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Reflecting on a year of leading Sadc

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Betchani Tchereni

By Dumbani Mzale, Contributor:

“As we work to create light for others, we naturally light our own way,” reads a long-time quote by Mary Anne Radmacher.

President Lazarus Chakwera’s 365 days under Southern African Development Community (Sadc) stewardship appear to be tallying with these wise words as he embarked on a task to cement the bond of kinship among 340 million people who call Sadc home, including an estimated 20 million Malawians.

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To the outgoing Sadc chairperson, this bond flows naturally from the historical, geographical, cultural, economic, political, social and spiritual DNA that connects all people within Sadc.

Inevitably, Chakwera took over the driving seat while tussling with a myriad of both external and internal shocks, with Covid dragging the Sadc feet first.

Then came one other horrible force: Russia’s invasion of Ukraine which keeps on ravaging Sadc member states and Malawi was not spared.

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The frontman never relented but kept exuding more energy and vigour to shield millions of livelihoods in a region susceptible to economic shocks.

Both Covid and the war between Russia and Ukraine have thrown more people into the abyss of poverty but Malawi, and other developing countries within Sadc, although hit hard by these shocks, they have demonstrated some traits of resilience.

Then there was a flurry of other shocks that took centre stage and continued to bay for Sadc blood just before Chakwera took over Sadc leadership.

These were tropical storms Ana, Batsirai, Dumako and Emnat, all of which left a trail of death and destruction in Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, with millions of people left injured and suffering the loss of livelihood.

But besides all these vices, Chakwera was cognisant of the fact that he was inheriting the Sadc mantle at a time when Sadc member States continued to face a myriad of social, development, economic, trade, education, health, diplomatic, defence, security and political challenges.

Here is a trade bloc that is usually pummelled by widening fiscal deficits, high public debts, high inflation rates, high unemployment rates and shaky currencies, among other economic woes.

Interestingly, the former chairman faced all the glaring obstacles head-on without blinking and ensured that the bloc’s guiding blueprint, the Sadc Regional Indicative Strategic Plan spanning from 2020 to 2030 and was adopted in August 2020, is implemented to the letter.

Refusing second-class status

From the onset on August 17, 2021, and throughout his tenure, the immediate-past Sadc chairman repeatedly preached the dignity of all human beings everywhere in Africa, stressing that as Africans, we have a moral duty to refuse to be treated as second-class citizens.

This is perhaps the greatest lesson that the incoming Sadc chairperson as well as subsequent chairpersons must embrace.

“We as Africans have a moral duty to refuse second class status in the rules of engagement for participating in the global economy.

So the time has come for us to work together to put the ratified African Free Trade Area to full use until the economic rules that disadvantage our nations are rewritten,” he said at the Bingu International Convention Centre as he assumed office.

Eyes wide open, he dared the international community with sheer courage.

The time has come for Bretton Woods Institutions such as World Bank and International Monetary Fund to reconfigure the terms and conditions they have imposed on Sadc leaders, he said.

Then he did not spare the United Nations (UN), saying Africans also have a moral duty to refuse second-class status in our participation in UN decisions that affect the peace, stability and sustainability of our world. So the time has come for us to insist that Africa must have at least one permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

Again, he tore the World Health Organisation into shreds, urging Africans to have a moral duty to reject second-class status in the distribution and production of Covid vaccines.

“So the time has come for us to insist that a vaccine that preserves and sustains a person’s basic right to life belongs to all nations, no matter who discovered it,” he emphatically said.

As he steered the ship, he strongly preached equality between developing and developed countries, suggesting that treating African nations and nationals as second-class members of the global community is no longer acceptable.

Counting chairmanship gains

Just like Chakwera, most Political, economic and social commentators are of the view that for the past year, the country has immensely benefited from Sadc’s chairmanship, albeit some inevitable challenges intact.

Listening from the horse’s mouth, Chakwera insists that Malawi has benefitted immensely from its being chairperson of Sadc.

“The concentration over the past year has been the whole of Sadc coming here, helping us in various ways, issues of development, and issues of infrastructure,” he said at Kamuzu International Airport when he left for DRC to handover Sadc chairmanship to President Félix Antoine Tshisekedi.

According to Chakwera, recent Sadc meetings have centred on more integration, more industrialisation, more resilience as well as more security and peace for the region.

The Malawi University of Business and Applied Sciences Associate Professor of Economics Betchani Tchereni agrees with Chakwera that over the past 12 months Malawi has chaired Sadc, the country has had a lot of visitors from the rest of Sadc and beyond for different engagements.

To him, the inflow of delegates helped the country’s tourism sector to be busy as the visitor’s used hotels, food and vehicles.

“Our government officials did not make so many trips on Sadc-related engagements, which means we saved some money both on the budgetary and foreign currency fronts,” Tchereni said.

On his part, Centre for Research and Consultancy Director Milward Tobias reasons that when a country is chairing Sadc, all ministerial and technical meetings take place in the chairing country, implying that the accommodation business might have gained over the past years.

However, Tobias believes that the level of benefit is usually choked by the weak manufacturing sector and lack of tourist attractions in Lilongwe.

Political analyst, George Phiri has a different perspective. For him, Malawi has benefited from the use of Mozambique’s seaports of Beira and Nacala for Malawi’s import and export, adding that there has been a reduction of tension and conflict between Mozambique’s soldiers and their opponents which he says has reduced cross-border migration into Malawi.

Chakwera took over the Sadc chairmanship from Mozambique President Felipe Nyusi on August 17 last year during the 41st Sadc Heads of State and Government Summit which was held in Lilongwe.

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