Taking Sadc closer to the people
By Gray Kalindekafe
The Southern African Development Community (Sadc) was established as an inter-State organ in 1992 by the Windhoek Treaty. While Sadc was first established as a ‘Conference’, it was transformed into a key driver of regional integration (RI) in the subsequent years.
With the passage of time, there was an emergence of an interest to transform the organisation from being state-centric into being an all-inclusive one, found on a compelling legal imperative. This is viewed as a desire to be in line with the tone set in the preamble of the treaty establishing the Sadc which states that: “…Heads of State and government should be mindful of the need to involve the people of the region centrally in the process of development and integration, particularly through the guarantee of democratic rights, observance of human rights and the rule of law.”
Article 23 of the Windhoek Treaty stipulated thus:
“In pursuance of the objectives of this treaty, Sadc shall seek to involve fully the peoples of the region and non-governmental organisations in the process of regional integration. Sadc shall cooperate with, and support the initiatives of the people of the region and non-governmental organisations, contributing to the objectives of this treaty in the areas of cooperation, in order to foster closer relations among the communities, associations and peoples of the region.”
In 2001, the treaty was amended and thus added light to the emphasis placed on inclusive participation in pursuit of goals of Sadc. Through the amendment of the treaty, the role of non-state actors (NSAs) was clearly articulated, marking a major milestone in broadening the role of the Sadc from being a state-actor to being a multi-stakeholder actor.
In that regard, Article 5.1 and Article 5.2 Sub Section (b) of the Declaration and Treaty of Sadc stipulates that the Sadc will “encourage the people of the region and their institutions to take initiatives to develop economic, social and cultural ties across the region and to participate fully in the implementation of the programmes and projects of Sadc”.
National Initiative for Civic Education (Nice) Trust, the Southern African Trust and Sadc/GIZ are implementing a project aimed at contributing towards strengthening NSAs engagement with the Sadc national and regional policy processes and the Sadc programme ‘Strengthening the national-regional linkages’ is collaborating with Nice in Malawi through the implementation of a change project ‘Enhancing citizen participation in the implementation of the Sadc regional integration agenda in Malawi’.
This is pursuant to Article 5 of the Sadc Treaty of 1992 which stipulates the need for the harmonisation of national and regional policies and plans; enhance inclusive participation in the implementation of programmes and projects; creation of appropriate institutions and mechanisms to mobilise resources for their implementation in order to achieve the Sadc community’s goals.
RI, the interdependences of countries for the common good on various development agendas, helps countries overcome divisions that pose significant challenges in the flow of goods, services, people, capital and even ideas. Such manifest divisions have retrogressive consequences on a country’s economy of individual countries as well as the Sadc region as a whole.
Based on the Sadc Treaty, under Article 16 A which stipulates that “Each member state shall create a Sadc National Committee, which has to consist of key stakeholders which should (a) provide input at national level in the formulation of Sadc policies, strategies and programmes of action; (b) coordinate and oversee, at national level, implementation of Sadc programmes of action; (c) initiate projects and issue papers as an input to the preparation of the Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan; and (d) create a national steering committee, sub-committees and technical committees.”
However, research by some experts stress that transnational advocacy in support of regional integration continues to face bottlenecks despite legal, policy and institutional frameworks in various regional economic communities (Recs).
Such research points out that Sadc, like other Recs, continues to pursue a state-centric approach, leaving NSAs with little leverage to exert meaningful influence both at national and regional levels. The research, for instance, categorically states that resource allocation is a major issue.
Where national governments do not step in, donors do but only on issues that resonate with their (donors’) strategies and plans. In the long run, this places aspirations spelt out in the Sadc Treaty and Policy Frameworks for people-centric regional integration in jeopardy.
Other research, however, paints some hope indicating that the existence of memoranda of understanding (MoUs) between Sadc Council of Non-Governmental Organisations (Sadc-CNGO) and the Association of Sadc Chambers of Commerce and Industry leading to attendance to Sadc Annual Summits of Heads of State is a good indication.
Based on the provisions of the Sadc Treaty, it can be inferred that the intention of the Sadc is to embrace a 360-degree approach to coordination, participation and implementation where national governments, the private sector and civil society play a role.
In addition to the Sadc-CNGO, the Sadc Secretariat also works with the Sadc Civil Society Forum – at the regional level and the Sadc National Committees, at the national level.
It therefore follows that at the regional level, a conducive policy environment was laid down for the establishment of structures (i.e. the National Sadc Committees). As a result of this arrangement, some NSAs in the Sadc region have formed regional bodies in various sectors including trade, industrialisation, agriculture and development.
National umbrella bodies or coalitions belong to the regional bodies that closely work with the Sadc Secretariat. The Sadc-CGNO was formed in 1998 to facilitate beneficial engagement between NGOs and the Sadc Secretariat at the regional level and local governments at the national level.
The Sadc-CNGO encourages collaboration and partnerships with other stakeholders at both national and regional level and continually monitored the performance and accountability of Sadc secretariat and member states on their national, regional and international commitments.
Furthermore, the Sadc Secretariat and the Sadc-CNGO have a MoU that provides a legal framework for engaging NSAs. NSAs are also granted access to the Sadc through Annual civil society meetings, often run parallel to or on the sidelines of the Sadc Heads of State and Government Annual Summit.
Ahead of the Heads of State Summit, ministerial meetings and technical engagement meetings are also held during which NSAs may be invited to tag along. However, invitations to such meetings depend on personal/institutional relationships between either the national government or the Sadc Secretariat. Such an exclusionary policy is often blamed on politics.
As observed already, the Sadc has made efforts to establish national mechanisms to foster NSAs involvement in the Sadc Policy implementation processes. It, therefore, follows that the Sadc has set an enabling environment – in theory – for the operationalisation of a mechanism for local NSAs participation in the Sadc Policy implementation discourse.
The challenges identified above are attributed to the following underlying problems:
- Dysfunctional all-inclusive Sadc National Committee: Although there is solid basis for an all-inclusive Sadc National Committee (SNC), this paper has noted the prevalent Malawian SNC is, at most, ceremonial, lacking in representation for key NSAs as intended by the Sadc Treaty.
- Poor NSAs-government relations: Respondents in the study acknowledged problems on both the NSAs and government sides. On the NSAs side, as identified above, the tendency to being hypercritical against the government stance on development and/ or governance issues in general can be said to create insecurity on the part of the government officials. On the part of the government, bureaucracy and red tape are said to be major stumbling blocks. Therefore, the penchant for seeking instant results among NSAs on the one hand and government’s desire to slowly and judiciously choose policy paths depending on resource availability pit the two entities at loggerheads.
iii. Ignorance among NSA players: Based on responses given during the study for this essay, it was noted that key stakeholders have limited knowledge on modalities and policy frameworks for participation in the Sadc Policy implementation processes. The ignorance has the potential to affect their agency in demanding participation in the processes or, if granted access, fail to optimise gains of participation due to lack of understanding on roles, processes and policy frameworks.
- Fragmented collaboration: Due to a polarised NSA sector, it is difficult to achieve harmony. Some respondents stated that they felt isolated from the Sadc because they feel sidelined by involved local partner organisations or, in some cases, were not properly informed about the existence of the opportunities for engagement, if at all such opportunities really existed.
- Resource constraints: Although some players acknowledged that they were aware of the Sadc Policy framework on engagement, they stated that their desire to participate is thwarted by resource constraints. For example, those in the NGO sector are more likely to be involved through support from existing budget lines. However, where Sadc policy goals do not seem to directly relate to key performance indicators of individual NGOs/NSAs, access to funds becomes a major setback.
- Loss of confidence in some Sadc processes: Due to failure to experience what is addressed in Sadc policy documents on the ground and lacking a platform to vent out their frustrations due to absence of interactive platforms at national level, some stakeholders (i.e. cross-border traders/transporters) express a feeling of loss of confidence in the Sadc processes.
vii. Understaffing: The Malawian Sadc National Contact Point (NCP) which is housed in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation is understaffed. The NCP is represented by the Permanent Secretary, but there are no permanent staff dedicated to it. A senior officer has been appointed to act as a focal person for Sadc issues.
viii. The establishment and operationalisation of country-level structures, especially the SNCs, foreseen in the Sadc Treaty remain weak. Efforts were made to re-establish the Sadc National Committee, where the government appointed a Sadc National Committee represented by a wider spectrum of stakeholders comprising governmental and NSAs. However, the SNC has not fully functioned. A lot of work is still needed to operationalise the structures.
- Weak cluster committees: Cluster committees exist to coordinate the implementation of the regional integration agenda. However, their functions need to be strengthened.
In view of a lack of proper localised engagement framework, some stakeholders have proposed that NSAs at national level in all member states should have representatives that directly interface with the Heads of State for meaningful engagement.
When the Head of State attends a Sadc summit, government technocrats and NSAs (who are members of the Sadc National Committee Members) will also attend and provide checks and balances to the political leadership on national matters while also having access to the Sadc as part of a regional block.
The downside to the wish to re-examine the Sadc engagement process will largely depend on performance in other jurisdictions. Therefore, there is need for further research with regards to the management of engagement processes and if at all there is need for redesigning the framework.
But historically, Malawi has had good platforms upon which a strong consultative engagement process can be initiated. For example, in 2008, the government institutionalised Sector Working Groups (SWGs) as a means of implementing the Development Assistance Strategy.
Upon conceptualising the idea, it was anticipated that the SWGs would be a forum for negotiation, policy dialogue and agreement of plans and undertakings among government and its development at sectoral level, using in-depth technical expertise of Technical Working Committees (TWCs). Sadc is considered a stakeholder on matters of information and communication technology and Research and Development.
Based on the great development insights drawn from the SWGs and the TWGs, it would be ideal to try and build a new model that enables the Sadc National Committee to tap from the working groups (WGs). It should be emphasised, however, that some of the challenges being noted in the Sadc National Committee model are also prevalent in the WGs, just like NSA participation has been blurry, with NSAs being confined to TWGs and government representatives dominating the SWGs.
In researching for this piece, it was also noted that there was little active and meaningful involvement of Members of Parliament in the Sadc discourse at the national level (with notable exception on matters of child marriages and HIV and Aids, of course). If, for example, the desire for a functional Sadc National Committee is to yield results (allocate more funds, for example), a relevant Parliamentary Committee may need to give its buy-in.
On the other hand, the tendency of changing ministry names affects the way the SWGs and TWGs operate, derailing processes due to poor transition, in some instances. For example, recently, the Ministry of Industry and Trade was split into two ministries – one responsible for Industry and another responsible for Trade. Looking at it critically, you will also note that this also has potential to disrupt other forums such as the Private Public Dialogue Forums jointly coordinated by the Malawi Confederation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry.
That said, ministries of Information and Civic Education need to be regarded as critical partners in championing the Sadc policy advancement. If they got involved, recommendations made in this essay will be easy to implement.
The author is writing in his capacity as a governance, elections, human rights and civic education specialist.
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