As the 40th Southern African Development Community (Sadc) Heads of State and Government first-ever virtual summit started in Mozambique, individual nations, including Malawi, got ready to take stock of the past year and look into the future with renewed vision and confidence.
Indeed, many of the 16 Sadc member countries have lamented that the effects of the Covid-19 global pandemic dampened their plans for the better part of the 2019/2020 fiscal year.
This, however, is just part of the many twists and turns rocking the boat as the Sadc member countries seek to position themselves for optimum gains of the Regional Integration cake.
Malawi is not spared. While it has appropriate plans and systems in place, some things just keep failing to work chief among them being lack of a resilient consultative process at national level.
Section 16 A of the Sadc Treaty enjoins member states to ensure heightened consultative processes in their respective countries.
One of the ways to guarantee this is through establishment of Sadc National Committees where government officials and other non-state actors can bang heads on strategic pathways to pursue in order to achieve the Regional Integration goals.
Malawi Confederation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (MCCCI) Director for Business Environment and Policy Advocacy, Madalitso Mandiwa Kazembe, notes that lack of a robust consultative process at the national level is a major setback.
“Malawi’s current technical capacity for the advancement and implementation of the Sadc Regional Integration agenda is very weak. The Sadc National Committee and related Clusters (Trade and Industry) are currently not in place in Malawi; hence the implementation of Sadc Regional Integration is not well defined,” Kazembe states.
The sentiment is shared by Malawi Economic Justice Network (Mejn) Acting Executive Director Bertha Phiri.
“It is sad that we do not have a well-coordinated consultative process back at home,” Phiri says, adding that local civil society organisations and other non-state actors have resorted to collaborating with other players at the regional level to input into the Sadc processes.
Malawi Congress of Trade Unions Secretary-General Denis Kalekeni also laments delays in swiftly implementing an all-inclusive consultative process as intended by the Sadc Treaty.
“We went to Mozambique to learn from our colleagues how they are doing things there. Our learning was fruitful but until we put into practice what we learnt, the fruitfulness will remain dormant,” Kalekeni explains.
Focal Point Person on Sadc at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, John Kabaghe, acknowledges the challenges.
“We have had challenges mainly due to resource constraints. But there is hope that with adequate resources, remedial measures will be put in place,” Kabaghe says.
Some activists in the non-state space believe that frustrating their role helps attenuate political damage.
Politicians view the role of non-state actors with scepticism.
Political analyst Blessings Chinsinga agrees that past regimes have acted in the political interests of the incumbent leadership than the expediency of the matter at hand.
“For some time, our political leadership has acted in their own political interests than the national interests,” Chinsinga observes.
He said increased political will would result in making resources available to champion the Sadc Regional Integration agenda.
As much as the politicians may be blamed for playing politics, some members of the non-state actor sector have often crossed the floor, instantly ignoring what they initially advocated for with utmost loyalty and dedication.
For example, some actors use prominence gained as a result of their agency as advocates of unpopular but necessary decisions to get attention of the political leadership of the day. This has a deep history from the dawn of multiparty politics in Malawi.
Examp les include the appointment of then vocal and active non-state actors such as Shyley Kondowe during the Bakili Muluzi administration, Collins Magalasi during the Bingu wa Mutharika administration and Mabvuto Bamusi during the Peter Mutharika era.
Just recently, the Lazarus Chakwera administration appointed President of the MCCCI Prince Kapondamgaga as Chief of staff for State Residences and MCCCI Executive Director Chancellor Kaferapanjira as Presidential Chief Advisor, respectively. Kapondamgaga was Chief Executive Officer while Kaferapanjira was CEO of MCCCI.
On the other hand, Chinsinga says this should be seen as an opportunity for addressing long standing issues, including the political debris standing in the way of successful Regional Integration.
“The transition of these people presents an opportunity. I am certain they understand how they can play a role of creating room for making Malawi gain more from Sadc Regional Integration,” he states.
According to Kabaghe, there are two models of engaging with Sadc: firstly, through the Sadc National Committees and, secondly, through the alternative coordinating mechanism.
“Malawi has utilised both systems. A while back, we had the Sadc National Committees. But we have moved to the Alternative Coordinating Mechanism,” he said.
In the Alternative Coordinating Mechanism, the processes are coordinated by government ministries, with Foreign Affairs being responsible for overall coordination and peace and security.
Kabaghe further said that Special Programmes of Regional Dimension are handled by the Economic Planning Department and the National Planning Commission while Infrastructure Development (transport, energy, ICT etc) are coordinated by the Ministry of Transport.
This model, which apparently sidelines non-state actors, should be seen with contempt and as a threat to the pursuit of Sadc Regional Integration goals.
The only exception to the rule would be if, and only if, non-state actors are meaningfully involved in the Sadc National Committees as intended by the framers of the Sadc Treaty.
Meaningful participation is not at all meaningful unless those participating have the requisite knowledge to participate. This, therefore, requires a need to look into prospects of engaging the Ministry of Civic Education as a strategic ally in championing the Sadc Regional Integration agenda.
National Programmes Manager for National Initiative for Civic Education (Nice) Public Trust, Gray Kalindekafe, underscores the role of civic education to address the prevalent challenges.
“As Nice Public Trust, we are already engaged in civic educating the masses on Sadc Regional Integration. We hope that once awareness levels are high, people will begin to demand more. But this will not take effect until when civic education is regarded as a critical component,” Kalindekafe says.
As it stands, the solutions to better outcomes in Malawi’s quest for relevance in the Sadc region lie in getting away with political decisions that suffocate good judgement: allow meaningful participation for all players.