Peace prevails, poverty challenges remain

The SADC region is experiencing unparalleled peace, political stability and security as 2003 draws to a close but poverty reduction goals remain elusive.

Despite considerable efforts to reduce poverty and improve human development in the region, the challenges are "quite enormous", the SADC Executive Secretary, Dr Prega Ramsamy, said in his end-of-year briefing. Dr Ramsamy said the regional growth rate of 3.2 percent achieved in 2002 was far from the target of 7 percent required to halve poverty by the year 2015, and growth rates at the end of 2003 are sluggish. With about 40 percent of the population in the SADC region living with less than US$1 per day, he said, resource and capacity constraints need to be addressed urgently. "The reduction in poverty achieved so far through poverty reduction strategies is not in tandem with the minimum targets as reflected in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)," Dr Ramsamy said.

Poverty in the SADC region has been aggravated by cycles of drought and floods, insecurity and conflicts, and by diseases such as the HIV and AIDS pandemic, malaria and other communicable diseases.

Despite sluggish growth rates, however, some SADC member states are emerging as continental leaders in terms of micro-economic policies and poverty reduction strategies as well as institution building, the Executive Secretary said. He cited Botswana, Mauritius, Namibia  and South Africa  in this regard. In terms of the economic performance, Angola  is leading the way with a 13.8 percent growth rate, followed by Mozambique  with 8 percent growth rate and the United Republic of Tanzania  with 6.2 percent. Growth rates have also improved in Lesotho, Namibia  and South Africa .

On the political front, the SADC region is experiencing unparalleled peace, political stability and security since the signing of the Angolan Peace Accord in April 2002 and the installation in the Democratic Republic of Congo of a transitional government on 30 June 2003. The regional political situation is characterised by political pluralism and regular democratic elections. Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia and South Africa are expected to hold elections in 2004 and Mauritius, the United Republic of Tanzania and Zimbabwe in 2005. The SADC Executive Secretary urged member states to use the forthcoming elections as an opportunity to achieve the minimum 30 percent of women's representation in political and decision-making structures by 2005. He said that while progress has been made in implementing the 1997 SADC Declaration on Gender and Development , and its 1998 Addendum on the Prevention and Eradication of Violence Against Women and Children , this is mainly in parliament and cabinet. The proportion of women in parliaments indicates that half of SADC member states are at 16 percent and above, with South Africa leading (31.3 percent), followed by Mozambique (31.2 percent), Seychelles (24 percent), the United Republic of Tanzania (22.5 percent), Namibia (19 percent), Botswana (18 percent), Angola (16 percent). In Lesotho, the Upper house has 36 percent women representation, while the lower house has 11.7 percent. Malawi, Mauritius, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe are below half of the agreed minimum target. On the proportion of women in cabinet, South Africa is leading (33.3 percent), followed by Botswana (26.7 percent), Lesotho (25 percent), Zambia (22.7 percent), Seychelles (21.4 percent), Zimbabwe (16.7 percent) and United Republic of Tanzania (15 percent). Angola, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia and Swaziland are below half of the set target.

Turning to the 15-year development plan  approved by SADC Heads of State and Government  in August this year, Dr Ramsamy said this will provide strategic direction, and facilitate the measurement of progress through targets and timeframes. The purpose of the Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan (RISDP)  is to deepen regional integration through a comprehensive programme of long-term economic and social policies.

The RISDP reaffirms the commitment of SADC member states to good political, economic and corporate governance entrenched in a culture of democracy, full participation by civil society, transparency and respect for the rule of law.

Regarding the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD),  SADC member states are integrating agreed priorities in areas such as agriculture, health, information, communication and infrastructure development into National Development Plans. "Summit directed that we convene a High Level Ministerial meeting on NEPAD to facilitate the integration of NEPAD into SADC's regional integration programme activities," Dr Ramsamy said. "The African Union's NEPAD Programme is embraced as a credible and relevant continental framework, and the RISDP as SADC's regional expression and vehicle for achieving the ideals contained therein."

Dr Ramsamy, who was speaking at SADC headquarters in Gaborone, Botswana, stressed that the goals of deeper integration and poverty eradication require the following:

Intensifying the fight against HIV and AIDS;
Gender mainstreaming and the empowerment of women;
Rapid adoption and internalisation of Information and Communication Technologies;
Diversification of regional economies through industrial development and value addition;
Trade liberalisation and development;
Liberalisation in the movement of factors of production;
Research, science and technology innovation, development and diffusion;
The creation of an enabling institutional environment;
Productivity and competitiveness improvements;
Private sector development and involvement; and
Development of a balanced and socially equitable information and knowledge-based society.

The RISDP recognizes the importance of Information and Communications Technology (ICT)  as a tool for regional integration and development, globalisation and modernisation, and appreciates the convening of the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS)  held in Geneva in early December. Challenges include a low proportion of electrified households across most countries in the region, poor telecommunications facilities with low fixed line teledensity, low access to personal computers as well as radio and television, and high illiteracy levels.

A separate Strategic Indicative Plan for the Organ (SIPO)  provides guidelines for the implementation of the Protocol on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation  for the next five years. This is currently being rationalized with the cross-cutting areas of the RISDP to maximize the synergies of the two strategic plans. The objectives of the Protocol are to promote political cooperation among member states, including development of democratic institutions and practices; prevent, contain and resolve conflict; develop peacekeeping capacity of national defence forces and coordinate participation in international operations; enhance regional capacity for disaster management; develop common foreign policy approaches on issues of mutual concern and advance such policy collectively; and generally protect the people and safeguard the development of the region.

SIPO is divided into four main sectors of Political, Defence, State Security, and Public Security. It is not a plan for SADC alone, but is southern Africa's contribution to strengthening peace, political stability and security of Africa and the world.

SADC member states signed a  Mutual Defence Pact  in August 2003 to facilitate the interaction, joint operations, collective response within the capacities of each member state as well as building a strong foundation for one of the pillars of the defence and security of the continent.

Anti-personnel landmines continue to pose challenges to post-conflict reconstruction and survivors need urgent assistance, Dr Ramsamy said, adding that this requires financial and technical resources and must be addressed urgently. "While mine awareness can assist in decreasing the casualties as people learn to live next to minefields, the assistance of landmine survivors cannot be postponed."

As mandated by Summit, the SADC secretariat has been mobilising resources to strengthen the region's capacities and strategies for conflict prevention, resolution and recovery, and on 1 December SADC signed a cooperation agreement with the UNDP Regional Programme for Strengthening Africa's Capacities and Strategies for Conflict Prevention, Resolution and Recovery . UNDP will assist SADC in capacity building, peace and reconciliation processes, the development of an early warning system and enhancing regional coordination.

On SADC restructuring, Dr Ramsamy said that all four Directorates have been established, namely: Trade, Industry, Finance and Investment;
Food, Agriculture, Natural Resources;
Infrastructure and Services; and
Social and Human Development and Special Programmes.

The study on the New SADC Organisational Structure  has been approved and implementation should commence in April 2004, with the four directors to be recruited by August 2004.

Other major tasks which have been completed include the mobilisation of human resources from member states through secondment of officers to the Directorates and financial resources from the International Cooperating Partners (ICPs), establishment of the Integrated Committee of Ministers and in most members states, the SADC National Committees.

The next meeting of the SADC Council of Ministers will be held in February/March 2004 in Arusha in the United Republic of Tanzania, and will approve the budget for the Secretariat for the year 2004/05.