SADC member countries are failing to trade among themselves due to an ineffective manufacturing industry.
As a result of this, the share of manufacturing to Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the SADC region has not been able to industrialise. This has resulted in low trade among SADC member countries.
Despite all the preaching about the SADC free trade area, intra-SADC trade continues to be low, recording only 17% of the total SADC trade over the past few years.
Experts attribute this to the fact that the region has been struggling with productive capacity.
This, in turn, has seen the region parting ways with its raw minerals, and buying them back as finished products for a high fee from international markets.
Exports from the region remain dominated by unprocessed or minimally processed products, mainly from the agricultural and mineral sectors, resulting in very low value returns.
Therein lies the region’s problem.
There is very little to show that the region is going anywhere in terms industrialisation. Apart from regional power house South Africa, it seems like there is nothing to talk about when it comes to industrialisation.
And despite being endowed with vast mineral and natural resources, the region continues to wallow in poverty as it is not getting value out these resources which are exported in their raw form. Beneficiation of these resources is still largely being ignored.
Over the years, leaders have been talking about the need to push forward industrialization in SADC members states. While the SADC leaders must be commended for efforts towards ensuring the development of their region through industrialisation and beneficiation of minerals and commodities found in the region, there is a need to implement the regional agenda.
The region’s leaders must now grasp the nettle and gird their loins to ensure that what has been agreed upon must be implemented without further delay. There is a need to move away from the talk shows and get down to serious business that must be done at both government and private sector levels in the region.
The first port of call would be to work on projects that have been identified in the region, and these range from the power and energy sectors, water, construction, roads, railways and ports to health and social programmes that will improve the lives of the people of the SADC region.
The region is sitting on huge reserves of gas. There is no reason why these must not be exploited for the betterment of the people in the region, a majority of whom still lack access to energy. Exploiting gas and using it as form of energy has the added benefit stopping desertification in the region, where the majority of the people still use wood as fuel for cooking.
Experts say Southern Africa is most likely sitting on massive natural gas reserves of more than 600 trillion cubic feet which the region must exploit to reduce a heavy reliance on biomass energy and wood.
That the region is sitting on these massive gas reserves found in Angola, Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo, Mozambique, Namibia, Tanzania and Zimbabwe which have gone untapped is an indictment on the leadership which must now act to exploit these.
Power projects such as the Grand Inga have been on the drawing board for a long time, yet SADC faces power deficits. Again there is a need for countries in the region, working with partners like the African Development Bank, to implement these projects and ensure there is more power for industrial development. There is no doubt that without power, there won’t be any industrialisation and beneficiation.
Solar power must also be pursued as an alternative form of energy for lighting, especially in rural areas that off the main power grids. The region enjoys abundant sunshine throughout the year but sadly, hasn’t taken advantage of this God-given resource to light up homes.
Infrastructure projects like roads, railways, sea and air ports must be speeded up if SADC is to achieve its long cherished goal of economic emancipation.
There is also the much-talked about univisa which allows for free movement of people in the region to promote trade and tourism and we believe there has not been enough political will to implement this. Tourism is one of the fastest growing industries in the world and the SADC region is endowed with flora and fauna that promotes tourism. A promotion of intra-SADC tourism will go a long way in luring tourists from abroad to also visit to the region, and thereby go a long way in developing the tourism industry.
But this cannot happen when there are still issues on cross-border trade between countries. Tourism and cross-border trade by small businesses are the low-hanging fruits that must immediately be harnessed.
There is a need for practical solutions to problems bedeviling the region. We hope that the SADC leaders will tackle these issues and iron out problems so as to create the enabling environment for regional integration. It is none but ourselves who will create the SADC that we want.