Was Malawi’s first President, Kamuzu Banda, once offered a deal by Portugal that would have resulted in Malawi expanding all the way to the Indian Ocean? This is one of the intriguing details in Wilson Khembo’s book, Surviving Anarchy: History, Challenges and Prospects of Regional Integration in Southern Africa, (scheduled to) be launched in Lilongwe on December 9.
We can only speculate about what would have happened if that deal had actually materialised.
But the Portugal imbroglio is not actually the subject of Khembo’s book. The author just mentions it, along with Malawi’s entanglement with apartheid South Africa, as part of the historical backdrop against which he examines his subject.
In Surviving Anarchy, Khembo’s concern is to analyse the performance of the Southern African Development Community (Sadc), highlight its challenges, and suggest solutions. The author believes that SADC is a good idea, but a good idea that is not working.
He writes: “We have listened to Southern African leaders repeat the same litany of solidarity and brotherhood for three decades, as if it is a sine qua non for regional development and stability. In reality, SADC leaders have been building castles in the air with their vision staying disconnected from reality.”
This is a bold statement, and there are many such in the book.
Khembo, a former lieutenant in the Malawi Defence Forces before he moved to the United Kingdom to pursue Security Studies, occasionally sounds like an impatient army general urging his troops to victory.
Other scholars have been attracted to SADC and the literature on the subject continues to grow.
For example, Wolff-Christian Peters’ The Quest for an African Economic Community (Peter Lang GmbH, 2010) observes that although SADC appears to be the most advanced and promising regional body, it has fundamental design flaws.
In A Historical Background to Regional Integration in Africa and Southern Africa (Springer Nature, 2021), Leon Mwamba Tshimpaka, et al critique what they see as SADC’s top-down and market-led approaches to regional integration.
Surviving Anarchy has a solid theoretical lineage. The book’s title is drawn from the concepts of realism and anarchy as used in political science and the study of international relations.
The meaning of “anarchy” here is specialised, different from the more popular usage denoting absolute individual freedom and the total absence of government.
Adherents of the realist school, who trace their classical parentage to the likes of Thucydides and Nicolo Machieavelli, use the word “anarchy” to describe the absence of any authority superior to nation states capable of arbitrating their disputes and enforcing international law.
Realists argue that international law is in fact helpless to impose any direct constraints on the behaviour of nations, because there is no overarching super state to enforce adherence to rules.
Although Khembo uses realism to provide the theoretical context for his arguments, he offers a way out. Anarchy can be escaped through the use of what he likes to call “more robust” institutional mechanisms.
The book argues that structures created to manage conflicts in the SADC region have failed to operate effectively due to rivalries and tensions among its member states. Furthermore, the regional body’s initiatives have failed to consolidate democracy and improve citizens’ well-being.
SADC has ended up with deficits in the vital areas of governance and economic cohesion, essentially because of the non-binding nature of its protocols.
Regional integration can be pursued either through an intergovernmental or a supranational approach.
Supra-nationalism requires that member states agree to cede some of their sovereignty. With inter-governmentalism, member states retain all of their sovereignty.
According to Khembo, SADC is an intergovernmental organisation rather than a supranational body. But for it to be effective, it needs to become a supranational body with the mandate to make laws that bind all the member States.
Some readers may perhaps be left wishing the author had explored one or two themes in more detail than he does.
For instance, do some member states hold grudges against others because of what happened in the past? Given the large egos of national leaders, to what extent have personal bad chemistries contributed to some of SADC’s failures?
Our desire for more is actually not a weakness of the book but an indication of its successful engagement with the reader.
The author has cast his net wide enough to capture the crucial issues, while still leaving room for further exploration by him or others.
Wilson Khembo’s Surviving Anarchy is a well-researched book with a well-argued thesis. In my view, the author has presented a convincing account of his case and contributed significantly to the ongoing discourse on SADC.
I believe the book should be required reading for political and business leaders, and indeed everyone else keen to learn more about one of Africa’s most important organisations. – The Nation
Surviving Anarchy: History, Challenges and Prospects of Regional Integration in Southern Africa is selling at £21.99 on Amazon