Mugabe’s empty SADC promises

It is a year since President Robert Mugabe was made the chairman of SADC amid pomp and fanfare in Victoria Falls.

Tawanda Majoni

Tawanda Majoni

His term is ending, but there is hardly anything to remember about it –save the numerous trips, jawing and more jawing at sumptuous dinners and glitzy receptions.
His promise in August last year still chimes in my mind. “As Zimbabwe, we look forward to making our contribution to the SADC agenda, and are confident that, we can ensure that the region focuses on interventions that have the greatest impact on the well-being of our citizens,” he said when accepting the chairmanship.
The theme of the SADC summit was “Strategy for Economic Transformation: Leveraging the Region’s Diverse Resources for Sustainable Economic and Social Development through Beneficiation and Value Addition”.  Besides being a mouthful, it was always going to be nothing but a hollow wish.
Mugabe was promising to use his period as chair to unlock value through the local beneficiation of the bountiful natural resources with which the region is endowed. This, of course, was inspired by the local ZimAsset blueprint that sought to do the same thing for Zimbabwe. In other words, Mugabe was trying to make the southern African region a Zimbabwe writ large.
I am not aware of any African country that responded directly to Mugabe’s call for local beneficiation of natural resources. We have not been told of SADC-inspired programmes in Malawi, Swaziland, Namibia, Lesotho, Madagascar—just to name a few—that did that. If there are countries that have been adding value to the resources within their borders, it is not because they were doing so using a SADC template.

Beautiful idea
Yes, local value addition is a beautiful idea and can provide the panacea to our perennial economic woes. But value is not added through high-sounding terms and endless talk. Concrete programmes and action is what we need, and Mugabe provided none.
But there is no need to bother, if you look at this more closely. Our president never did anything to build infrastructure and attract meaningful local investment for the beneficiation of our minerals, agricultural products, etc. For close to a year, we have been listening to government intentions to merge diamond companies in Marange into a single outfit, for instance. We are still exporting cow hides and importing finished products from South Africa, China, Brazil and many other countries – contrary to local beneficiation.
Charity, as they always say, begins at home. It is therefore hoping for too much that Mugabe would have jolted the region into a robust local beneficiation culture when he couldn’t do the same for his own country.
Similarly, the Regional Indicative Strategic Development Programme that was meant to be the cornerstone of economic production and programming designed to improve the lives of SADC citizens remains on the drawing board. Yes, a 15-member regional committee was formed, but what progress has it made? Nothing that I have heard of.

Bitter complaints
In the life of SADC, we have seen a multitude of committees formed that have hardly done anything. I don’t have the intention of sounding too naïve and impatient with Mugabe. Some might say the programme needs time to evolve into a meaningful intervention, but spending a year forming a committee and doing nothing else is not encouraging at all.
Maybe it’s time SADC considers stretching the tenure of its chairs to ensure continuity and stability in programming. Maybe Mugabe should have been given 35 years to enable him to turn his SADC dreams into reality. The fact that he has failed in our country does not provide much encouragement. Longer tenures for SADC chairs may not be the solution to the problem. What is perhaps needed is to move the regional bloc from being a mere talk club.
I remember Mugabe complaining bitterly at the Vic Falls summit that SADC could not move forward for as long as 60 percent of its funding was coming from external donors. Agreed, there is no free lunch in this world. The question, though, is: “And what did the SADC chair do to ensure 100 percent funding of SADC”. Nothing, except his pledge of 300 mombes.
It is disturbing, of course, that none of the member states moved an inch to ensure that SADC was well-funded, and well-funded from locally-beneficiated resources. Again, the SADC Industrial Policy Framework that he harped on so much failed to bring any benefit to a planned expanded market borne out of the Tripartite Free Trade Area. This tripartite arrangement, launched this year, bringing together SADC, the East African Community (EAC) and COMESA, is yet to show its teeth.
As Mugabe walks into the dusk of his term as SADC chair, southern African economies remain pretty the same as he found them, if not worse. The people are wallowing in poverty, unemployment is rising and disease is rampant.  He is leaving no legacy for the region, just as there is none he will leave for his own country. – To comment on this article, please contact [email protected]

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