Pan-Africanism birthed modern day Sadc

Ranga Mataire
Zimpapers Politics Hub

Inspired by the success of Pan-Africanism that united black people across the globe to challenge colonial existence and the oppression, African leaders sought to create regional entities capable of promoting regional cooperation and integration.

Africa’s new international relations thrust was best captured by the Organisation of African Unity’s (OAU) publication in 1981 of a document called the “Lagos Plan of Action for Economic Development for Africa, 1980-2000,” which proposed the establishment of an African Economic Community (AEC) to be based on an African Common Market (ACM).

The guiding logic of the Lagos Plan of Action was the creation of intergovernmental economic organisations in each of Africa’s five major regions – North, East, West, Central and Southern Africa as the best means of ensuring the creation of a continent-wide AEC.

The thriving of experiments in regional cooperation and integration throughout the contemporary independence era demonstrated the firm commitment of the first generation African leaders to the economic dimension of a Pan-African ideal.

Among the most prominent and far-reaching economic groupings in each of Africa’s regions are the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Union of Arab Magreb (UAM), the Southern African Central States (ECCAS), the Economic Community of Development (ICAD) in north east Africa and SADC.

There are several rationales that motivated African leaders to seek regional cooperation and integration. For starters, the African leaders believe that there is strength in numbers.

In order to effectively compete within increasingly competitive global economic system, dominated by Western superpowers, African countries find it amenable to band together and pull resources.

African leaders are also motivated by the desire to promote self-sustaining economic development particularly the industrialisation of the continent.

Realising the challenges confronting them, African leaders believe that they can build upon the individual strengths of their neighbours in forging integrated and self-sustaining regional economies.

Regional economic schemes are generally perceived as the best means for creating self-reliant development, thereby reducing and ultimately ridding the African continent of the ties of dependence inherited from the colonial era.

African leaders are rightfully concerned that national control over the evolution of their respective economies is constrained by the continent’s trade dependency on Europe, at the expense of intraregional trade links with African countries.

It is not surprising to note that the primary objective of early regional economic schemes promoted intraregional trade with neighbours who share common set of developmental goals, either due to special geographic features, historical ties or shared religion.

It is envisaged that strengthening of ties with like-minded neighbours ultimately lead to stronger economies capable of reducing foreign influence and strengthening Africa’s collective ability to bargain with non-African powers on a more equal basis.

But of all regional groupings formed in the early years of continental freedom, it is SADC that has emerged as much more organised and more stable than others.

The transformation of the regional body in 1992 from the Southern African Development Coordination Conference (SADCC) to SADC provides a good example of the growing trend in African regional relations.

Originally conceived as a vehicle for reducing the economic dependence of the Frontline States on South Africa during the apartheid era, the newly reformed SADC now counts South Africa among its members, and is seeking to enhance traditional cooperation in a variety of functional realms, most notably transportation.

According to a recent report published by the African Development Bank (ADB) in conjunction with the World Bank and the Development Bank of South Africa, SADC is standing at “the threshold of a new era.”

The report states that although its effects will linger for a long time, the demise of apartheid opened up prospects unimaginable a few years ago.

“New opportunities have emerged in every sector of economic activity for expanded trade and mutually beneficial exchanges of all kinds among the countries of southern Africa,” reads the report.

Several factors are essential in understanding the optimism surrounding SADC’s status as a model for economic cooperation in Africa, particularly in terms of reducing southern Africa’s dependence on foreign economic interests and creating the basis for self-sustaining development in the post-Cold War era.

First, the coming on board of a highly industrialised South Africa provides SADC with an engine for economic growth that will potentially reinvigorate the entire region.

South Africa can play a positive role in the region similar to the role played by Germany in the European Union, the United States in NEFTA and to a lesser degree, Nigeria in ECOWAS.

SADC also has the advantage of having majority member states sharing a common British colonial heritage. Although a shared colonial past is not a pre-condition for effective regional cooperation, it nonetheless facilitates such technical matters as which language should serve as the official language of communication.

A third factor that augurs well for SADC is the decline in ideological differences among SADC member states. Although much of the region is ruled by former liberation movements, their strict adherence to Marxist principles of development has over the years waned.

Among SADC member states there is growing consensus of the effectiveness of regional economic cooperation based on a shared commitment to some variant of the liberal capitalist model of development.

SADC’s greatest strength is its commitment to conflict resolution and the promotion of shared democratic values. For the exception of the DRC and some pockets of skirmishes in the Cabo Delgado province of Mozambique, the region generally enjoys peace and stability.

One of the crucial lessons of regional integration theory, which draws upon the success of the EU, is that the existence of elites with a shared commitment to democracy forms a firm foundation of long-term economic cooperation and development.

It is for this reason that the 1992 Windhoek Treaty that sanctified the launching of SADC underlined the political dimension of regional relationships and its critical role in the continued expansion of economic cooperation.

SADC member states recognise that the fruits of Pan-Africanism can only be achieved by the settlement of civil wars and the promotion of democracy throughout the continent.

As a result, conflict resolution remains an important cornerstone of the Pan-African ideal that SADC cherishes.

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