Lilongwe — Malawian President Joyce Banda has set poverty alleviation as the top priority of her tenure as incoming chair of SADC, promising to champion policies and programmes to improve the agricultural and rural sectors.
Noting the linkage between poverty and political stability, Banda said the Southern African Development Community (SADC) should redouble efforts to reduce hunger in the region.
Promising to bring SADC “closer to the people”, Banda said she would target ending “the contemporary, deliberate and savage violence of poverty and underdevelopment” during the coming year.
“To win this war …we must promote inclusive politics. In this, we cannot afford to leave the youth behind. We cannot afford to leave women behind. We cannot afford to leave the poor to look after the poor,” Banda said in her acceptance speech during the 33rd SADC Ordinary Summit held in Lilongwe, Malawi on 17-18 August.
She said agriculture is the backbone of most economies in the region, yet little is being done to support the sector.
“Stimulating this sector would transform the livelihoods of our people and provide the foundation for the future development of our nations,” she said.
“We therefore, need to work harder to help our smallholder and commercial farmers to build, grow and sustain their businesses, to feed ourselves and access new markets beyond our region,” she said, noting that the theme for her tenure is “Agricultural Development and Agro-Industries: Key to Economic Growth and Poverty Eradication.”
Among other things, the incoming SADC chair promised to push for innovative agricultural policies and programmes in the region such as effective extension services and affordable inputs which have the capacity to promote rural development and boost food security.
She said any policies on agriculture and rural development should be aligned to other regional plans on infrastructure and industrial development as well as gender development.
“We sincerely hope that economic policy coordination in the SADC system will be harnessed in order not only to accelerate growth but also to reduce poverty, widen economic opportunities and enhance human development.”
She urged member countries to involve all stakeholders, particularly the youth and women in the planning and implementation of regional programmes.
This will involve the revival of SADC National Committees in member states. The committees, meant to increase the participation of non-state actors in SADC programmes and projects, have not been effective in most countries.
Such committees are operational in four SADC member states and only exist on paper in other countries.
The SADC summit approved a number of decisions that aim to deepen integration and promote socio-economic development.
According to a communiqué released after the Summit, southern African leaders expressed commitment to promoting trade and the free movement of persons and goods across the region.
“Summit received a report from the Ministerial Taskforce on Regional Economic Integration outlining progress made on the SADC regional economic integration agenda and reiterated its commitment to the establishment of the Tripartite Free Trade Area,” reads part of the communiqué.
The ministerial task force was mandated by SADC leaders a few years ago to work on a roadmap for the proposed launch of the SADC Customs Union and Tripartite Free Trade Area involving two other regional economic communities.
The proposed Tripartite FTA will cover 26 countries in eastern and southern Africa and will have a combined population of almost 600 million and a total Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of about US$1 trillion.
On infrastructure development, the SADC leaders noted progress in “marketing of the infrastructure projects” contained in the Regional Infrastructure Development Master Plan.
The master plan is a 15-year blueprint that will guide the implementation of cross-border infrastructure projects between 2013 and 2027. It will be implemented over three five-year intervals - short term (2012-2017), medium term (2017-2022) and long term (2022-2027).
SADC has held infrastructure investment conferences within the region and abroad to showcase various opportunities in the infrastructure sector and attract investment.
At a recent SADC Infrastructure Investment Conference held in Mozambique in late June, a total of 106 cross-border infrastructure projects covering the priority sectors of energy, transport, tourism, water, information communication technology and meteorology were presented to investors.
On the political situation, the leaders were happy that “the region remained generally peaceful and stable.” However, there is need to address the challenges in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Madagascar.
On DRC, the summit called for an urgent summit of SADC and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR). DRC is a member to both SADC and ICGLR, and there are currently two parallel processes being undertaken by both bodies to address the political crisis.
DRC slid into political turmoil early last year when anti-government rebels calling themselves the March 23 movement invaded and captured the city of Goma, causing displacement of people and loss of lives and property.
SADC noted with satisfaction “the positive developments unfolding in Madagascar, especially with regard to the decision of the newly formed Special Electoral Committee to withdraw nine candidates from the presidential race.
These candidates include Andry Rajoelina, Lalao Ravalomanana the wife of former President Marc Ravalomanana and former President Didier Ratsiraka, who had ignored a decision by SADC not to participate in the polls.
Madagascar is in a constitutional crisis following the ouster of former Ravalomanana by Rajoelina in 2009, in a similar method used by Ravalomanana on Ratsiraka a few years back.
The summit congratulated Zimbabwe for “the holding of free and peaceful harmonized elections,” and reiterated its call for the lifting of all forms of sanctions imposed on the country.
The summit witnessed the appointment of Stergomena Lawrence Tax, permanent secretary of the Ministry of East African Cooperation in Tanzania, as new executive secretary.
She takes over from Tomaz Augusto Salamao of Mozambique who has served two four-year terms.
Zimbabwe was elected deputy SADC chair and will host the next summit in August 2014.