KASUBA MULENGA, Pretoria
ONE aircraft after another touched down at Air Force Base Waterkloof about eight kilometres south of South Africa’s capital, Pretoria, as regional leaders congregated for the 37th Southern African Development Community (SADC) summit.
Preceding the arrival of the heads of State and Government were ministers from various member states, who landed at OR Tambo, the busiest international airport in Africa’s southern hemisphere, a few days earlier.
Taxi drivers and vehicle hire companies were on hand to ease mobility of delegates to the Heads of State and Government Summit held at OR Tambo Building here under the theme, ‘Partnering with the private sector in developing industry and regional value chains’.
“As the theme suggests, let me emphasise the need for member states to recognise the importance of working with the private sector for us to achieve our goal of industrialising our nations,” SADC executive secretary Stergomena Tax, said when she opened the Council of Ministers meeting.
The meeting of the Council of Ministers is a prelude to the Heads of State and Government Summit, and it normally takes place three days before the main conference.
Dr Tax urged all member states to continue with their efforts of making the regional body’s industrialisation strategy a certainty.
In the Council of Ministers meeting, Zambia was represented by ministers of Foreign Affairs Harry Kalaba, Home Affairs Stephen Kampyongo, Development Planning Lucky Mulusa and Commerce, Trade and Industry Margaret Mwanakatwe.
With them were Ministry of Foreign Affairs permanent secretary Chalwe Lombe, his Commerce, Trade and Industry counterpart, Kayula Siame, and Zambia’s High Commissioner to South Africa Emmanuel Mwamba.
They were later joined by President Lungu when the main summit officially opened.
In-coming Council of Ministers chairperson Maite Nkoana-Mashabane urged SADC leaders to ensure that their citizens are pulled out of dearth.
Ms Nkoana-Mashabane, who is South Africa’s Minister of International Relations and Cooperation, said it is intolerable to see SADC citizens lurching in poverty amidst abundant natural resources the regional grouping is endowed with.
“As regional leaders, we carry the responsibility of improving the lives of our people. We live in one of the richest regions on earth but with very poor people, this is unacceptable,” she said.
Ms Nkoana-Mashabane also prodded member countries to remain supportive of the work of the SADC Secretariat in Gaborone, Botswana, of driving the regional body’s industrialisation agenda towards accomplishment.
As the Council of Ministers gathering drew closer its expiration, it seemed as though the busiest hour of the whole event had just dawned, with presidents, vice presidents, prime ministers, including innumerable other officials from the SADC region joining the summit’s apex.
New SADC chairperson and host Jacob Zuma of South Africa, who took over from Swaziland’s King Mswati III, welcomed fellow heads of State and Government, including accompanying delegates.
“The economy of the region is in severe difficulty following the global recession a few years ago. It has also seen an increased debt burden on it, the reason why collective effort is essential for us to attain the development levels we desire.
“We need to focus mainly on three areas; agro processing, mineral beneficiation and service sector value chains. The implementation of these important factors will lead us to productivity and employment creation through industrialisation.
“We need to add value to our natural resources, grow intra-regional trade and promote cross border trade to strengthen regional value chains, which require a functional market,” President Zuma said.
Earlier, King Mswati III thanked all member states for supporting the monarchy as it led the regional grouping from August 2016 to August 2017.
“I wish to thank you all our members for enabling us to pursue the SADC agenda of industrialisation. One of the main challenges facing the region is the lack of sufficient energy which is key to industrialisation. That is why a number of energy and water projects have been identified,” he said.
In line with the summit’s theme, private sector representatives were not left out in the conference’s deliberations aimed at attaining the regional body’s aspirations in tandem with Agenda 2063 of the African Union.
“Two years ago, I was elected president of the African Development Bank (AfDB) with your strong support. For this, I am immensely grateful to all SADC countries,” said AfDB leader Akinwumi Adesina.
According to Dr Adesina, the SADC region faces significant tail-backs as the real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth has dwindled from 4.3 percent in 2010 to 1.8 percent in 2016, and it is only expected to recover to 2.6 percent this year.
“The term of trade of SADC has declined, total external debt to GDP has increased and the debt service ratio has increased from 18.7 percent in 2012 to 34.7 percent in 2016.
“There’s no doubt, these are tough times for the SADC region, with commodity price declines and other external shocks slowing down growth.
“The bank strongly supports the structural reforms to spur greater growth of South Africa especially, for in its growth lies the accelerated economic recovery of the entire SADC region,” Dr Adesina said.
United Nations Economic Commission for Africa executive secretary Vera Songwe told the summit that trade in SADC has gone down and called for investment in growth of value chains to strengthen the region’s economy.
Dr Songwe said the overall growth of the region remains uncertain as the whole Africa’s development has halved to about three percent from around six percent in 2003-2004.
“We need serious investment in Africa and I am happy that SADC has taken the private sector on board to address the decreasing trade in the region. If we work on the plan of developing value chains, growth can be bolstered,” she foresaw.
Despite the gloomy picture the summit seemingly tinted the growth prospects of the region, there is still some light flickering at the proverbial end of the tunnel.
With collective effort backed by smooth flow of finances to fast track the region’s evolvement agenda, it can steadfastly be assumed that SADC will develop faster and with pride if it mobilises domestic resources.
Thereafter, the take-off of one airliner after another from Air Force Base Waterkloof in the peripheries of Pretoria carrying SADC leaders who attended this year’s summit will have paid off.