SADC : does it still have a role to play?


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The creation of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) has caused quite a stir in the region not so much because of the role the new organisation is going to play but because its raison d’etre is crumbling.

Although the new body is supposedly replacing the Southern Africa Development Coordinating Conference (SADCC), which was aimed at reducing dependence on South Africa, observers believe that the new SADC is useless because the ten-member body never succeeded in reducing dependence on South Africa. Moreover, there is already a wider trading partnership in the Preferential Trade Area authority of East and southern Africa (PTA).

Another major issue is that South Africa, which is the economic powerhouse of the region, is already comfortable with its Southern African Customs Union (SACU) although of course it is planning to expand its trading base openly.

Some economists even argue that it would be better for countries like Zimbabwe, which borders the apartheid regime, to join SACU instead of remaining in SADCC which has not improved any trade between members in the past 12 years of its existence.

Trade between SADCC states has so far remained below five percent while that of member countries with South Africa varies and is in some cases as high as 33 percent. Moreover although, South Africa’s population is only 30 percent of the regional total it generates 77 percent of the regional GDP.

There is also a lot of duplication of activities of the three economic bodies as some members like Namibia, Lesotho and Swaziland, for example, are members of all three, while the rest are members two.

Some people argue that the existence of SADC is now political rather than economic. It seems the organisation is being allowed to survive to ensure jobs of those in the secretariat which seem to be regionally allocated with Zimbabwe as the regional pacesetter, and the host country, Botswana, assured of a chairmanship since it cannot attain that position in SACU the only other regional body it is a member of.

Moreover, the body has largely relied on donor support which is fast dwindling because of the current world recession. In 1991, for example, SADCC’s budget for 500 projects was US$8.4 billion, of which 87 percent was to be provided by donors. Besides, because of the economic recession most donors are no longer willing to continue to support SADC because of the changes taking place in South Africa. Instead they are pushing to re-establish diplomatic and trading relations with Pretoria.

Experts say since all the countries in Southern Africa are fighting to attract new foreign investment, they will not be able to do so without the participation of South Africa because their markets are too small. Even if added together it is still too small unless South Africa is added. Some economists are even saying South Africa is the locomotive of the region and the other states are merely stranded wagons with no destination, waiting to be hitched to the locomotive and then drawn whenever the locomotive is heading.

These economic analysts argue that because South Africa itself is currently slipping backwards in investment terms and threatening to drag the whole region with it the best alternative is to join it.

A large organisation like the PTA would do wonders for South Africa as it will enhance its regional trading dominance particularly at this time since it is manufacturing products like cars which are badly needed in the region but are not selling well in the country.

(21 VIEWS)

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Charles Rukuni
The Insider is a political and business bulletin about Zimbabwe, edited by Charles Rukuni. Founded in 1990, it was a printed 12-page subscription only newsletter until 2003 when Zimbabwe's hyper-inflation made it impossible to continue printing.

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