Southern Africa has commenced the process of formulating a new cooperation and regional integration strategy to succeed the current development blueprint that is expected to end in 2020.
The Revised Regional Indicative Strategic Master Plan (RISDP), which was approved in 2015, is expected to end in 2020 and the wheels have already been set in motion to craft a new development blueprint to shape Southern Africa's regional integration agenda post-2020.
To kick-start the process, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Secretariat recently convened a Consultative Conference on the Post-2020 SADC Development Cooperation and Integration Strategy in Johannesburg, South Africa.
The purpose of the conference was to obtain expert assessments and analysis of the implementation of the Revised RISDP and the blueprint governing SADC cooperation in the political sector, the Revised Strategic Indicative Plan for the Organ on Defence, Peace and Security Cooperation (SIPO).
The conference, which was attended by SADC officials, academia and researchers, provided the experts with an opportunity to "critically exercise the facilitative issues in regional cooperation and integration", and to identify priorities for post-2020 SADC regional development cooperation and integration.
The consultative process is expected to lead to the development of a framework for a post-2020 regional strategy that takes into account SADC Principles and Common Principles as well as global and continental processes such as the African Union's Agenda 2063 and the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals.
The experts noted that there is need to maximise synergies in the implementation of the two pillars of SADC activities - political and security cooperation as identified under SIPO, and developmental integration as covered by the RISDP.
SIPO is a five-year strategic document that establishes SADC's institutional framework for policy coordination and implementation in politics, defence and security cooperation, and was first developed in 2003.
The core objective of SIPO is to create a peaceful and stable political and security environment through which the region will realise its objectives of socio-economic development, poverty eradication, and regional integration.
The RISDP was first approved by SADC leaders in 2003 as a blueprint for regional integration and development. It was revised in 2015 as part of efforts to realign the region's development agenda in line with new realities and emerging global dynamics.
It is envisaged that the post-2020 SADC development cooperation Vision 2050 should provide a framework for a long-term vision for SADC as the region seeks to position itself in a context of emerging global and continental issues such as climate change, democratisation of the United Nations and increasing financial instability.
According to SADC chairperson King Mswati III of Swaziland, the intention is to set in motion a development agenda that takes into account the dynamics of events and issues affecting not only the Southern African region, but also the rest of the world.
Such dynamics include current regional efforts to introduce measures aimed at strengthening implementation of the integration agenda and promoting inclusive participation by citizens in regional programmes.
Among the measures agreed by the SADC Strategic Ministerial Retreat on the "SADC We Want" held in Ezulwini, Swaziland, in March is the need to develop a mechanism for improving implementation of the regional integration agenda.
"What is important at this stage is to ensure that the conclusions of the Retreat assist in further defining the direction that SADC should take after the expiry of the Revised RISDP in 2020," King Mswati said during a visit to the SADC Secretariat in May.
"The time to start thinking about the future of SADC post-2020 is now, and this process should be as consultative as possible for both the member states and the various relevant stakeholders," he added.
The ministerial retreat directed the SADC Secretariat to develop effective compliance, monitoring and assurance mechanisms to track progress in implementation of SADC programmes as well as compliance to protocols and legal instruments.
Since the transformation of SADC in 1992 from the Southern African Development Coordination Conference, a total of 33 protocols have been signed by member states to push forward the regional integration agenda.
However, only 26 protocols have been ratified and entered into force to date.
According to SADC legal statutes, any signed regional protocol must be ratified for it to enter into force as a legal entity. At least two-thirds of the member states (10 countries) are required to ratify a protocol for it to enter into force.
The approval of a regional legal instrument requires, first, signing, and then ratification - a process that differs from country to country, with some requiring approval of parliament.
The slow implementation of strategic documents by SADC countries has affected regional integration, resulting in most people in the region failing to fully realise maximum benefits of belonging to a share community in Southern Africa.
The retreat called on the SADC Secretariat to prioritise programmes by focusing on infrastructure development, industrialisation and market integration, with peace and security as a prerequisite for economic development.
The ministerial retreat called on the Secretariat to undertake a comprehensive review of SADC organs, including the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation, in order to rationalise and streamline decision-making and enhance effectiveness and efficiency.
It was noted that the review should propose delegation of decision-making to lower levels. For example, only key decisions should be taken to the Council of Ministers and the Summit of Heads of State and Government while other decision-making should be delegated to lower organs when it is cost-effective.
The retreat recommended that the SADC Secretariat should develop an effective engagement mechanism to strengthen participation of the private sector at all levels. It was noted that the lack of direct involvement by the private sector is a barrier to economic development.