Future of SADC: Why it isn’t flattering, as it is pictured so far

15Aug 2019
Miki Tasseni
Dar es Salaam
The Guardian
Future of SADC: Why it isn’t flattering, as it is pictured so far

TO sort out issues for which there are no answers that can be traced to a report, book or data bank, a number of mental prerequisites are necessary, one of them being the use of models, and another simply as taking up things via a figure of speech, what is called an aphorism.

Members of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Standing Committee of Senior Officials pose for a group photo at the 38th Ordinary SADC Summit in Windhoek, capital of Namibia, on Aug. 9, 2018. File photo 

In ordinary language we hear about proverbs as part of classical wisdom that children learn in school but it is unclear if they are ever told of their importance – and if they are actually taught outside some limited excursions like oral literature, etc.  When it comes to setting out what lies ahead for organizations – as portions of humanity – it is daunting.

To start with some aphorisms before looking at the data, it is always good to pick up what one or some other wise person has said, and as it is the case in the use of models, one is free with what aphorism or exclamation he or she picks up, but not about how to use it. Once a distinctive formulation about life is selected, it has a way of training the light on the data, or image of what is being discussed, and in a sense this already generates some material, as it disturbs the calm with which the material is otherwise tied up with. Thus one or two aphorisms from Albert Einstein, a legendary physicist, would sort out things here.

Einstein said that ‘imagination is better than knowledge,’ a principle that has generally been accepted in science, that what one is pursuing or seeks to solve is more important than the particular qualities of that person vis a vis any other individual. The same ought to apply for organizations, in which case when one looks at SADC the issue would not in the first place be what it has in terms of potential but whether it has the will and determination to achieve anything in particular. Only after this aspect has been resolved is it possible to then examine what SADC is trying to achieve or what it can achieve with the same resources.

Another aphorism from Einstein would be even more disarming, that predicting the future is virtually impossible as it can’t be set out on the basis of what we know today, but only on the basis of what they shall know in the future. Put differently this is to say that living entities organize themselves on the basis of a present or current array of forces, with predictions up to that point being merely pointers or aspects of imagination on the issue, not a hard datum to be taken into account. What this means is that what people speak on SADC belongs to the present; even when they seek to address its future, it’s only a current view.

A number of  observations on SADC are somewhat baffling or say challenging as to what needs to be done, with researcher Peter Fabricius of the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa saying in a recent consultancy report that ‘Southern Africa is economically Africa’s most advanced region – but its collective economy is stagnating. And unless the continent can diversify its economies away from their dependence on commodity exports, they will remain forever locked into roller-coaster rides as global commodity prices fluctuate, and average growth will stay low.’ A quick look would show that this point has been grasped and the zone is gunning for industries, but is it on a different basis from its past efforts?

The European Union (EU) is also posing those questions. The researcher says the EU ‘was meeting the African Union (AU) for an inter-continental summit (in October 2017)  to discuss this and other issues, (and) is looking to Southern Africa as a kind of laboratory as it adjusts the way it provides development aid to Africa.’ The reason is that ‘this is a region which is on average the most advanced in Africa,’ an affirmation that owes its existence rather excessively to South Africa. That is where the shoe starts pinching, as in EU logic the zone’s biggest economy becomes the driver of the rest, the way the United States drove post-war Western Europe, and Germany has been driving the European Union for a decade or so. The forces at work in Africa are different, with Frontline States spirit replaced by shambolic xenophobia in ‘Azania’ streets.

Dr Fabricius points out that ‘SADC has a free trade agreement on paper, but still faces major impediments to regional integration,’ which the current summit and preliminary interactions and forums will have explored extensively but it is difficult to say they are inching towards a solution. For instance when the discussion on industrial linkages was broached, it was implicit that countries want to sell goods to one another, not that investors purchase production units by being assured of the total zone as a market. That would generate the architecture of a regional common market; local goods tend to duplicate one another.

When it comes to solutions, the Einstein situation comes up in a number of ways, that the big problem is imagination rather than resources, as the combined resources of local deposits, private foreign capital and multilateral lending, if put in revolving credit manner, are adequate for industrialization. But African states can only agree between themselves and with external agencies on their being provided as public funds, whereas the Marshall Plan succeeded because the $50bn was directed at central banks, to be loaned to commercial banks and then to investors. It did not build railways and roads to enable Europe to grow.

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