Is regional integration mere rhetoric?

Mmegi Online, Botswana

Is regional integration mere rhetoric?

By Baboki Kayawe, Staff Writer

2 September 2011

The song of Southern African Development Community (SADC) regional integration is sung so loudly that even the deaf can hear it. But my recent experience in Windhoek, Namibia tends to prove that the reality on the ground does not match the rhetoric.

I was left wondering whether ’regional integration’ is only a theoretical concept talked about by the 14 SADC member states.

It was a very sad experience to me when the front desk officer of the Windhoek Country Club turned me away when I tried to change the Pula into Namibian Dollars.

As if that was not enough, one can only exchange the Pula for the Namibian Dollar in Bureau de Changes at the entrance points of the Hosea Kutako International Airport - the main airport serving Windhoek.

Beyond the security checkpoint or at the boarding point, my attempt to buy ’mouthwatering’ afro-centric goods hit a snag.

At the opening of the Gaborone-based P190 million SADC House, Namibian President and SADC chairman, Hifikepunye Pohamba, waxed lyrical about plans to build one economic home, one political house and a single social structure.

But will this be possible given the different socio-economic and political set-ups in SADC member states?

Where does vital things like currency convertibility fit in the equation? Was Pohamba’s delivery just another piece from the well-trained technocrats and speechwriters?

The ability to exchange money should be a is simple matter, which could breath life into the bones of regional integration. In this age and era, why do SADC leaders convene endless workshops and summits to discuss the fibre of economic, political and social metabolism of the region without visible results?

Will regional integration give life to continental unity as agreed at the 9th African Union heads of state summit in Ghana in 2007?

Zambia’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, Lasarous Kapambwe urged the SADC member countries at the summit to be realistic in their goals towards a unified government.

He said SADC has done much towards regional integration, such as establishing the Southern African Customs Union (SACU), and abolishing the need for visas among countries such as South Africa, Zambia and Mozambique.

The nations in the region, however, will still need some time to synchronise essential functions and services in areas such as economics and governance.

"We need to reach a certain level of conformity in a number of elements and this can be further extrapolated to be the case with Africa’s integration," Kapambwe said.

Lesotho’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Mothae Maruping, said in Ghana that regional integration can foster competition, subsidiary access to wider market, larger and diversified investment and production, socio-economic and political stability and bargaining power for the countries involved.

He added that it could be multi-dimensional to cover the movement of goods and services (trade), capital and labour, socio-economic policy coordination and harmonisation, infrastructure development, environmental management, and reforms in other public goods such as governance, peace, defence and security.

However, he said integration could be complicated by perceived or real gains or losses among the member states that may lead to disputes and a sense of ’loss’ of national sovereignty.

"For success, integration thus requires strong commitment in implementing the agreed arrangements, fair mechanisms to arbitrate disputes and equitable distribution of the gains and costs of integration," he wrote in his seminal paper.

Maruping recommended that capacity for comprehensive and consistent planning, policy formulation and implementation at the national level should be strengthened in the member countries to reduce the risks of conflicting policy objectives, and enhance synchrony and complementarity.