2020: The Year the Earth Stood Still

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 Kizito Sikuka

 

The year 2020 is finally coming to an end. But, who even remembers how it started?

            The year 2020 will without doubt go down in history as the year when the earth stood still and wondered what exactly was happening around it.

            This was after the world was hit by the novel coronavirus commonly known as COVID-19, forcing many countries including those in the Southern African Development Community (SADC) to impose socio-economic lockdowns in March.

            While the lockdowns helped to ease and contain the spread of the virus, the impact had severe effects on the global economy and resulted in the loss of many lives.

            However, SADC Member States did not lose hope in the light of the difficulties and challenges brought about by COVID-19 but instead showed resilience, solidarity and courage to advance regional integration and promote sustainable development.

            In the area of health, SADC approved a variety of measures including strengthening national public health and humanitarian systems to contain the spread of the COVID-19.

            These measures were critical in containing the spread of the virus in the region as well as lessening the impact on the wellbeing of the people in southern Africa.

            Complementary to this, most SADC Member States channelled some of their resources to affected key economic sectors such as tourism, aviation and manufacturing to cushion them from the debilitating effects of the pandemic and ensure that they maintain their competitiveness.

            Another important intervention was the development of Regional Guidelines on Harmonization and Facilitation of Cross Border Transport Operations across the Region to facilitate the smooth movement of essential goods and services during the lockdowns.

            The guidelines, which were approved in June seek to balance, realign, harmonise and coordinate COVID-19 response measures with the requirements for trade and transport facilitation, as well as promote safe trade and transport facilitation for economic growth and poverty alleviation in the SADC region.

            This regional resilience, solidarity and courage shown by SADC Member States in 2020 was not only confined to the fight against COVID-19 but also extended to other sectors including trade, industrialization as well as peace and security.

            On its long-term development agenda, SADC leaders approved the SADC Vision 2050, which sets out the aspirations of the region until 2050 as well as the Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan (RISDP 2020-30).

            Both documents were approved by the 40th SADC Summit held virtually on 17 August and coordinated from Maputo, Mozambique.

            The SADC Vision 2050 is based on a firm foundation of peace, security and good governance, with three priority pillars of industrial development and market integration; infrastructure development in support of regional integration; and social and human capital development. 

The new RISDP 2020-30 is expected to operationalise the Vision 2050, and is the regional blueprint that guides the SADC integration agenda.

In a departure from the previous regional strategic plans, the RISDP 2020-30 combines and the Strategic Indicative Plan for the Organ on Politics, Defence, and Security Cooperation (SIPO) with interventions previously presented under the Revised RISDP, which came to an end in March.

 The decision to include peace, security and governance matters in the RISDP 2020-30 is important as the two strategic plans are complementary and seek to achieve the same common objective.

            In support of trade and market integration, SADC continued to register positive results in the area of payment system through the SADC Real Time Gross Settlement System (RTGS).

As at the end of June 2020, more than 1.8 million transactions were settled via the RTGS, representing ZAR 7.17 trillion.

Launched in October 2018, the SADC RTGS has enabled Member States to settle payments among themselves in real-time compared to previously when it used to take several days for banks to process crossborder transactions.

This system has thus resulted in reduced transaction costs as it removes the need for correspondent banks.

With regard to politics, defence and security cooperation, SADC stood firm in its efforts to bring long-lasting peace and security in southern Africa.

The immediate past Chairperson of the SADC Organ on Politics Defence and Security Cooperation, President Emmerson Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe was instrumental in brokering a deal that saw the DRC and Zambia commit to amicably resolve their border dispute.

SADC through President Mnangagwa also successfully convened a regional meeting in May where the security situation in northern Mozambique was discussed.

A follow-up meeting was convened in November by the current Chairperson of the Organ, President Mokgweetsi Masisi of Botswana, where SADC agreed to develop a comprehensive regional response to the situation in northern Mozambique where an armed insurgency has triggered a humanitarian crisis.

SADC Member States continued to monitor the security situation in northern Mozambique and discussed further at a Double Troika meeting in early December, hosted in Maputo by the current SADC Chairperson, President Filipe Nyusi.

President Nyusi briefed his colleagues on the situation which he said is improving, and that humanitarian support is needed. The meeting encouraged the Western countries to provide humanitarian support, but resolved that they should not interfere in other matters affecting the region.

To consolidate good governance, three SADC Member States held their national elections this year, in conformity with SADC guidelines. These are Malawi, Seychelles and United Republic of Tanzania

With respect to history and heritage, the 40th SADC Summit approved the Mechanism to Honour the Founders of SADC. The mechanism is expected to encourage continuing appreciation and acknowledgment of the vision and actions of the leaders who established SADC, formerly the Southern African Development Coordination Conference (SADCC) in 1980. 

This generation of visionary leaders included the founding presidents of Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe, respectively Dr Agostinho Neto, Sir Seretse Khama, Samora Machel, Julius Nyerere, Kenneth Kaunda and Robert Mugabe.

These leaders sacrificed the economic freedom of their countries to ensure that the rest of the region achieved political independence.

SADC has conducted a regional review of the history curriculum this year, initiated by Ministers of Education, to facilitate the inclusion of this history and its regional dimensions.

However, the year 2020 was also a sad one as SADC lost one of its gallant sons and passionate supporters -- Benjamin Mkapa, former President of Tanzania.

Mkapa was passionate about the economic and political integration of the SADC region and is credited with the launch of the RISDP.

A strong believer in the power of regional cooperation in the fight against poverty, Mkapa urged SADC member states to run while others walk.

On 25 October, SADC Member States once again showed solidarity with Zimbabwe in opposing the imposition of economic sanctions on the country by the US Congress.

The region said the illegal sanctions have not only affected the people of Zimbabwe and their government but our entire region.

Zimbabwe has grappled with economic and banking sanctions since 2002 when the United States and its western allies imposed an embargo on the country in response to the land reform programme and the leading role played by Zimbabwe in the SADC intervention in the DRC in 1998 in support of the government there.

With respect to the environment, the second half of the 2019/20 rainy season brought relief to most parts of southern Africa, with increased water flows recorded in the major gauging station, the Victoria Falls along the Zambezi River.

The increased water flow at Victoria Falls was the highest since 1958 when the flow reached 10,000 cubic metres per second during the construction of the Kariba Dam.

The Victoria Falls is one of the worlds natural wonders, and an improvement in water flow is a big boost for the tourism sector, as it brings an extra attraction for visitors to the falls to watch the thundering wall of falling water at full length.

On energy development, SADC Energy Ministers in November approved an agreement amending a regional legal instrument that promotes the harmonious development of national energy policies for the balanced development of the sector throughout the SADC region.

The rationale for the review of the Protocol on Energy was based on the need to eliminate inconsistencies, correcting inadequacies, capturing emerging institutional reforms and promoting private sector participation in infrastructure development.

To improve the management of water, energy and food issues, SADC Ministers responsible for Energy and Water approved the Water-Energy-Food (WEF) Nexus Framework.

The nexus framework aims to secure the supply of these resources by strengthening synergies, and reducing trade-offs among these sectors.

The nexus approach highlights the interdependencies between achieving water, energy, and food security for human well-being while ensuring ecologically sustainable use of essential resources.

During the course of the year, SADC also remained seized with the implementation of various regional programmes and initiatives such as the SADC Industrialization Strategy and Roadmap, and the Regional Infrastructure Development Master Plan (RIDMP).

At the continental level, SADC was engaged in negotiating with other African countries to ensure the launch of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is a huge success.

Set to be operational on 1 January 2021, the AfCFTA aims to boost intra-Africa trade by promoting the smooth movement of goods across the continent through improved infrastructure development, investment flows and enhanced competition.

The year 2020 was also a special year for SADC as the region celebrated its 40 years of existence.

To celebrate its achievements, the region among other activities commissioned the production of a publication to document its regional integration journey.

The publication called SADC@40, which was compiled by the Southern African Research and Documentation Centre (SARDC) in collaboration with the SADC Secretariat is expected to be launched at an Extraordinary SADC Summit scheduled for March 2021 in Maputo, Mozambique should the COVID-19 situation improve.

SADC is cautiously optimistic that the situation will improve in 2021 to allow Member States to effectively achieve their longstanding vision of a united, prosperous and integrated region. - sardc.net 

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