SADC will not be able to achieve its regional integration agenda unless the citizens of the region are well informed and are actively participating in the process. The SADC’s Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan (RISDP) is the blueprint for the region’s integration agenda for a 15-year period – 2005-2020. It is designed to provide clear strategic direction in respect to SADC programmes, projects and activities in line with the SADC Common Aagenda.
But the region will only be able to successfully implement the objectives set out in the RISDP if journalists in the region play their role in the integration agenda by informing the wider public through their reporting on regional issues.
Journalists are called to take the lead by acquainting themselves with the SADC agenda in order to be able to analyse more issues to do with regional infrastructure development, energy, agriculture, trade and industry, tourism, education and health.
For instance, under RISDP, member states have agreed to integrate their markets, co-operate and work closely together to achieve peace, stability and wealth. Therefore, journalists in Southern Africa need to be proactive by continuously monitoring and reporting on progress made by the region towards the implementation of various regional projects.
The SADC Secretariat has realised the important role that the media can play in the success of regional integration.
The Communications and Public Relations Unit at the Secretariat has hosted several media workshops to enhance journalistic skills and techniques to make complex topics such as SADC regional integration, tangible and relevant to diverse audiences.
This is line with the Revised SADC Communications and Promotional Strategy 2016-2020.
The strategy aims to strengthen information channels that enhance public knowledge and consciousness of SADC’s vision and achievements in order to attain regional integration and eradicate poverty.
In addition, SADC will step up efforts to actively engage the media at both national and regional levels, to empower journalists on the coverage of issues on SADC will be developed.
Communication specialist and former communication advisor at IMF Chibamba Kanyama has reminded why it is important for ordinary citizens in the region to be actively involved in the integration process through sufficient information, and sufficient communication.
“The SADC itself before it even changed the name to another SADC, was more like an idea. People thought it was really an idea and too many have thought that the SADC is largely about peace, and collateral, ensuring that there is democracy across member states, elections are held and the war is managed. There are many members of the population who really take SADC for this reason.
“As a result, there are very few questions that deal with policy engagements, all we hear is that presidents are signing some trade protocols, they are signing some investment protocols.
“But at what point the Botswana government, at what point the Namibian government, at what point the Zambian government formulated these agreements internally first before they go to the wider body (SADC).
“What discussions took place, how much engagement with the general population was involved, at what point was parliament was involved in these discussions. We know that these discussions actually take place, but the citizens are not aware that they are part and parcel of the decisions that are taken by the heads of state for regional integration.
“They are actually engaged somehow but they are not aware of how. And this is where the media comes in - reporting the process of engagement, asking the right questions to the policymakers, and also facilitating and enabling policymakers to incorporate the thinking, the ideas, and the anxieties of people they are leading.
“Remember that integration affects people. It is about how they travel across the borders, it is about how they do business across the borders, and they want to have inputs and much of that is captured through media and information dissemination,” Kanyama has emphasised.
The theme of the 38th SADC Summit is “Promoting Infrastructure Development and Youth Empowerment for Sustainable Development”. As the theme posits, this year’s regional summit focussed on industrialisation efforts, as articulated in the RISDP. In order to industrialise, the region has been developing infrastructure programmes and projects.
For instance, Zambia and Botswana are busy with the construction of the 923-metre Kazungula Bridge over the Zambezi River, one of the most important regional integration initiatives in SADC.
The Kazungula Bridge and one-stop border post being built at the meeting point of Zambia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Namibia at the confluence of Zambezi and Chobe rivers is expected to improve transport transit facilitation for effective trade and movement of goods and services in the region.
There are several multi-national projects being undertaken and planned in the region that the media in southern Africa can promote through their reporting. These include the Chirundu One-Stop Border Post between Zambia and Zimbabwe also along the North-South Corridor in SADC, covering eight SADC member states aimed at resolving impediments to the growth of regional trade.
The construction of 200-km Mozambique-Malawi Interconnector power transmission project with a capacity of 400 kV seeks to expand the regional power transmission network in accordance with the objectives of the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP).
There is also the Zambia-Tanzania-Kenya Power Interconnection project aimed at improving power transmission and power trade in the region with the East African Power Pool (EAPP), by linking the SADC Countries in SAPP with the EAPP.
The Lesotho-Botswana Water Transfer Project is expected to resolve the problem of water scarcity for domestic and industrial purposes in Botswana, and parts of Lesotho and South Africa.
The Congo Basin Water Transfer Project is intended to transfer water from the Congo River to water-deficient SADC countries. In addition, the Angola-Zambia-Tanzania Optical Fibre Cable Intra-SADC connectivity Link project sought to bring bandwidth from submarine cables into the SADC region.
There is also the Shared SADC Satellite Network Development project, which is aimed at ensuring that affordable satellite-based connectivity solutions are in place for remote areas outside the near term reach of fibre infrastructure.