The Southern African Development Coordinating Community is facing its worst and decisive challenge yet. Formed in 1980 as a development coordinating community, SADC is facing a spiralling coronavirus cases, with limited resources to deal with the challenge.
The regional development bloc has been in existence since 1992 and is facing its most important test in its 40-year history.
The key objectives of SADC are achieving economic development, peace and security, growth, alleviating poverty and enhancing the standard and quality of life of the peoples of Southern Africa.
Seeing that SADC has important meetings this week, I saw it fitting that we examine this organisation and its relevance in the current coronavirus crisis that is facing the region and how the region can harness SADC’s potential.
SADC member states are Angola, Botswana, Union of Comoros, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eswatini, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, United Republic of Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The 16-member states had a combined population of 345 million people in 2018 and exported US$185 billion’s worth of goods and services while importing US$195 billion in the same year.
SADC states had a combined GDP of USD721 million in 201, which is 3 percent of the United States GDP.
The current chair for SADC is Tanzania.
This week SADC is holding various meetings to explore how the 16 African countries can co-ordinate and collaborate better in the wake of the devastating effects of the coronavirus which is expected to bring in the worst economic depression in the world’s history.
That ministers are meeting at this time to discuss the pandemic and responses is a good thing but it should not end there. This is one of the most important meetings in SADC’s 40-year history.
The SADC secretariat has made some recommendations which will be considered by the council of ministers in a few days’ time and it is my hope that the resolutions will be made to adopt them.
The three-day meeting that ends on Friday will, among others, review the implementation of SADC’s theme for 2019/2020 “A Conducive Environment for Inclusive and Sustainable Industrial Development, Increased Intra-Regional Trade and Job Creation”.
Unemployment is a key problem in SADC and one that has started to cause even bigger challenges as the coronavirus takes root.
SADC member states are grappling with various challenges and this further complicates their responses or collaborative efforts.
The SADC secretariat has made some recommendations to member states to limit the impact of the coronavirus.
These measures include public health measures; monetary measures; social measures; travel and human control measures; and trade measures.
Despite being in a bloc, member states have implemented their own measures and there is no uniformity in the response to the coronavirus despite the proximity and economic ties in member states.
It is therefore not surprising that SADC countries have been affected differently by the pandemic, especially when it comes to the number of cases and responses to the pandemic.
South Africa is the most powerful economy in SADC and has the most cases in the region.
Most SADC citizens from surrounding countries who had gone to South Africa in search of greener pastures are returning home.
Given the number of cases in that country by implication there is a danger that the virus will spread more in neighbouring countries as citizens return.
Despite international travel restrictions SADC countries are very much connected and interdependent.
Member states are best advised to take advantage of this interconnectedness and not frustrate it.
Clearly the lockdown measures that were in place and are being eased off had a positive impact of stalling the spread of the virus but this came with great cost.
With the passage of time SADC citizens who are dependent on daily income have been affected and are finding the going tough in foreign countries.
If they are able to return home they still face problems as they are quarantined for between 8 to 21 days.
The coronavirus has indeed tested SADC member state systems and social protection systems and if any lesson has been learnt by member states it is that we are more connected than we can imagine and should quickly dismantle and formalise the informal practises that are haunting us.
The impact of the coronavirus will be felt for years to come and as such member states must be proactive in ensuring that they strengthen the SADC bloc and co-ordinate better its response efforts.
To assume that problems in South Africa, or Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Tanzania or Zambia or Angola will not affect us is suicidal. Due to proximity and economic structures what happens in any member state is bound to affect other nations.
The founding fathers of SADC recognised this fact and it should never be forgotten.
Aside from governments, the private sector companies of SADC states must double up their efforts to integrate quicker and take advantage of the economies of scale brought about by the free trade measures in place.
SADC companies already operate in multiple countries either directly or indirectly and should also meet on the sidelines of SADC organised meetings to create action plans and task forces to make sure that the bloc’s objectives are met.
I read last week that South Africa was planning to launch a satellite to help e-learners in that country and as an economist I wondered why this satellite could not be launched by SADC member states and serve all learners in those countries since the problem being faced is the same across member states.
It is this sort of thinking that should permeate policy makers’ minds in SADC.
For as long as SADC policy makers think about their own countries and people, the SADC dream of better livelihoods and stronger economies will remain a dream. Yet we must live with the consequences of our interconnectedness.
If it’s disease or famine we are all affected whether we are Zimbabwean or Zambian or Mozambican or South African.
The time of sitting down to plan is over.
We must act as one bloc and make joint investments in infrastructure to save our economies. Poor decisions in one economy do not just affect that economy, they affect SADC people as a whole.
As an economist it is my hope that as SADC ministers meet and later the heads of state of member states, these facts are not lost on them.
We face an existential threat as SADC member states unless we deal decisively with the issues at hand during the meetings to be held this week.
No-one will save us from the crises we are facing and no one country can save itself.
Policy makers must hold each other accountable for the greater good of all SADC citizens and together we will all look back to the coronavirus as the catalyst of closer co-operation and shared prosperity.