Malawi heads the Southern African Development Community from 17 August and President Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera has lost no time in presenting the challenges to be addressed this year.
At the opening of the 41st Summit of SADC Heads of State and Government which he is hosting in Lilongwe, he said economic recovery in the region depends on their collective ability to address current challenges, especially COVID-19, citing the region’s long record of collective achievements.
“Because we have a long history of overcoming serious challenges together, there is no reason we cannot overcome this challenge and build our region back and better,” President Chakwera said.
“The revival of our economies depends on our collective ability to dispose of this existential threat. It is therefore imperative that we keep up and step up the efforts that we are making as SADC to comply with the guidelines we already have for stopping this pandemic in its tracks.”
Malawi, which is hosting the Summit on August 17-18, becomes the Chair of SADC for the period August 2021 to August 2022, taking over from Mozambique.
The 16 SADC Member States are represented at the Summit which is being held in a blended format with 30 percent physical presence and 70 percent virtual, to curtail the spread of COVID-19.
President Chakwera told the SADC leaders that years of progress in attaining regional integration is being stalled by the pandemic.
Disasters such as droughts, floods, and cyclones which have also hampered the region’s integration and development agenda are made worse by climate change, the SADC Chairperson said, and he emphasised that, for the region to continue moving forward, it is essential to overcome the menace of COVID-19 by improving access to vaccines as a priority.
SADC member states have launched vaccination campaigns, but progress to attain general immunity through vaccinating the majority of the population is being hampered by issues of access, as some global producing countries are hoarding the vaccines, he said.
“We must confront the toxic nationalism that is causing some regions in the world to deny other regions in the world like SADC, the rights to produce vaccines for their own populations.
“This pandemic is a global health crisis, not a national one and as SADC we must stand united in opposing all forms of vaxicrimination, hampering our ability to recover from it.”
The Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa, Dr Vera Songwe, told the Summit that Africa had capacity to produce on its own vaccines when supported, as shown by South Africa which was registered to produce COVID-19 vaccines.
The outgoing SADC Executive Secretary, Dr Stergomena Tax said the region has been hit by the fall in commodity prices as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, as its economies are still to diversify and are reliant mainly on agriculture and mining, which account for 25 percent of the region’s GDP.
“The impact of Covid-19 pandemic has exerted more pressure on an already weak regional economy resulting in significant deterioration in fiscal positions and elevated debt sustainability risks,” she said.
Notable progress in macro-economic convergence, SADC intra-regional trade, regional connectivity, access to energy, mobile penetration, among others, has been made in the past eight years when Dr Tax was at the helm of the organisation.
“As I exit, the region remains generally stable with some areas of turbulence that we need to continue to manage collectively as we have always done and these include unemployment, poverty, disasters, pandemics, acts of terrorism, violence and cyber-security threats,” Dr Tax said.
Unity among member states, as shown in support to dealing with the situation in eSwatini and the violence in northern Mozambique where SADC has sent a brigade using its own funds, is important for the region going forward as it faces new challenges, she said.
“We are currently confronted by different challenges altogether, let us sustain and strengthen our position in unity and avoid being fragmented and marginalised as stronger we will continue to stand, while divided we will stumble and fall,” Dr Tax said.
“Challenges of today are different and complex and sometimes may not seem to be visible but are real, requiring us to remain vigilant and united.”
Enhanced implementation of the SADC Vision 2050 and the Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan (RISDP) 2020-2030, she said, was vital for the region to establish “The SADC We Want.”
To address the twin issues of COVID-19 and industrialisation, Malawi will be running its tenure as SADC chair under the theme, “Bolstering Productive Capacities in the Face of the COVID- 19 Pandemic, for Inclusive, Sustainable, Economic and Industrial Transformation”.
The outgoing SADC Chairperson, President Filipe Nyusi of Mozambique, briefed the Summit on progress made during the past year since the 40th Summit hosted in Maputo, which was the first in the history of the regional organisation to be hosted virtually.
The 41st Summit in Lilongwe welcomed two new leaders, President Wavel Ramkalawan of Seychelles and President Samia Suhulu Hassan of the Tanzania, since the last meeting held in August 2020.
President Cyril Ramaphosa takes over as Chair of the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Co-operation from President Mokgweetsi Masisi of Botswana. – sardc.net