The year 2013 holds the key to several important regional milestones, including the implementation of an ambitious programme to develop cross-border infrastructure and the conclusion of electoral processes leading to polls in two SADC member states.
The Regional Infrastructure Development Master Plan will lead future cooperation and planning, which is essential for attracting investment into the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and promoting intra-and inter-regional trade as well as foreign direct investment.
Estimated to cost US$500 billion, the master plan will guide SADC's implementation of coordinated, integrated, trans-boundary infrastructure networks in the six priority sectors of energy, transport, tourism, information technology, meteorology and water.
An infrastructure investment conference is expected to be held early this year to attract potential investors, with road shows in Asia, Europe and the United States.
Another important milestone for 2013 is that it is final year before the target set by regional power utilities for stability in the electricity supply situation.
The region has been experiencing a power deficit in recent years due to growing demand against limited expansion in generation capacity.
Almost all SADC member states have embarked on projects to boost their electricity generation capacity, in initiatives ranging from conventional infrastructure projects to innovations, and short term to long term plans.
According to the Southern African Power Pool that groups power utilities from 12 SADC member states, the electricity deficit will be erased by 2014, provided that planned generation projects are implemented on time.
In this regard, the year 2013 provides SADC member states with an opportunity to intensify their implementation and align them with the 2014 target.
The year is also expected to witness the conclusion of the first phase of negotiations on the establishment of the Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA) involving the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), East African Community (EAC) and SADC.
The Tripartite Trade Negotiation Forum involving the three regional economic communities completed the preparatory phase of negotiations in 2012 and has proceeded to phase one.
Negotiations for the TFTA will be conducted in three phases - preparatory phase, phase one and phase two. The preparatory phase mainly involved the exchange of relevant information, including tariffs applicable in each country as well as trade data and measures.
Phase one negotiations will cover core FTA issues of tariff liberalization, rules of origin, customs procedures and simplification of customs documentation. Facilitating movement of business persons within the region will be negotiated in parallel with phase one.
Phase two of negotiations is expected to cover trade in services and trade-related issues including intellectual property rights, competition policy, and trade development and competitiveness.
According to the roadmap adopted at the second joint COMESA-EAC-SADC Summit in June 2011, all negotiations for the so-called Grand FTA should be completed within 36 months. COMESA-EAC-SADC are expected launch the single FTA by 2016.
A main challenge to regional development in 2013, in addition to the uncertain global financial environment, is the conflict in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Initiated by anti-government rebels, the conflict has generated a massive humanitarian crisis, with serious implications for regional integration and socio-economic development.
SADC leaders have expressed "great concern" at deterioration in the security situation, noting that "this is being perpetrated by rebel groups with assistance of Rwanda. and constitutes a threat to peace and stability, not only of the DRC, but also of the SADC region."
The SADC chairperson, President Armando Guebuza of Mozambique, has undertaken a mission to Rwanda, and the SADC Secretariat is working closely with the International Conference for the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR) in pursuit of a solution through dialogue.
2013 should be the year of entering into force of the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development, as one more ratification is needed.
Most SADC member states have ratified this agreement and there is quantifiable progress at various levels toward the equality and empowerment of women alongside men in southern Africa.
The regional target is gender parity - 50:50 by 2015.
With regard to political situation in the region, long-awaited elections in Madagascar are scheduled for this year, ending a protracted political dispute in the Indian Ocean Island.
The first round of Madagascar's presidential elections is scheduled for 8 May, with a second round set for 3 July. The Malagasy president is elected by majority vote through a two-round system to serve a five-year term.
The Independent National Election Commission of the Transition has said that parliamentary elections will be held concurrently with the second round of the presidential vote on 3 July, with municipal elections tentatively set for 23 October.
Madagascar's political parties signed a roadmap in 2011 in an agreement brokered by SADC mediators, which allowed for the unconditional return from exile of former president Marc Ravalomanana, who was deposed in 2009 in a coup led by opposition leader Andry Rajoelina.
Ravalomanana, who is exiled in South Africa, announced in December 2012 that he will not stand for election and urged his rival to follow suit. But Rajoelina has not yet made his decision known.
Another important milestone will be the anticipated end of the process to develop a new constitution for Zimbabwe and the holding of general elections this year.
SADC, represented by South African President Jacob Zuma, is facilitating the process of implementation of the Global Political Agreement in Zimbabwe, but the closure has been delayed by the lengthy process of drafting a new Constitution to replace the one inherited at Independence in 1980, following the Lancaster House agreement.
A draft Constitution prepared by an inter-party parliamentary committee is expected to be put to a referendum in early 2013, if outstanding issues are resolved.
In addition to the polls in Madagascar and Zimbabwe, local government and parliamentary elections are expected in Mozambique and Swaziland, respectively.
With regard to sport, four SADC member states will participate at the 2013 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) hosted by South Africa in January and February. These are Angola, DRC, South Africa and defending champions Zambia. sardc.net
SANF is produced by the Southern African Research and Documentation Centre (SARDC), which has monitored regional developments since 1985. Email firstname.lastname@example.org