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Southern Africa is still groaning under the yoke of poor political leadership as it struggles to get the regional economy growing fast enough to tackle its endemic problem of poverty.
Last week Joao Caholo, the engaging deputy executive secretary of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), briefed journalists in Johannesburg about the organisation’s ambitious Regional Infrastructure Master Plan.
The blueprint, which he hopes SADC leaders will adopt at their annual summit in Maputo in August, aims to overcome the fundamental inter-state infrastructure deficiencies in the region.
It would connect up power grids across the region and also thereby link southern Africa to new energy sources such as Kenya’s thermal energy discoveries and new gas finds off Tanzania.
It would also link roads and railways, better manage and co-ordinate water sources, and boost information and communications technology, tourism, and so forth.
It would cost anywhere between R1 trillion and R4 trillion to implement all of the masterplan, said Caholo, most of which would have to come from the private sector in public-private partnerships.
All of this was very good – on paper. The SADC has drafted many good plans in the past. Realising those blueprints has been the problem.
Caholo insisted that this one would be different. But he also acknowledged that the SADC’s problem has been not so much lack of money as lack of leadership.
He acknowledged too that the SADC would be far more likely to get business support for infrastructure if its leaders themselves first closed the region’s soft infrastructure gaps – like slashing the red tape which so badly inhibits the free movement of people and goods across intra-SADC borders.
A quick glance at the regional leaders who are expected to drive this master plan does not inspire tremendous confidence.
In Zimbabwe, we still have the old warhorse Robert Mugabe, whose deathgrip on power remains the major distraction from SADC’s desperate attempts to change the subject to regional integration and economic growth.
This was very evident at the last summit in Luanda earlier this month, which was severely distracted from its regional integration plans by Mugabe’s efforts – ultimately in vain – to convince his peers to allow him to short-circuit SADC’s own reform plan and to conduct elections on his own terms, with his Zanu-PF still holding all the hard power.
Then there was Zambia’s new President Michael Sata, who took over from Rupiah Banda last September, with an uncertain reputation as a maverick. Since then he has been doing disturbing things like summarily dismissing judges who rule against him.
According to the journal Africa Confidential, he gave a boorish performance at the Luanda summit, rudely interrupting serious economic presentations with off-colour and sexist jokes and even a solo rendition of Zanu-PF’s election chant, to demonstrate his support for Mugabe.
So his position on the SADC troika dealing with Zimbabwe does not bode well for pushing reforms in that country.
In Malawi, things looked up in April when Malawian President Bingu wa Mutharika, another Mugabe supporter, was replaced on his sudden death by Joyce Banda, a democrat, unsympathetic to Mugabe.
Yet she has looked very unsure of herself in office and could be politically paralysed by hostile forces in parliament.
Lesotho looks better, too, with veteran politician Tom Thabane winkling Pakalitha Mosisili out of office after 14 years.
Thabane has a good reputation, especially for honesty. But his decision to keep the defence, police and security portfolios all to himself has raised serious concerns that he may have all along been concealing megalomaniacal or at least paranoid tendencies which power might now manifest.
King Mswati III continues to worry more about queens and royal jets than the development of Swaziland, let alone the region.
Further afield we have Jose Eduardo dos Santos still showing no signs of relinquishing power or taking his hands out of the till after 33 years in office.
And in the Congo, the same old chaos.
Et cetera. Are these the sort of leaders likely to inspire business to put up one to four trillion rand to finance regional infrastructure? – Daily News Foreign Service