Levels of integration, national identity:How far can SADC states go?

15Aug 2019
Ani Jozen
Dar es Salaam
The Guardian
Levels of integration, national identity:How far can SADC states go?

A LINGERING paradox of regional integration as well as the wider dream of continental unification was spelt out in the early 1960s, and while plenty has changed, a certain element of it remains, relating to social structures.

Dr Kwame Nkrumah

At that time the problem was more profound as it was a debate on whether nations ought to exist or just one continental government, as Dr Kwame Nkrumah was convinced that if this strategic measure is not taken, internal conflicts shall sap the necessary energy for continental unity. But if it had been taken, chaos would set in and civil war.

At present no such contentions exist as nation states are facts of life, so the primary political identity is that of the nation, or the country, and inside it there are subsidiary identities essentially of race, tribe, language and religion. Integration can be affected by routine quibbles of identity that disrupt unity in a country but at the same time it can blend with integration, as solid unity isn’t always a panacea for unity. A wider identity helps to offload some national unity problems when spirits are calmed by new roles, or attain a greater standing in a wider area, a greater ego.

The question that ought to be posed or checked for the facts relating to it is under what sort of circumstance a country is ready to move forward with integration, thus what determines that kind of outlook. This problem was raised in the mid-1960s owing to the failure of East African states to federate, which ended in blame throwing as at each stage there was a culprit. Tanganyika was ready for federation right at the start, when Kenya attained independence as it was the last in the three-state zone but Kenya hesitated, and when it came to unifying economies, Tanzania faltered.

Political groups whose social mainstay is traditional economies of African states dominated by parastatal organizations hesitate to move forward with integration as it is likely to erode their privileges. Those embracing a liberal outlook on economy are more at ease with integration as the competition from outside becomes an extension of local competition, not an invasion, etc.

African states have largely adopted market economies when it comes to industries and thus the sale of goods in general, where the private sector dominates. Still this market structure is upset by inability to move the social system itself into private property, that is, having citizens that are in the first place individuals and not members of clans and tribal communities. This implies that integration in SADC and other blocs for that matter will move in tandem with liberalization of other levels of ownership, first legalizing ability of a foreign company to buy a local company without being compelled to enter into joint venture. By the time this legal capacity is extended, its wider use shall also have been recognized, that is the freedom to engage into any economic contracting at an individual level, without seeking state agencies as a go-between, as executor.

Experience shows that liberalization and integration take many shapes and sizes, but in any sort of combination, the less this or that factor is liberalized the more it upstages the other factors by instituting a certain level of immobility. For instance the markedly parochial broader structure of the South African states, its enshrining of major tribal and racial communities into petty nation states as they earlier tasted this prerogative under the Bantustan system, systematically erodes the dynamism of the country’s economy.  A new chief executive of the state energy firm Eskom was saying this company is on its ‘death spiral,’ drowning with debts of the provincial governments.

The sort of Achilles Heel effect that the privileged place that ethnic entities have on authorities proceeds from the fact that the state is incapable of transacting with foreign countries, as for instance in the stalled and ultimately unworkable EPA arrangement. The right of establishment of foreign companies and personnel means they are at liberty to alter the social demography of ownership of property, which requires a rainbow outlook on the part of the governing elites. It was the philosophy espoused by Nelson Mandela but the region looked askance, and ditched it.

Regional experts agree that ownership of land within a tribal and clan community is an important identity marker. It provides people with a sense of autonomy, rootedness and opportunity, where it is universally believed that having a rural plot of land provides one with a fallback opportunity were city endeavors to come to naught. It also provides a retirement option of renting an urban property and retiring to the countryside, assured of regular income, enhancing social standing.

This sense of assurance is well founded but it is precisely this need for assurance that brings millions of Africans to fail in urban economy. A localized circulation of deposits is not enough to provide a catalyst to the sort of savings or deposits needed for a take off stage into industry as in Britain or the US in past centuries. Large amounts of capital seeking profits over a long term built railways, roads and ports, even started central banks, not revenues. Using revenues to build infrastructure begets long term debt and low purchasing power, low returns on infrastructure, etc.

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