INCOMING SADC Chairperson and Tanzanian President John Pombe Magufuli hit the nail on the head in his speech when he took over the rotating chair of the regional bloc when he said there is a need for member states to increase intra-regional trade, grow their economies and speed up industrialisation.
We believe these are the real issues that leaders across the region should be losing sleeping over so as to improve the livelihoods of the more than 300 million who call Southern Africa home.
As President Magufuli put, the SADC region is not poor, but rich. For how can this region, dubbed the Persian Gulf of the world’s strategic minerals, be called poor? Why is it that the peoples of the region cannot enjoy the benefits from the gold mined in Tanzania, South Africa, Namibia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe?
Who is benefitting from the diamonds mined in Angola, Botswana, the DRC, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe? Where are the proceeds from the platinum mined in South Africa and Zimbabwe going? The uranium in Namibia? The copper and cobalt in the DRC and Zambia? The coal and natural gas in Mozambique? Who is benefitting from all this?
Apart from the rich mineral resources, Southern Africa has some of the top tourist attraction sights in the world, but its people continue to wallow in poverty. Where do proceeds from the tourist attraction sites in Mauritius, Mozambique, Seychelles, Zanzibar, the Victoria Falls, Chobe National Park, Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park, Kavango-Zambezi Conservation Area and others dotted across the region go, we wonder?
As President Magufuli asked during the summit, will we get answers as why there is low intra-regional trade in the SADC region? The SADC Chairperson noted, and rightly so, that while the region is the most peaceful on the African continent, this had not translated to economic development. Yet peace is a precursor to development, and above all there are abundant resources in the SADC countries, from mineral resources to the climate and rich soils for agricultural production.
The Tanzania leader was straight to the point when he said: “And so to be honest, if there is no concerted effort, it will take ages for this (transformation and development) to be realised. Last year, 2018, there was the set target of GDP of 7 percent but it grew by only 3,1 percent, below the continental average of 3,5 percent; eastern Africa region grew 5,7% northern Africa 4.9 percent and the 3,3 growth in west Africa region. Intra-regional and extra-regional trade performance is also not good.”
He said in 2017, SADC with 16 members and a population 327 million people, only exported goods worth US$143 billion. On the other hand, Mexico and Vietnam, with a population of 132.5 and 97,5 million people respectively, exported goods worth US$403 billion and US$213 billion. If these figures do not embarrass politicians and businesspeople in the region, then nothing will.
“This clearly shows us that our economies are not performing very well and we are still very far from achieving our economic objectives. Of course, there are many answers why our economies are not performing, one of them is lack of information and opportunities available. In May this year, for instance, I had opportunities of visiting four SADC countries, three of them were experiencing food shortages. It surprised me that they were seeking to import from outside Africa, while in Tanzania we were struggling to find a market for 2,5 billion tonnes of food, which was a surplus.
“That is just one example. Due to lack of information, our countries are importing cars, sugar and fuel from very far away from our region while some SADC members like South Africa, Mauritius and Angola and producing the same products.”
We believe the time for talk shows is over and serious work must now begin to find answers to the many questions that citizens across the region have been asking for a long time. And in President Magufuli we believe those answers will surely be found, judging by the tone of his speech in Dar es Salaam last weekend.
It is our hope that the Industrialisation Strategy and Roadmap will bear fruit and that there will be a marked improvement in the lives of the ordinary people across the region.
As we have said before, we do not see why SADC member states must not prioritise intra-regional trade to improve their economies. Intra-trade and free movement of goods and people across the borders must be speeded up so as to promote trade across the region.
As if this is not bad enough, the region continues to export unprocessed products, in the process exporting the much-needed jobs. The raw materials are sold for a song, leaving the countries exporting them poorer. What happened to the policy of beneficiation of products from the region before they are exported as enunciated at the 2015 SADC summit?
We urge leaders, the business community and technocrats in the region to grasp the nettle and find solutions to the myriad of economic issues bedeviling the region.