The year 2014 will see infrastructure development and elections in southern Africa as well as efforts to address the longstanding goals for the target year of 2015, including gender equality targets.
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) will also address conflict resolution and peace-building within its borders, mainly in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Madagascar.
During this year, SADC will finalize the mid-term review of its 15-year development plan, and Malawi will hand over the chair of the regional development organization to Zimbabwe.
Infrastructure and energy development will remain key intervention areas in 2014, as an efficient and cost-effective transport network and stable energy supplies are critical to a thriving economy at both national and regional levels.
SADC has adopted an ambitious US$64-billion programme to develop cross-border infrastructure in six priority areas of energy, transport, tourism, water, information communication technology and meteorology.
Implementation of this programme started in 2013 and will gain momentum in 2014 as the region plans to develop a total of 106 cross-border projects during the first phase, by 2017.
Investment and finance for the regional infrastructure programme will be sought in 2014 following an initial investment conference held in Mozambique last year when a number of potential investors expressed interest in funding some of the projects.
Additional investment conferences are planned for this year in Asia, Europe and the United States.
The infrastructure master plan contains three five-year phases for implementation - short term (2012-2017), medium term (2017-2022) and long term (2022-2027).
SADC will continue to strengthen energy development at regional level to address power shortages that have hindered economic growth and development since 2007, due to diminishing generation capacity and growth in demand.
SADC member states, through the Southern African Power Pool (SAPP), have identified priority energy projects to be implemented in the short-term with a target of power self-sufficiency by 2018.
SAPP plans to add 4,670 megawatts of new electricity to the regional grid in 2014, with new generation capacity coming mainly from South Africa and Angola.
With regard to trade, SADC is expected to sign a historic agreement this year with the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the East Africa Community (EAC) to establish an expanded market covering 26 countries.
The agreement aims to boost intra-regional trade, increase investment and promote the development of cross-regional infrastructure.
According to the COMESA-EAC-SADC Tripartite Task Force, the agreement will be signed by June, enabling the launch of the so-called "Grand" Free Trade Area (FTA), with a combined population of some 600 million people and a Gross Domestic Product of about US$1 trillion.
The proposed FTA will cover half of the member states of the African Union, spanning the entire southern and eastern regions of Africa - from Cape to Cairo.
Peace and stability are key ingredients for the success of these development initiatives, and so mechanisms for peace-building and peace-keeping will be strengthened in 2014, particularly with regard to Madagascar following the recent presidential and parliamentary elections, and also DRC.
The DRC government has been confronting rebels in the mineral-rich eastern part of the country bordering on Rwanda and Uganda, with the help of United Nations and SADC peacekeeping forces. A worrying new development is the conflict in the Central African Republic on DRC's northern border.
The SADC Regional Peacekeeping Training Centre will continue to strengthen and expand its training of military, police and civilian peacekeepers for deployment by member states as required.
Voters in five SADC countries will go to the polls this year in national elections to select their President and Members of Parliament for the next five years, and in some cases also provincial assemblies.
South Africa will hold elections in April, Malawi in May, and Botswana in September/October. Mozambique has set the election date for 15 October, and Namibia will hold elections towards the end of the year.
The outcomes of the five polls are being closely watched by neighbouring countries and others within and outside Africa.
The United Republic of Tanzania is expected to complete the process of drafting a new constitution this year, in preparation for elections in 2015, while Zambia is also completing a constitutional review before elections in 2016.
These constitutions and the various elections will impact on the key regional targets for increasing the number of women in decision-making in SADC Member States.
The SADC Protocol on Gender and Development that entered into force last year contains specific targets to be met by 2015, including 50:50 representation by women and men in decision-making positions.
While remarkable progress has been made, most countries in southern Africa are still far from meeting the desired targets of gender parity in political decision-making positions by 2015.
According to the SADC Gender Monitor produced for the SADC Gender Unit by SARDC, only five SADC Member States were close to the target of parity in parliament by mid-2013, having gone above the 30-percent previous threshold set by regional leaders.
These are Seychelles (43.8 percent), South Africa (42.3 percent), Mozambique (39.2 percent), Tanzania (36 percent), Angola (34.1 percent) and Zimbabwe (31.5 percent). A number of other SADC countries are below the 20 percent mark.
SADC's medium and long-term planning encompasses these and other issues such as the availability and management of water resources and river basins, the readiness of the region's population for adaptation and resilience to climate change including indigenous knowledge systems, protection of forests and intellectual property, and collaboration in education and health issues, including HIV and AIDS.
The Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan (RISDP), which was approved in 2003 for implementation over 15 years, is under review at mid-term.
This review commenced with a desk assessment in 2011, and aims to ensure that RISDP targets are realistic and in line with regional agreements as well as continental and global dynamics.
According to the independent mid-term review of the RISDP, there is need for a revision of most SADC targets to align them with the new challenges and emerging issues affecting regional integration.
The initial findings of the RISDP mid-term review were presented during a validation workshop held in Johannesburg, South Africa in July 2013 where a roadmap was agreed for the completion of the process, leading to submission at the 34th SADC Summit scheduled for Zimbabwe in August 2014.
SANF is produced by the Southern African Research and Documentation Centre (SARDC), which has monitored regional developments since 1985. Email <mailto:email@example.com> firstname.lastname@example.org