34th Summit ushers in new era for Sadc
NEW Sadc chair President Mugabe warned the summit against the temptation to introduce or embrace too many programmes which in the end the 15-nation bloc might fail to fund from its own resources
Joram Nyathi Group Political Editor
THE leaders came in their numbers.
Security details were everywhere.
Officials were on their toes sorting out the logistics for the event.
There was an unusually heavy movement of these big vehicles in the sweltering heat of Victoria Falls, the resort town whose main economic activity is characterised by foreign tourists trudging up and down Livingstone Road under wide-rimmed sun hats, and curio shops lining both sides of every street.
The rather serene environment was intermittently punctuated by the high- pitched sirens of motorcycle outriders as they brought in Heads of State and Government from Victoria Falls International Airport for the 34th Sadc Summit held on August 17 and 18 2014.
Something big was in the offing.
President Mugabe took over the regional bloc’s rotating chair from Malawi’s newly elected president, Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika, at a ceremony attended by nearly all the 15 Sadc leaders.
Two of those who couldn’t make it for one reason or other sent senior representatives.
There wasn’t much glamour.
There was little fanfare.
It was clear the new chair had an agenda ready for his tenure.
The theme for the summit, “Sadc Strategy for Economic Transformation: Leveraging the Region’s Diverse Resources for Sustainable Economic and Social Development Through Beneficiation and Value Addition”, is consonant with the grouping’s 15-year Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan (RISDP) adopted by Sadc leaders in 2003 as a roadmap for regional integration and development.
But this is being reviewed to give it more focus, to set more specific targets.
President Mugabe stated in his acceptance speech after assuming chairmanship of Sadc on Sunday, that revision of the RISDP should be a “reality check” rather than just “an academic exercise”.
Despite the region’s rich mineral endowment, it is still classified among the poorest on the continent.
Earlier in the week Foreign Affairs Minister Simbarashe Mumbengegwi told colleagues as the incoming chair of the Sadc Council of Ministers: “It is not how many meetings we hold that will determine how effective we are. It is not how many agreements we sign that will determine our impact on the people that we serve.”
He then posed the big question from the people, saying citizens were always asking: “What is Sadc doing to uplift the quality of their lives to rid them of poverty, underdevelopment and other social ills?” He responded: “Our success should be measured by the impact of our actions on the people.”
The President was more emphatic: “We should not be tempted to introduce or embrace too many programmes which in the end we fail to fund from our own resources.
“We therefore feel that the current process underway to review the Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan should not be a mere academic exercise but a reality check, which should redirect us.”
The President made it clear that foreign funding of regional programmes “compromised ownership”.
He said industrialisation should be a priority for the region to promote beneficiation and value addition to minerals and agricultural resources.
Echoes of Zim-Asset were very loud in the theme for the conference. They reverberated in the presentations by Sadc Executive Secretary Dr Stergomena Lawrence Tax and African Union Commission chair Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.
It was interesting that these pronouncements were readily accepted as self-evident truths and priorities in Sadc while in Zimbabwe they have been met with cynicism about their feasibility, especially on the issue of funding.
Earlier in the week, Minister Mumbengegwi was forced to confront robust questions of resource ownership by at least three journalists from the region.
They wanted to know how Sadc intended to carry out beneficiation and value addition in the region when most mines were owned by foreign companies? What was the level of commitment to this undertaking? The minister was very modest about Zimbabwe’s own radical approach.
He acknowledged the dilemma raised by the journalists, but pointed out: “We in Zimbabwe have chosen the 51-49 percent ownership structure to deal with the issue of ownership.
“We are not saying other countries should follow our example but that is how we are doing it. It is a serious dilemma.”
He said it would be “un-Sadc-like” for Zimbabwe to dictate policy issues to fellow member states on how to resolve that dilemma.
It was enough that the theme for the conference was agreed through consultation and consensus. The leaders would have to confront it head on.
President Mugabe stressed that the issue of funding would be dealt with through beneficiation of our primary resources to add value.
He pointed that there was a huge market to promote regional trade. What was key was co-operation and to balance the demands for industrialisation by a majority of Sadc member states and the desire to liberalise trade.
Dr Dlamini-Zuma added her voice, pointing out that, given its natural endowments, Sadc could easily rival the Asian Tigers.
She noted that by exporting raw materials, Africa was also desperately exporting needed jobs, hence the urgent need for beneficiation.
Minister Mumbengegwi had earlier cautioned in a briefing to journalists about what amounted to a conspiracy by industrialised countries to keep Africa under the heel of dependency by denying it technologies.
He noted the resistance by multinational companies to beneficiate locally, claiming importing plant was too expensive.
There is no doubt that they want to protect jobs back home while denying the same to the owners of the resources.
Whatever the final resolutions of the Summit, what cannot be ignored is that Sadc countries are beginning to think more about funding their own programmes.
Development partners might still be important, but there is a realisation that African resources are being grossly undervalued by being exported unprocessed.
This change of attitude is an important starting point. It is about changing the rules of the game.
For years Africa has supplied the world with resources which are under the control of multinationals while it gets very little in return.
Those who have been stealing and continue to loot its resources always insist on a good return on their own investment but have never given Africa a good return for its resources.
Zimbabwe might have made a lot of blunders in the land reform, but there is no doubt that lessons have been learnt.
Those who have been looting the continent’s resources may also continue to denounce and denigrate Zimbabwe for its so-called ruinous and disastrous policies, but that is just cold comfort.
They don’t sleep ease anymore.
That is why Lonmin is being forced to consider the sale of some of its mining concerns in South Africa in light of losses suffered as a result of prolonged strikes by platinum mines in that country.
There is a growing realisation among Africans that employment on its own, especially given the unpredictability of market trends and the global economy, does not provide sufficient security for the worker.
By extension, talk of foreign direct investment and employment creation only provide temporary shelter.
The fact that questions on resource ownership and funding for Sadc programmes were asked by journalists from outside Zimbabwe is a big political statement on its own.
It means these issues are being raised in the region. It means the young people are worried about the continent’s dependency on foreign funding.
It means people are beginning to realise that without guaranteed funding, policy is likely to remain an empty, unfulfilled wish or promise.
More than that, reliance on foreign funding means you have to compromise on your plans. As the late Burkinabe revolutionary Thomas Sankara once pointed out, he who feeds you can impose his will on you.
If Sadc is to be part of the “rising Africa” it must think seriously and implement urgent strategies for industrialisation for resource beneficiation and value addition.
More importantly, it must mobilise internal funding to reduce external debt. That means there must be increased inter-state and intra-state trade. That means on the global stage, Africans must begin once again to view its destiny as shared.
That is why African leaders must guard against being divided by those who posture as masters of the universe who call them to their countries to tell them how they should run their countries and what is best for the con- tinent.
It is the same old and tried and tested trick of divide and rule by sowing seeds of disharmony and unnecessary competition for European and American patronage.
Africa has got resources to deploy its influence in global politics. It is an infantile lie to claim that even as a continent African cannot dictate and set its own terms for engagement with Europe or America.
The trick lies in community of purpose and accepting the challenge that it’s us Africans who know best what is best for us.