The Herald (Harare)

Africa: Poverty - Southern Africa's Major Challenge

Harare — Two Zimbabwean high school pupils did Zimbabwe proud when they won the first and second prizes in the 2007 Sadc Schools Essay Competition at the just-ended Sadc Summit in Lusaka, Zambia.

Today we reproduce the winning entry by Diana Kawendu of Mabelreign Girls' High School, who was accorded the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to read her essay in front of the 14 Sadc Heads of State and Government gathered for the 27th Summit at Mulungushi International Conference Centre.

THE Southern African Development Community was formerly called the Southern African Development Co-ordination Conference. It was initiated in an attempt to achieve economic independence, economic growth and development in the sub-region.

As clearly stated by Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos: "Our unity of effort in the struggle for economic independence of our people becomes the necessary condition to guarantee our own sovereignty and security. The successes which Sadcc can achieve constitute a great contribution to the struggle of the peoples of Southern Africa against oppression, exploitation and discrimination."

The Southern African Development Community initially was based on economic growth. It wanted to reduce economic dependence and forge links to create genuine and equitable regional integration. The member states also wanted to mobilise the region's resources in order to promote implementation of national, interstate and regional policies. They also wanted concerted action to secure international co-operation within the overall strategy of economic liberation.

The summit of heads of state and government headed the former SADCC. It was aided by the Council of Ministers and, lastly, there was a committee that included officials from member countries. In order to ensure that all member states shared all responsibilities of co-ordinating the activities of SADCC, a programme of action was put in place.

There were nine member states. Angola was responsible for energy conservation and development; Botswana was given responsibility for agricultural research and animal disease control; Malawi was in charge of fisheries, wildlife and forestry; Mozambique was accountable for the transport and communication of the region's development.

Swaziland was given responsibility for human resources development with the help of Tanzania that was responsible for industrial development. Zambia was responsible for mining and the Southern African development fund. Zimbabwe was responsible for food security.

With the independence of Namibia in 1989 and South Africa in 1994 the Southern African Development Co-ordination Conference was transformed into the Southern African Development Community. Sadc also wanted to promote political co-operation among member states and the evolution of common political value systems and institutions.

The Sadc also aimed at the enhancement of the development of democratic institutions and also the promotion of peace. Presently, Sadc comprises 14 countries as follows: Angola, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, the Seychelles, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The Sadc region's group members can also be termed as the low economically developed countries. Poverty is one of the main features of the latter countries. Poverty is defined as the state of being poor or lack of money or goods.

Poverty is characterised by conditions of shortages of basic social services such as hospitals, education, existence of shantytowns, high birth rates and death rates due to pandemics, notably HIV/Aids and inadequate nutrition.

"In developing countries, one person in three lives in poverty. Even basic social services, primary healthcare, basic education, safe drinking water and adequate nutrition are not available to more than one billion people," says the 1999 Human Development Report.

Most member group countries experience lack of education facilities and thus leading to high crime levels and prostitution, which is also a sign of poverty. In most poor countries, poverty is the biggest driver of the Aids pandemic.

Since the mid-80s when HIV/Aids was identified in most countries of the region, there has been a rapid increase in the numbers of adults and children infected with, and dying from HIV and Aids, with a corresponding adverse impact on the socio-economic development of the region.HIV/Aids is now arresting or even reversing the major socio-economic gains of the past two decades in such areas as health, agriculture and education.

Health caresystems are overwhelmed with HIV/Aids patients with the result that health workers are overburdened, health care costs are escalating and acute conditions are being "crowded out". Conditions such as tuberculosis (TB) which were almost being brought under control in the 1970s have re-emerged as a result of the HIV/Aids epidemic, further straining the overstretched health care systems.

South African President Thabo Mbeki is on record as saying: "The cause of Aids becoming a pandemic in sub-Saharan region is because of poverty." So one feature of poverty is the prevalence of diseases, not only Aids, but also water-borne diseases.

Poverty within the Southern African region has been caused by flooding. For example, Mozambique has been a victim of recurring floods. This has caused widespread poverty in the country as evidenced by massive crop destruction, resulting in people being undernourished and loss of infrastructure, including roads and homes, leaving thousands homeless or living in shantytowns.

Drought has also contributed to poverty in the Southern African region. It has lowered water levels in dams powering hydro-power stations, leading to an energy crisis that has translated into intermittent power cuts and load-shedding in some countries.

This has also affected investment and has threatened expansion plans of companies that have invested within the region. To some extent it has resulted in the closure of many manufacturing industries and by so doing creating unemployment which, in turn, condemns millions to a life of poverty.

There are some political reasons for poverty in the Southern African region. The colonisation of Africa robbed the indigenous people of their means of production -- land -- which was the cornerstone of the African continent's economy.

Poverty struck Africans to an extent that they were perceived as tools for the provision of labour. The dispossession of Africans left them settling in arid lands where crop cultivation was difficult, leading to poverty.

Lack of basic education is another major cause of poverty in the Southern African region. The levels of illiteracy in the member group states are quite high. It is because of lack of knowledge the people in this region cannot develop themselves. Even though some have the opportunity to acquire knowledge, knowledge that the Southern African region provides is the semi-skilled employment.

Although some countries like Zimbabwe have set up practical subjects in schools like woodwork and technical graphics, the setting up of such an education system that was meant for the semi-skilled is actually colonially inclined. This form of education has found some being retrenched and left unemployed resulting in loss of income and poverty.

Another economic factor that has contributed to poverty is the inability by some member states to attract capital investment. This has contributed to the lack of capital. To some extent this has led to inflation, which also discourages capital investment and economic growth.

Gender imbalance in the society is still a contributing factor to poverty. There is still need for women within the Sadc region to be empowered and elevated to decision-making positions in both the public and private sectors.

Zimbabwe and South Africa are leading the way in gender equity. Both have female vice-presidents, namely Mrs Joice Mujuru and Mrs Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka. All 14 member countries also boast a number of female Cabinet ministers.

But despite major strides in this respect, there is need to open more doors to women in other spheres. After all, women account for 60 percent of the economy in most developing countries, Sadc included. It is estimated that over a year, women in Tanzania, for example, perform 3 060 hours of work compared to 1 829 hours for men.

The SADCC was able to address poverty within the region in different ways. By 1987 when member states met at least 500 projects covering the sectors of agriculture, natural resources, industry and commerce were identified and implemented. This created jobs, hence reducing poverty.

SADCC was founded on the development of transport networks and links. The Beira Corridor linking Mutare and the port city of Beira was rehabilitated. The same was true of other road/rail routes to the sea, notably Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, Lobito in Angola and Maputo in Mozambique.

The Sadc at present has summed up all their problems caused by poverty for instance the president of South Africa referred to the Aids pandemic as being the cause of poverty due to shortages of drugs in Africa. There is a rampant spread of Aids in Africa, resulting in poverty. There is an increase in mortality rate. This leaves child-headed families who are unable to fund themselves, thus increasing poverty in Africa.

Since poverty is caused by lack of education or is characterised by low levels of literacy in a bid to fight poverty, Sadc member states at present have been able to make changes in the education sector.

Countries such as Zimbabwe and Namibia have set up exchange programmes for training teachers. At present most teachers' colleges in Zimbabwe have enrolled students from other countries. This has been one way of eradicating poverty.

The political unrest within the regional economic bloc has also contributed to poverty since most resources are destroyed leaving people in a needy state. Sadc member states have been able to address this cause of poverty that slows development at national and regional stage.

Two countries, including DRC, have signed peacekeeping agreements whereby the Zimbabwean soldiers were sent to DRC on a mission to maintain peace. This has been one way of addressing poverty. If peace is maintained, development takes place, thus helping to reduce poverty.

Most Sadc member states are actively promoting small and medium-scale enterprises as a poverty alleviation measure. In the absence of formal employment, many families have fallen back on SMEs to sustain themselves.

In Zimbabwe the annual Zimbabwe International Trade Fair has opened its doors to SMEs, thus giving them access to a wider market for their goods and services. In addition, ZITF has been able to bring companies from most Sadc member states to share ideas on how to improve the economic and social sectors of the region. This, too, has gone a long way in fighting poverty.

Sadc also took poverty from a political perspective whereby poverty has been caused by the inaccessibility of the means of production and countries like Zimbabwe engaged in the land redistribution in the year 2000 as a way of eradicating poverty among the millions of families trying to eke out a living on barren soils.

The United Nations Economic Commission for African countries promotes access to land by citizenship so as to spur economic development on the continent. The UNECA Southern African director Ms Jennifer Kargbo mentions that land was a vital tool for economic development for most African countries that are predominantly agro-based.

Land redistribution was a noble policy for empowering Africans to own land and become productive. Most African countries have been able to empower their people by giving them land so as to fight poverty. Sadc member states have decided to meet and discuss ways of increasing productivity. That way poverty is slowly eradicated since when productivity increases, there is an increase in food supply.

Sadc member states are meeting in Lusaka in order to address the need for political stability, so as to curb poverty. Sadc recognises that the economic problems in Zimbabwe where inflation is running at 4 500 percent, leading to poverty, is as a result of a bilateral dispute with Britain, mainly arising from the land issue.

On the political situation in the country, the (extraordinary) summit (in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania) mandated President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa to continue to facilitate dialogue between the opposition MDC and the Government and report back to the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security on its progress. This has been a way proposed to further its economic group, thus eradicating poverty.

With promoting economic growth so as to alleviate poverty during the summit in Dar es Salaam, the members discussed the political situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Lesotho. Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili, resolved to render unconditional support to Mr. Kabila's government in its quest to restore law and order, maintain peace and stability and spearhead national reconstruction, thus fight poverty.

The Sadc reaffirmed the right of the DRC to have a single national army and urged former vice-president Jean Pierre Bemba to integrate his remaining armed elements into the national army or to be demobilised.

In this manner, in a bid to maintain peace, the Southern African states will be creating a staircase reaching economic development and if economic development is achieved then poverty will be history.

The leaders President Bingu wa Mutharika of Malawi, President Armando Guebuza of Mozambique, President Hifikepunye Pohamba of Namibia, the Prime Minister of Swaziland Themba Dhlamini and President Levy Mwanawasa of Zambia re-iterated that the rule of law in the DRC must be observed and respected by all parties in conformity with accepted international conditions not only in DRC but in the region as a whole to promote peace and wealth creation.

Now steps can be taken by the Sadc and its members to change its state of poverty. The Free Trade Agreement is one of the region's aims. This is a brilliant idea that can boost the economies of the Southern African region. It allows for the gradual phasing out of tariff barriers and most other trade barriers. This provides free trade which will boost economic growth and help reduce poverty. This is a commitment to liberalise trade in services and to facilitate investment flows between the countries which will contribute to the end of poverty.

Although steps have been taken by some member states to emancipate women by putting them in high positions of authority to end poverty it is essential for some member states to follow suit. With particular reference in Zimbabwe, Vice President Mujuru has taken steps to alleviate poverty.

She has managed to incorporate women into small co-operatives involving poultry and horticulture activities. This can also be one way that other member states can emulate so as to eradicate poverty, because by empowering women there is bound to be economic growth.

Women, by virtue of being made leaders by heading the family and knowing well the improvements that are needed within the agricultural sector will further boost the economy and poverty will be eradicated.

The Sadc region can eradicate poverty by only increasing economic growth. This economic growth can be achieved by the improvement, improvisation, innovation and invention to encourage economic development. China, for instance, was a country that was overpopulated and this presented a problem of poverty.

Today China is the fastest growing economy in the world and an inventing nation because during the cultural revolution of China it was a closed nation with its own brand of economic, social and political activity. The period was infamous for cultural and social turmoil but economically the country made a Chinese version of every product.

Economic experimentation was conducted away from the vagaries of global markets and competition which can be done on a regional level within the Southern African region member states and promote economic growth within the region.

This trade protectionism in China understood that for a bad product to survive another day, it must find a market. This explains the importance of closed markets for batching local products and pioneering development.

The economy was producing mainly poor quality goods to the extent that by 1989, China had mounted a campaign against shoddy goods. Companies were at different stages of technological development.

The countries of Southern Africa must be careful not to set very high standards that disqualify our own people from participating in the economic race therefore empowering the nations own incentives on production development and thus putting an end to poverty.

The Chinese were making economic experiments through trial and error. Out of experimentation came mastery and out of mastery emerged the economic revolution that is founded on the strengths and knowledge of the indigenous people of China.

This is exactly what the Southern African region needs for economic growth at national level. The Sadc should also note that what is important is that economic development of countries is not solely dependent on human resources but needs a principled long-term perspective that recognises the stages of development. A domestic economy must be developed under policies that favour local companies.An example is Zimbabwe with diamonds which have been discovered therefore can take the expensive route of buying its way to technological advancement and thus empowering the economy and solving the problem of poverty.

One sign of poverty within the Southern African region is the strain on resources. It is a region that is facing energy shortages as climatic change intermittently turns off the switch on hydroelectric power generation results in the oil prices remaining exorbitantly high. However, in such a situation with the extraction of minerals such as uranium, poverty can be eradicated.

In Tanzania, the energy problem reached crisis proportions when urbanites had to endure 18-hour power cuts and some industrialists considered closing up and this led to low levels of employment and low levels of productivity which are essential in economic growth to curb poverty. Yet Tanzania is home to rich uranium deposits along the Mkuja River. Poverty will persist in Tanzania if they allow the Australian uranium firm Mantra Resources to exploit this uranium.

Tanzania on its own should start exploiting its minerals and promote indigenous mineral growth. Its neighbours -- Zambia, Mozambique and DRC -- should also benefit from this mineral resource. This will enable the further generation of energy and will increase productivity which is the answer to poverty.

Sadc is well equipped to eradicate poverty. It has the resources and facilities. What is needed is for Sadc to stick to their objectives always and promote co-operation among all member states.

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