The year has been and continues to be tough. But some good news is in the air as the nation hosts the 41st Southern African Development Community (Sadc) Heads of State and Government Summit from today to August 19 in Lilongwe.
At the same time, President Lazarus Chakwera will be taking over the chairmanship of the regional block from his Mozambique counterpart, Filipe Nyusi.
Director-General of the National Planning Commission (NPC) Thomas Munthali sees the chairmanship as a good opportunity in harnessing regional integration opportunities at a time Malawi just launched its new development vision Mw2063.
Munthali—whose institution is supposed to serve as a central agency for monitoring and evaluating development plans, policies and programmes—further hopes Malawi’s Sadc chairmanship will allow the country to operationalise its wealth creation and self-reliance vision.
According to the NPC boss, Malawi will set the agenda as a leader on the initiatives that the country can focus on as it seeks to build back better from the Covid pandemic.
“This includes ensuring we enhance an enabling environment as a region that could also promote our Mw2063 pillars of agricultural productivity and commercialisation, industrialisation and urbanisation.
“So the regional initiatives—like revamping rail and taking advantage of the African Continental Free Trade Area by building human, financial, technical and infrastructure capacities— ought to be enhanced at regional level,” Munthali says.
He further says Malawi has a huge opportunity to direct efforts that the country wants.
Munthali then implores the private sector and State and non-State actors to look at the chairmanship as an opportunity to influence decisions that can bring more investments into Malawi and create ‘massive’ sustainable jobs.
“This is not just Sadc political leadership but leadership at all levels since Malawi will now be leading in all the sectors in its tenure of office led by various ministries,” he says.
Former president Joyce Banda, who was the first woman to become Malawi leader as well as Sadc chairperson, agrees that the country can leverage its chairmanship to foster economic development.
“One of the areas in which Malawi can benefit is infrastructure development. Infrastructure is one of the key areas driving economic prosperity and it is one of the areas we need to develop significantly,” Banda says.
She adds that infrastructure development is crucial for Malawi to harness its competitive advantage, create jobs and reduce poverty.
On his part, Scotland-based Malawian economic expert Velli Nyirongo posits that Sadc has the capacity to help finance projects in the regional bloc’s Project Preparation and Financing initiative, an instrument that enables the successful development of bankable projects for market presentations.
“On the same area of project financing, it is worth mentioning the Sadc Water Fund, which is a financing facility focusing on water infrastructure and basic sanitation,” Nyirongo said.
According to Nyirongo, Malawi can tap from this facility—for its safe drinking water programmes—“since the facility is at our fingertips as our President is the next chairperson of the organisation”.
He further says Sadc should essentially foster sustainable economic growth and development, thereby improving the living standard of citizens in member states.
“In the world of economic competition, nations have learned the essence of working together, integrating to achieve competitive advantage through numbers.
“Thus, Sadc is there to help increase the market size of member countries, much needed improved intra-regional trade and investment flows and also propel the increase in transfer and exchange of technology and experience,” Nyirongo said.
The economist says bottlenecks to trade and development can be reduced by encouraging regional integration through joint physical and institutional infrastructure.
Human rights activist Rafiq Hajat is confident Malawi will use its Sadc chairmanship to benefit economically, socially and politically.
Hajat says since the region is facing serious security challenges such as the conflict in Cabo Delgado Province in Mozambique, there is a need for concerted efforts in dealing with the problem.
On the other hand, he says, the country could benefit from projects in internet connectivity, irrigation, agriculture, forestry and a large market for exports.
“It is up to us to grasp these opportunities with both hands and do our homework. Otherwise, we will only have ourselves to blame,” he says.