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Expedite integration to secure Africa’s future

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) is, for the most part, stable, says the writer. File picture: Ampe Rogerio/AFP

The Southern African Development Community (SADC) is, for the most part, stable, says the writer. File picture: Ampe Rogerio/AFP

Published May 25, 2022


Once more upon us, Africa Month calls for reflection on the state of the continent and its future. Perhaps the best way of tackling this mammoth task is by assessing current problems and challenges in the continent’s five regions and the wider world; and how these might impact Africa’s trajectory.

Except for the conflict in Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province and the intermittent to general political strife in Lesotho, Eswatini and Zimbabwe, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) is, for the most part, stable. SADC should, in keeping with its parlance, “remain ceased” with the situation in these countries for obvious reasons.

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Poverty in the region and elsewhere on the continent remains the single biggest challenge requiring the undivided attention of our governments, the corporate sector and civil society. It is one of the push factors for much of the migrant inflows into South Africa and Europe via the Mediterranean Sea in the Maghreb region of North Africa.

We can be certain that if the SADC and the wider African economy do not grow inclusively, there will be increased migrant inflows, with potential discord among ordinary people, exacerbated by opportunistic political entrepreneurs.

Issues such as migration should therefore be a standing item on the agenda of SADC and the African Union (AU). These institutions should invest in finding collective solutions to the thorny issues and their discontents. In the 21st century, solutions will be better realised through regional integration.

We should therefore think of rendering certain public services on a confederal basis, with a common regional identity system (including as it relates to fighting crime) as one of the priority tasks.

Such measures should be predicated on some basics. Insofar as migration is concerned, we should embrace the cardinal truth that it is as old as humanity. It cannot be prevented; only managed.

A related basic, to which we should administer mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, is found in the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP). It counselled: “In the long run, sustainable reconstruction and development in South Africa require sustainable reconstruction and development in Southern Africa as a whole. Otherwise, the region will face continued high unemployment and underemployment, leading to labour migration and brain drain to the more industrialised areas.

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“The democratic government must negotiate with neighbouring countries to forge an equitable and mutually beneficial programme of increasing cooperation, coordination and integration appropriate to the conditions of the region. In this context, the RDP must support the goals and ideals of African integration as laid out in the Lagos Plan of Action and the Abuja Declaration.”

The long and short of it is that none of our countries can develop on their own without a collective co-operative framework.

The African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) which came into force on May 30, 2019 is one of the key provisions of the Lagos Plan of Action and the Abuja Declaration. As the continent’s most industrialised country, South Africa stands to benefit more than other sister African countries through the AfCFTA.

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But let’s face it: our ability to integrate, to be seen and considered as a dependable ally is contingent upon the relations we forge with the rest of the continent. We should continuously pay attention to the way in which our conduct, including our management of migration enhances or otherwise undermines our expressed commitment to building a better Africa and the world, put differently, the African agenda.

Government officials and political office bearers ought to ask themselves whether their handling of migration and other tasks assists us to promote the African agenda on whose success our fate as a country, region and continent depends.

The AU turns 20 this year. Those who recall the decade of the 2000s would be unsurprisingly nostalgic about the unity and cohesion of that period, relative to the present period. Surely, our celebration of Africa Month would be meaningless if we did not commit ourselves to rekindle that sense of unity?

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As the world’s major powers jostle for hegemony, Africa will increasingly become a theatre for their varied and multiple contests. The latest evidence of this is the Countering Malign Russian Activities in Africa Act which was voted by the US Senate on April 27th. The legislation aims to “hold to account African governments and their officials who are complicit in aiding (Russia's) malign influence and activities".

It also enjoins Congress: "Regularly [to] assess the scale and scope of the Russian Federation's influence and activities in Africa that undermine United States objectives and interests, and determine how to address and counter such influence and activities effectively, including through appropriate United States foreign assistance programmes; and to hold accountable the Russian Federation and African governments and their officials who are complicit in aiding such malign influence and activities."

Why is it the responsibility of any party but the Africans to hold governments on the continent accountable? Look at the keywords: “United States objectives and interests,” which Washington will unapologetically pursue even if it means dictating to the Africans who we should relate to and, in the process, usurp our right to self-determine.

Whether one looks at the increase in oil prices, grains and a variety of agricultural inputs, the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian War has shown just how mutually interconnected and dependent the world is. Yet, our government has come under fire from familiar local and international quarters who have, for the longest time, been engaged in a permanent struggle intent on making South Africa a Trojan Horse for interests other than our own.

The offensive proves that in a world whose major powers no longer pretend the end of the cold war, non-alignment, as conceived in the 1955 Bandung Conference, has never been more relevant.

As for Africa, we should expedite our integration, and strengthen our unity of purpose and relations with the global south to secure Africa’s and humanity’s future.

*Pakati is executive mayor of the Buffalo City Metropolitan Municipality, chairperson of the South African Cities Network Council, and deputy president of the South African Local Government Association.