Namibia assumes the chairmanship of SADC at a time when a new wave of leadership renewal has just taken shape in the region.
There is an evident sense of urgency among regional leaders in wanting economic delivery and less on political rhetoric.
Nowhere is this sense of urgency more reflected than at this year’s 38th SADC Summit underway in Windhoek, Namibia (9-18 August.)
Gone is the era of political demagoguery, big brother mentality and political gamesmanship that characterised the bygone years. The bygone years of long-time rulers like Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Eduardo dos Santos of Angola.
Millions of citizens in the region are restive and want their leadership to deliver on the electoral promises. At the time of Mugabe’s resignation, he was the oldest Head of State not just in the region but in the world.
Out of respect, many regional leaders would refrain from publicly remonstrating him or disagree with his political grandstanding mantras, which lingered on projecting the West as the perennial enemy of countries in the South.
While his decolonising discourse might have had takers among thousands in the region, it had the effect of stagnating regional efforts to engage with well-meaning development partners.
However, not everything Mugabe said was archaic. He will be remembered for his role in spearheading the industrialisation and beneficiation crusade when he was both the continental and regional chairperson.
Mugabe chaired the two blocs between 2014 and 2016, but was widely criticised for turning a blind eye on some of his peers’ most brutal acts against their people. He was criticised for failing to condemn state brutality on Burundi nationals, who were resisting their leader, Pierre Nkuruzinza’s attempt to seek a third term.
Mugabe was also criticised for failing to condemn the abduction of over 250 Nigerian girls by the militant Islamist group Boko Haram in 2014. He, however, reserved the worst vitriol on the West, which he accused of meddling in the internal affairs of sovereign African states.
Fast forward to 2018. The country is Namibia; the city is Windhoek and the venue is Safari Court Hotel. A modest venue for the 38th SADC Heads of State and Government whose primary mandate is to take the region on a different path.
The seriousness of the summit is aptly reflected in its theme: ‘Promoting Infrastructure Development and Youth Empowerment for Sustainable Development’.
With five new Heads of State making maiden appearances, there is a renewed vigour among the leadership to reinvigorate their regional body so that it becomes a vehicle for pragmatic economic integration and creating an enabling environment for business to thrive.
The leaders seem to be bound together by a common sense of servant leadership anchored on anti-corruption and creating a conducive environment that attracts foreign direct investment and tourists. However, in order to attract investment, leaders are conscious of the need to empower the youth and ensure that the infrastructure is top notch.
Infrastructural development is a critical ingredient for regional integration and economic development. Despite promoting the easy movement of goods, services and people, the infrastructural development also creates employment for the youth. Harnessing the demographic dividend of the youth is bound to spur regional economic development.
Another area that regional leaders are set to find common ground is in the promotion and marketing of tourist destinations as a single bloc. This would entail the removal of inhibitive visas and promote the free movement of tourists.
Yes, we need guarded optimism. But there is something palpable happening in the region that one cannot ignore. It is the zeal to economically empower citizens and ensure that the regional bloc lives up to its founding goals of being the most economically thriving and peaceful region in the world.