This needs one to be analytical and a quick thinker, applying negotiation and convincing skills.

The Region has also experienced a multiplicity of natural disasters with varying frequency and magnitude of impact, which sometimes occurred at unprecedented scale, for example, Tropical Cyclone Idai with its devastating impacts, including loss of lives, displacement of people, and massive destruction to properties. In response, SADC strengthened the regional disaster preparedness and response coordination and resilience building mechanisms, and more efforts are ongoing in this area.

The tail-end of my term of office encountered challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, which still remains a major concern and a challenge globally, and in almost all SADC Member States. On the response side, SADC has exhibited determination, solidarity and has undertaken several coordinated regional responses and put in place various harmonized measures to fight the pandemic and to mitigate its socio -economic impacts.  These include regulations for facilitation of cross border movement of essential goods, services and transport, which were speedily developed and adopted, and were also harmonized at Tripartite level bringing on board the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the East African Community (EAC). These measures contributed to the containment of the spread of COVID-19, and facilitated continuity of socio-economic activities and livelihood of SADC citizens. The SADC Secretariat also carried out an in-depth assessment of the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19 on SADC economies. The assessment revealed a number of sectoral impacts. Based on the assessment, measures to address the challenges have been put in place at national and regional levels, and at the SADC Secretariat. 

e. Whereas, the region has progressed in terms of its objectives, it is yet to achieve its ultimate goal of ensuring economic well-being, improvement of the standards of living and quality of life for the people of Southern Africa. Achieving this aspiration, remains a challenge to be progressively tackled to the end.

Southern African region is unique in terms of stability and investment climate, but there are also differences in political culture, policies and approach toward development issues. How did you find “a common language” for all the 16 SADC leaders?

The common language of SADC revolves around basic tenets which include history, values and common agenda. Historically, the region has common principles and values. Dating back to migration era, you will note that some of the parts of the SADC region are inhabited by the Bantu people who share some cultural similarities. Politically, the region united and stood in solidarity against colonialism a resolve that led to the liberation struggle that brought Member States together (resulting in the formation of the Front Line States, then the Southern Africa Development Coordination Conference) to fight and break from colonialism.

In terms of values, SADC believes in mutual respect and equality. Although Member States differ in size, wealth or development, they treat each other as equal sovereign states. Secondly, Member States make decisions through consensus, without anyone imposing on the other.

Lastly, SADC, like any other organization has a common agenda as spelt out in its Treaty, Article 5, which, among others, aims at promoting sustainable and equitable economic growth and social economic development that will ensure poverty alleviation with the ultimate objective of its eradication, enhance the standard and quality of life of the people of Southern Africa and support the socially disadvantaged through regional integration.” Based on the common agenda, a vision, and policies and strategies have been developed to guide implementation and realization of the common agenda.

Therefore, notwithstanding some differences in political culture, national policies and approaches towards development issues, the history of the region, the shared principles and values embraced by the organization, and its common agenda have always enabled the Region and Member States to find a common ground, language and interest as a region, that is for all the 16 SADC Member States and SADC Leaders.

You have always advocated for an increased economic partnership and for sustainable development in the region. Do you agree that there is still insufficiently developed infrastructure in the industrial sector and other sectors in the region? How can the situation, most probably, be improved in the long term?

SADC recognises that a seamless and robust infrastructural network will create the requisite capacity for sustained economic growth, industrialisation and development. Measures to enhance infrastructure in the industrial sector and other sectors are in place and being implemented as part of the SADC industrialization Strategy 2015-2063, and the SADC Regional Infrastructure Development Master Plan of 2012. It should however be noted that while steady progress is being recorded, investments in these areas require substantial resources and partnership between Public and Private Sectors.   Estimates by the African Development Bank (AfDB), published in its African Economic Outlook of 2018, reveal that Africa’s annual infrastructure requirements amount to $130bn – $170bn, with a financing gap in the range of $68bn–$108bn. SADC therefore, invites investors from within and outside the region to partner in this strategic areas for mutual benefits.

SADC has also established the Project Preparation and Development Facility (PPDF). The purpose of the PPDF funding is to enhance   delivery on infrastructure development in the SADC Region, by bringing projects to bankability and as such facilitate investments by private sector and/or cooperating partners.

SADC is also in a process of ooperationalizing the SADC Regional Development Fund that will, among others, mobilize funds for key infrastructure and industrialization projects.

How do you assess the economic potential in the region? What foreign players have shown keen interest and/or already playing significant roles in SADC? Within the context of AfCFTA, what may further attract them?

The SADC region is endowed with diverse natural resources, including almost all of the key minerals for feed-stocks into regional manufacturing, agriculture, construction, power and other sectors.

The Region has been cooperating with both the private sector and international cooperation partners to implement its various policies and strategies to ensure that the region benefits from its own economic potential.  Entering into force of the AfCFTA, provides an opportunity to SADC in collaboration with the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the East African Community (EAC) to expedite the operationalization of the COMESA-EAC-SADC Tripartite Free Trade Area as a necessary pillar for the AfCFTA, and thus expanded cross-border and international investments and trade.

In spite the degree of development complexities, you have SADC in your heart. Do you feel you have left something undone for the region? What are your last words, expert views and suggestions for ensuring sustainable social and economic growth in the region and for the future of SADC?

SADC is about cooperation and regional integration, and this is a continuous process not an event. With the progress made, the gains need to be sustained, while at the same time accelerating and deepening integration progressively in areas that are either ongoing, or yet to be embarked upon, including taking a bold decision and establishing the long overdue SADC Customs Union, and to expeditiously operationalize the SADC Development Fund.

Here are my last words. I call upon SADC to remain focused and bring about the envisaged sustainable social and economic growth for the benefit of SADC citizens, in line with the trajectory set by SADC Vision 2050 and Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan 2020-30, as supported by the SADC Industrialization Strategy and Roadmap 2015 – 2063, and the SADC Regional Infrastructure Development Master Plan 2012. Member States should continue implementing these initiatives. [Modern Diplomacy]

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