CHRISTINE CHISHA, Swaziland
A WEEK ago, key experts met in Ezulwini, Swaziland to address southern Africaâ€™s fundamental issues concerning â€œDevelopmental Regionalism, Peace and Economic Transformation in southern Africaâ€ that are seen as the drivers to the continentâ€™sÂ move to claiming its position in the global family of nations.
The forum provided an important opportunity for experts to argue the case for Africa as a crucial destination for global investment.
Africa has become the home of burgeoning frontier markets which promise higher returns as well as greater risks for investors.
The meeting that was organised by United Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), the African Peace building Network of the Social Science Research Council and the SADC Secretariat, discussed topics such as economic context, trade, agriculture, mining, industrialisation, peace and security.
Other topics that were discussed included social and political dynamics, gender, sustainability, and perspectives on regionalism from other parts at continental and global levels for them to be integrated into the policymaking process.
UNECA Southern Africa director Said Adejumobi said Africa has made a choice of regionalism, having realised that the resources and capacity are insufficient for individual countries to drive development.
He said the choice the region has made is to put resources together through regional integration processes to drive the development agenda in the continent.
â€œThe point of the meeting in Swaziland is that we must not take regionalism for granted, it can succeed or fail according to the circumstances, we want to see how regionalism can help spared sustainable development that eradicates poverty,â€ he said.
Prof Adejumobi said the institution he represented wanted to see collective commitment to end poverty and foster progress in all countries in the region and development that will benefit the citizens.
Agriculture experts Rhoda Mofya-Mukuka and Brian Chisanga said agriculture contributes significantly to economies in SADC as such, enhanced trade in agriculture products potentially provides a tool for fighting poverty, promoting regional integration and increasing economic growth and welfare.
Dr Mukuka said agriculture also contributes to the national Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and ranges three percent in Botswana, South Africa, ten to 25 percent in Angola, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique and Madagascar.
She, however, said failure to allow regional trade in food staples could stall production growth and private investment in agriculture.
She said with regional integration, food supply flows from regions where they are in excess to areas where there is demand, can help to achieve parity and stability in pricing.
And Mr Chisanga implored SADC member states to remove unnecessary non – tariff measures in agricultural trade and should stop restricting trade through export or import bans.
He said member states should start to view the issue of food security as a regional rather than a national issue.
Mr Chisanga said, â€œattempts should be made at national and regional level to formalise informal cross – border trade which will include capturing statistics on informal cross border trade and developing initiatives that reduce the cost and time of formally processing agricultural commoditiesâ€.
Zambia Chamber of Commerce and Industries (ZACCI) president Geoffrey Sakulanda said the meeting was an eye – opener to appraise progress being made in regional integration on development of SADC countries in agriculture and industry.
He said it is good that Zambia is well positioned in SADC as it has certain competitive advantage which could benefit the economy from close integration with other economies in the region.
Mr Sakulanda said agricultural products from Zambia can provide a bigger market for the region looking at the 2015 marketing season which saw Zambia producing largest grain in SADC.
He said the country can start growing food not only to feed its population but target for the whole region.
He said in industrialisation, Zambia is also well positioned as it adopted the industrialisation and job creation policy which cabinet has taken ownership of the policy that was drafted by Zambia Development Agency and Ministry of Commerce, Trade and Industry.
SADC Ministers Chairperson Prince Hlangusemphi Dlamini reiterated the need for the establishment of the SADC University of Transformation.
He said the university will help the region to further the goal of education, knowledge sharing and innovation.
Prince Hlangusemphi who is also the Minister of Finance and National Planning for Swaziland said time is of essence and if southern Africa is to rise to the occasion and meet its challenges, it must provide the youthÂ with the opportunities they need to succeed in tomorrowâ€™s world.
He said, â€œWe aim to matriculate our first intake before the 37th SADC Summit in 2017 in South Africa. We look forward to your partnership in this exciting initiativeâ€.
On gender, independent consultant Annie Chikwanha urged southern Africa member states to embark on developmental regionalism that is both gender sensitive and gender responsive.
Dr Chikwanha said gender responsiveness is an essential element of inclusive governance that is central to the achievements of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
â€œAdopting a developmental regionalism approach in which existing regional institutions gender policies can be utilised to achieve development, holds much promise for Africa,â€ she said.
She said incorporating gender into the current regional frameworks implies factoring in some gender responsive policies into the burgeoning development regionalism agenda to guarantee equitable development outcomes.
Dr Chikwanha said women in Africa contribute significantly to agriculture as subsistence farmers and their contribution is at 50 percent.
She said food security in the region relies heavily on women yet gender barriers to small-scale farming schemes for women in rural areas continue to be influenced by socio – cultural and administrative settings.
Dr Chikwanha said the constraints women face as equal drivers and actors in developmental regionalism are deeply rooted and can only be tackled first at national level through the implementation of incorporated gender issues in development policies.
She said ,â€ womenâ€™s organisations and civil society organisations can monitor the integration and development process by documenting how the different sectors successfully meet gender – equitable targets and if they are meeting the needs of womenâ€.
Dr Chikwanha said different national strategies, which remain important for successful regional development ought to be analysed in order to identify and eliminate gaps in economic opportunities and womenâ€™s contribution at regional level.
And giving closing remarks, SADC director for policy, planning and resource mobilisation Angelo Mondlane said the forum bears testimony that policy, capacity and finance are key in achieving regional integration.
Dr Mondlane said from the analysis of the deliberations, SADC integration is contributing to the livelihoods of its citizen.
He said the regional forum has provided ideas that will assist SADC secretariat to improve its work in a number of areas for monitoring, evaluation and reporting.
Dr Mondlane said the secretariat will continue working with member states and stakeholders to ensure that they communicate and implement the outcome of the forum.
And Prof Adejumobi concluded that ideas are at the heart of social transformation and ideas unravel problems and challenges, open up new possibilities and unlock the future.
Governments and regional bodies in Africa should strengthen their consultation mechanisms to give domestic interest groups such as civil society and the private sector a greater voice in, and enhance the transparency of, region-building efforts in Africa.
CHRISTINE CHISHA, Swaziland