His Excellency President Robert G. Mugabe is currently both the Chairman of the African Union as well as Chairman of SADC. A great deal has been made about both these roles and the change he will bring though to be fair we should not expect much from what is essentially a non-executive position.
In his acceptance speech at the AU President Mugabe made reference to how SADC “have adopted several economic strategies to propel the sub-region to greater heights.” These include Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan (RISDP) and the Strategic Indicative Plan for the Organ on Politics Defence and Security (SIPO II).
Through these strategies, the SADC region intends to attain economic independence and transformation. Using the vast resources available to SADC countries, RISDP and SIPO II aim to bring about a higher level of industrialisation and value addition to the region’s resources.
Mentioning this was critical by the Zimbabwean president as regional integration is an essential step in achieving continental growth.
The AU has embarked on a 50 year plan through the Agenda 2063 with the resultant aim to build a harmonised continent with shared values and a common destiny.
Africa however is not a country or a homogenous entity. The diversity of people, beliefs, cultures, customs, religions, politics, governments, economies and systems make it difficult to set an agenda or policy that will immediately suit all 55 countries on the continent.
For this reason, a move towards full regional integration is better and more beneficial to the AU’s continental aspirations. SADC, ECOWAS, East African Community (EAC), Economic Community of East African States (ECCAS) and the Community of Sahel-Saharan States are perfect institutions to drive the continental agenda.
What is important for countries to look at is the manner and focus of their regional integration. According to SADC, the ultimate objective of RISDP is “to deepen integration in the region with a view to accelerate poverty eradication and the attainment of other economic and non-economic development goals.”
In theory the comprehensive plan is a good policy; however one might ask whether it is in line with practices that take place daily between people in neighbouring African countries.
The pertinent step for African governments is to realise that regional integration is already taking place on a social and an economic level. The politics and policies now need to catch up and be formulated in line with what is occurring on a daily basis.
According to the United Nations Entity of Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, informal cross border trade in the SADC region has an annual average value of US$17.6 billion and constitutes 30-40% of intra-SADC trade.
In contrast, the approved the 2014/15 SADC Consolidated Business Plan and a Budget amounted to US$88.335 million, 38% of the contributions coming from member states and 61% from International Cooperating Partners (ICPs).
The SADC budget is a paltry 0.005% of the average value of informal trade. It therefore follows that it would be prudent for SADC to develop policies in line with what people are already doing.
This would not only facilitate the lives of the traders for example but also provide SADC a supplementary source of income and not have the organisation rely on foreign ICPs.
In West and Central Africa, informal cross border trade employs at least one person who then supports an average of six people, both immediate and distant relatives.
With this being such a vital component of livelihoods, regional organisations should mainstream trade policies and institutions, in an effort not to undermine the profitability and visibility of informal trade activities.
But informal trade is not the only manner in which ordinary people are integrating regionally. The media and social media have changed how Africans on the continent relate to each other.
Increasingly musicians from different parts of the continent are collaborating with each other and touring all over the continent. Zimbabwe’s Simba Tagz, for example, in 2014 released a song with Nigeria’s Ice Prince.
Nigerian, Kenyan, Batswana, South African artists are consistently crossing borders to entertain crowds who learn of their music from their online social media presence on Facebook and Twitter.
The popularity of Big Brother Africa (BBA) is an example of the influence of entertainment and the interconnectedness of the various regions on the continent.
Looking at the voting patterns for BBA, they show that viewers tend to vote for contestants from their home countries first and then from their region before they do other regions.
After participating in BBA, contestants seem to gain continental exposure and are able to launch careers away from their home countries.
Zimbabwean BBA contestant Pokello Nare is set to appear in a Nollywood movie, Ugandan contestant Gaetano Kagwa worked as a TV presenter on Mnet in South Africa and BBA winner, Namibian Dillish Mathews is the face of Vault Cosmetics, a Zimbabwean owned makeup line with her own line of lipstick and lip gloss.
African regional institutions should now work on policies to reflect the movement of people on the continent as well as their activities. To help actors and filmmakers in Burundi for example who have aspirations to build a career in Africa’s film making hub, Nollywood.
One problem faced is that it is cheaper for one to fly from Harare to Dubai than it is for someone to fly from Harare to Lagos. Not only are the travel costs within the continent expensive but the routes are often long with multiple layovers.
For integration to work more efficiently then issues of travel costs, trade and immigration policies need to be addressed and more importantly implemented.
With greater effort placed on working towards regional integration and adapting policies that reflect practices already taking place then the AU’s Agenda 2063 will be within reach.
Politicians and policy makers should take advantage of what is happening on social and economic levels. Building on this already established platform will make the vision of an Africa for Africans attainable and sustainable.