Lusaka — A Consultative Meeting of the Bureau of the 25th Intergovernmental Committee of Senior Officials and Experts (ICSOE) of Southern Africa took place on 17th August 2020 and reconfirmed that the 26th ICSOE's theme will be, "Policies and Strategies towards Effective Private Sector led Growth and Job Creation". This will build on the work that has been accomplished by the two past ICSOE's which focused on supporting the industrialization process in Southern Africa.
The ICSOE is a United Nations (UN) General Assembly policy sub-organ of the UN Economic Commission of Africa (ECA) Conference of African Ministers of Finance, Planning and Economic Development established to provide a Forum for engaging member States' senior policy makers and experts on policy and programme-related matters in each of the five (5) sub regions of Africa. It is an integral part of ECA's governance machinery and meets annually to consider, provide guidance and endorse the overall formulation and implementation of the Sub Regional Office (SRO's) programme of work. Tuesday's consultative meeting was attended by members of the Bureau of the 25th ICSOE of Southern Africa; Eswatini (Chair), Lesotho (Vice Chair) and Malawi (Rapporteur), representatives of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) and Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA) and staff of the Sub-Region Office for Southern Africa (SRO-SA).
The meeting was officially opened by Mr. Mluleki Sakhile Dlamini, Director - MSME, Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Trade, representing the Government of the Kingdom of Eswatini, Chair of the Bureau who emphasized that, "this meeting was a great opportunity for the Bureau, SADC, COMESA and the Secretariat to review progress in the implementation of the approved work programme, introspect on the technical support to member States and regional economic communities and reflect more intensely on emerging regional challenges and opportunities." He highlighted that the COVID-19 pandemic and industrialization as being major issues providing a framework for supporting development in Southern Africa. He pointed out that the pandemic had derailed planned development programmes and exposed structural frailties of the Southern African region, "including the dangers of narrow commodity dependence and the weaknesses of supply chains and this will invariably undermine regional economic growth which was expected to contract by about 4.5 percent this year."
In his welcoming remarks, SRO-SA Officer in Charge, Sizo Mhlanga also placed emphasis on progress made by the Office in delivering support to member States and other stakeholders despite the COVID-19 challenges. He noted that the pandemic had widened the challenges confronting member States and thus the demand for support has increased. He informed the Bureau that, the office had continued to support stakeholders through virtual meetings such as the National Stakeholder meeting held on the 3rd August 2020 to provide an integrated and inclusive platform for the development of an effective financing model to address the needs and challenges of micro small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) in the Kingdom of Eswatini. He noted that the Bureau recommendations for refocusing the work programme towards COVID-19 support would be taken into consideration.
The opening remarks were followed by SRO-SA reports on the activities of ECA, recent support to stakeholders, programme implementation, planned activities and challenges in programme delivery. The SRO-SA reports included: ECA activities in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, recent technical support to regional member States and Regional Economic Commissions (RECs), planned technical support to regional member States and RECs and a report on the ICSOE in the Work of ECA in Southern Africa and the role of the Bureau.
Meanwhile, the attendance of COMESA and SADC was key to the meeting's discussions on regional integration, the African Continental Free Trade Area and industrialization efforts. Mr. Innocent Makwiramiti, COMESA Senior Private Sector Development Officer advised the meeting that the COVID-19 challenge was an opportunity for Southern Africa to venture into areas such as, "reshaping manufacturing, strengthening sector competitiveness through consolidation and innovation, catalyzing the consolidation of the formalization of MSMEs, acceleration of digital transformation, mobilization of regional resources for increased industry production and including diaspora funding, promotion of integrated regional manufacturing and domestication of regional policies."
He reported on some of the regional projects such as the 11th European Union (EU) Fund (EDF) to assist in implementing the Regional Enterprise Competitiveness and Access to Markets Programme (RECAMP) aimed at the development of the private sectors through enhancing private sector competitiveness in the COMESA region. "Zimbabwe and Zambia will collaborate more by setting up joint ventures, which utilize complementarities of national resources, value-addition skills, technology, marketing and among other capabilities. Priority sectors with comparative advantage will include agriculture and agro-industries, mining and mineral processing, petrochemicals, fertilizers and pharmaceuticals, capital goods industries, textiles, forest-based industries, building materials and knowledge economy among others," he noted.
Dr. Johannsen Rutaihwa, the SADC Senior Program Officer-Industrialization and Competitiveness, presented the SADC industrialization strategy and advised that SADC had supported 13 member States in capacity building using the 'Enhancing the Quality of Industrial Policies' (EQuIP) methodology. He informed the meeting that SADC had also developed key strategic actions to bridge the gap between supply and demand of products in four high priority agro-processing value chains; rice, wheat, soybeans and cotton; developed and adopted the Protocol on Industry which was a legal instrument aimed at improving and harmonizing the policy environment for industrial development and support the implementation of the regional industrialization strategy and roadmap; launched the SADC Business Council in August, 2019 and implemented the Industrial Upgrading and Modernization Programme (IUMP). He concluded that, "to address the scarcity of skills necessary to accelerate industrial development, there was need to develop capabilities and capacities in SADC."
The meeting proffered recommendations on how SRO-SA could best promote inclusive industrialization in Southern Africa through supporting regional member States and RECs towards building back better and faster post-COVID-19 pandemic. The Committee's recommendations would ensure that the specific development imperatives of the sub regions were fully reflected in the overall work programme of ECA. The committee endorsed the 28th and 29th October 2020 as the meeting dates for the 26th ICSOE and urged the Secretariat to work with the member States for country-level logistical arrangements to facilitate smooth convening of the virtual meeting.