Leaders from 14 Southern African countries on Monday began a two-day meeting in Namibia to discuss regional integration on the 30th anniversary of the formation of the Southern African Development Community (SADC).
South African President Jacob Zuma, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe and Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo) President Joseph Kabila were among the leaders or deputy leaders attending the SADC summit in Namibia’s capital, Windhoek.
SADC was formed in Lusaka, Zambia, on April 1 1980 under the theme “Towards Economic Liberation.”
It has 15 member countries: Angola, Botswana, DRC, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The Indian Ocean island of Madagascar was not represented at the summit on Monday, having been suspended last year following a coup.
Addressing the opening ceremony, Namibian President Hifikepunye Pohamba, whose country takes over the rotating SADC presidency from DRC, noted that 30 years ago Zimbabwe had just won independence from Britain, while South Africa and Namibia were still ruled by the apartheid regime.
‘Strong democratic culture’
Since then, he said, “Our region has established a strong democratic culture, in which a political transition is regularly achieved through the ballot box.”
The consolidation of democracy had created a climate of stability in the region, which was a prerequisite for development and growth, he said.
“However, more remains to be done,” he said.
“We have an historic opportunity to realise the dream of SADC citizens,” he said, listing poverty eradication, food security, job creation, gender issues and tackling the HIV/Aids pandemic among the bloc’s chief priorities.
Over the next two days, SADC leaders will also discuss economic integration. In 2008, SADC launched a Free Trade Area (FTA) among its members, encompassing a market of more than 260-million people. It now aims to launch a customs union by next year and a full-blown monetary union by 2018.
SADC also wants to expand the FTA to include the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (Comesa), and the East African Community (EAC). The three economic groupings together represent 26 countries — nearly half of Africa.
While most of Southern Africa is democratic and stable, some SADC members, such as Madagascar, Swaziland and Zimbabwe, have undemocratic regimes and/or poor human rights records. The situations in these countries is also up for discussion at the summit. — Sapa-dpa