By Phumla Williams
The 39th Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) that ended in Tanzania on 18 August, shaped up to be one of the most important for the region.
The SADC Summit held under the theme, “A Conducive Business Environment for Inclusive and Sustainable Industrial Development” deliberated on a wide range of issues, including implementation of the region’s operational plans and priority programmes such as industrialisation, trade, infrastructure development, as well as the establishment of a regional parliament and consolidation of peace and security.
During the Summit, President John Magufuli of Tanzania took over the chairmanship of SADC from his Namibian counterpart, President Hage Geingob.
There were also discussions on the status of the implementation of the SADC Industrialisation Strategy and Roadmap. Industrialisation remains the key to unlock economic growth and ensure jobs for our region. The SADC Summit is a platform to work towards greater regional integration and unlocking regional value chains which are key to the industrialisation strategy.
It is therefore essential that we work towards the industrialisation of regional and continental economies. By working together we can grow our economies and create much needed jobs.
It goes without saying that regional integration is the key to Africa’s prosperity. Efforts are underway to accelerate the implementation of the SADC-COMESA-EAC Free Trade Area, which will enhance intra Africa trade and accelerate the achievement of the Continental Free Trade Area.
By harnessing the combined might of the SADC nations we can further boost intra-Africa trade through greater market integration, cross-border infrastructure development, and policy coordination.
SADC leaders have long since realised that regional partnerships are at the heart of good industrial policy. However, the region and governments cannot do it alone. It is imperative that the private sector plays a greater role in the implementation of the SADC Industrialisation Strategy and Roadmap.
A key focus of the SADC strategy is to develop targeted and selected industrial policies that create conditions that will enable higher rates of investment by both the public and private sector into economic infrastructure, which in turn will enable crucial sectors of the economy, particularly value-adding manufacturing, to grow.
Infrastructure is vital for intra-regional and international trade and is central to the goals of poverty eradication and regional integration in southern Africa. Regional infrastructure development creates larger markets and greater economic opportunities. Without infrastructure nothing is possible; the development of infrastructure is critical for promoting and sustaining regional economic development, trade and investment.
This focus goes hand in hand with the development of skills, which will assist the region in developing innovation-led, knowledge based economies. Throughout the world nations are preparing for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, commonly known as 4IR.
In SADC we have to remain ahead of the curve for the reality is that 4IR is changing the way we live, work and relate to each other. The region must tap into the benefits of 4IR to address our socio economic challenges. We dare not fail in this regard because then we will create a divide between those with access to technology and the rest.
The brave new world that was once thought only as science fiction is upon us. How we integrate the region, our people and our economies in the era of 4IR is critical. It is up to us to leverage the potential of this powerful sector. ICT technology and applications are pertinent to address our socio-economic issues in Africa, ensure improved quality of life and creation of wealth.
As part of a powerful regional block we have the potential to share resources and the combined energy of all our people. By harnessing the potential of 4IR we can design ICT infrastructure that allows more African people access to the huge variety of information, services and technologies offered by business, government and local communities.
Opportunities abound on our continent and the region is well placed to reap a rich harvest. The SADC Industrialisation Strategy and Roadmap has been given a further boost with the launch of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which creates a single continental market for goods and services for 1.2 billion people in Africa.
It offers an opportunity to accelerate intra-Africa trade, grow local businesses, create jobs and increase infrastructure development on the continent. The African free trade agreement has the potential to act as a catalyst for Southern African economies and will benefit entrepreneurs, including medium to small businesses. AfCFTA will provide new export opportunities for Southern African products and services as member countries are expected to conduct trade with each other without tariffs or other hindrances.
We call on SADC entrepreneurs take up opportunities created by a single market of goods and services for 1.2 billion people to develop our economy, create jobs and fight poverty in our region.
Phumla Williams is the Acting Director-General at GCIS