By Wanangwa Tembo:
Generally, there is excitement among most Malawians that next year in August, President Lazarus Chakwera would take over as chairperson for the Southern Africa Development Community (Sadc), a regional body comprising 16 member countries.
The good news was made known on August 17 during the 40th Sadc ordinary summit of heads of state and government which also marked the regional body’s 40 years of existence. The summit was conducted virtually due to the threat posed by Covid-19 pandemic.
Among other things, Sadc was created to achieve economic growth and development, alleviate poverty, enhance the quality of life of people in Southern Africa, achieve peace and security and support the socially disadvantaged through regional integration.
The government and experts agree that most Malawians are not aware of the Sadc protocols despite the country being a member.
Largely, regional integration 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 the economy of individual countries as well as the region as a whole.
Minister of Information, Gospel Kazako, describes the lack of awareness among Malawians as unfortunate.
“It is sad to note that majority of Malawians are not aware of the various Sadc protocols to which Malawi, as a member state, is a signatory. This is unfortunate. Malawians need to know the Sadc protocols to which their country is part and parcel of,” he says.
Opening a capacity building workshop for community broadcasters and officers for the National Initiative for Civic-education (Nice) Trust on Covid-19 and Sadc regional integration in Mzuzu recently, Kazako said it is the wish of government to work together with non-state actors to popularise the Sadc protocols.
“There is also a general feeling that Sadc is a club for the heads of states and the elite. This has left out the grassroots who are expected to also benefit fully from the regional agreements made on the citizens’ behalf. This thinking needs to change,” said the minister.
He said the change cannot come by itself but rather through information dissemination initiatives such as those taken by Nice in partnership with community broadcasters.
Sadc was established as an inter-state organ in 1992 by the Windhoek Treaty. While it was first established as a “Conference”, it transformed into a key driver of regional integration in the subsequent years.
Article 23 of the Windhoek Treaty calls for participation of all people and organisations in the process of regional integration.
In 2001, the treaty was amended and thus added light to the emphasis placed on inclusive participation in pursuit of goals of the SADC. Through the amendment of the treaty, the role of non-state actors 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.
While the treaty talks about people’s participation, evidence shows most people in Malawi are not aware of the Sadc agreements. As such, they have not been able to utilise the opportunities that are available in the region through the integration of the nations.
This is why Nice, Southern African Trust and Sadc/GIZ are implementing a project aimed at contributing towards strengthening non-state actors’ engagement with SADC national and regional policy processes.
In both arrangements, the role of Nice is mainly to take the Sadc regional integration messages to all communities including those in the remote hard-to-reach areas so that that Malawians at all levels understand the opportunities available.
Principally, citizens are at the centre of regional integration hence there is need for more collaboration between the state, quasi state and non-state actors to sensitize the citizenry of the opportunities, responsibilities and state-of-play of various regional integration initiatives.
Programmes under Sadc demand the active participation of the citizens of the member states if they are to be successful and benefit the people. However, the citizens are generally unaware.
The Ministry of Trade acknowledges that without adequate civic education and sensitisation of the citizenry, businesspersons and the people in general will not grab the trade and economic opportunities that come with the lowering and removal of tariffs and non-tariff barriers to trade in the region.
In addition, people will not take part in fighting tracking of human persons; Women will not be able take part in political activities to ensure they achieve the SADC gender equality targets. In short, there is need for active participation of the citizenry and that calls for civic education.
In trade terms, integration in Africa is only at around 11 percent against 50 percent for developing Asia, 21 percent for Latin America and the Caribbean and 70 percent for Europe.
Nice Executive Director, Ollen Mwalubunju, says his organisation will endevour to collaborate with government and other players to ensure that information about regional integration reaches all people including those in rural areas.
“Nice and the media share similar responsibilities of information dissemination. With this capacity building of our officers and community broadcasters, we hope to reach many people with our messages.
“However, in the context of Covid-19, our civic education has been streamlined to use only non-human contact means. So the importance of partnering with community radios cannot be over emphasized,” Mwalubunju said.
He said there is evidence that over 90 percent of the people depend on the media for information and that the same percentage of rural people depend on community radios hence the need to build capacity for community broadcasters for proper information dissemination.
“We will work with everyone: traditional leaders, faith leaders and the media, for instance, by sponsoring some programmes on community radios,” Mwalubunju said.
Assistant Director of Trade in the Ministry of Trade, Diamond Chikhasu says the ministry has over the years tried its best to popularize the SADC agreements but concedes that the levels of unawareness amongst Malawians need more action.
“It is true the general public is not adequately aware of the protocols governing trade and the regional economic community in general. But as a ministry, we are doing our best to make sure that the people are aware of these agreements,” Chikhasu says.
He, however, notes that the ministry has not done much to reach out to the grassroot who are supposed to equally benefit from the information.
He feels regional integration is very beneficial and has to be taken seriously by everyone especially traders.