PICTURE this: 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, declining from 17.6% in 1990 to 13% in 2013.
According to a story we publish in the business section in this week’s edition, 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.
Experts, speaking at the Third Annual Industrialisation Week in Windhoek last week ahead of the region’s 38th Summit of Heads of State and Government, 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.
For the fifth year running, industrialisation will take centre stage during this year's SADC Summit in Windhoek, Namibia, nextweek, but on the ground there is very little to show that the region is going anywhere. Apart from regional power house South Africa, it seems like there is nothing to talk about when it comes to industrialisation across the region.
In fact, many countries in the region are seen as warehouses for goods manufactured in South Africa and this is not a good recipe for industrial development.
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.
Yet last year, former South Africa president and then SADC chairperson, President Zuma of South Africa pledged to drive forward SADC’s industrialisation agenda, first mooted in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, in 2014, by building on the “remarkable progress” made by his predecessor, King Mswati III of Swaziland.
Zuma said South Africa would use its chairpersonship to drive regional industrialisation and integration, through various potential growth paths including, agro-processing and mineral beneficiation.
As SADC leaders gather in Windhoek in the coming week, we exhort them to speed up industrial development across the region. We also urge them to maintan the momentum on beneficiation of minerals and commodities found in the region.
The 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.
As part of the industrialisation effort, we believe 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 development programmes that will improve the lives of the people of the SADC region.
We believe these infrastructure projects must be speeded up if SADC is to achieve its long cherished goal of economic emancipation. There is also a need to expedite intra-regional trade if the dream of a common vision for the region is to be achieved.