In July 2018, Southern African Development Community (Sadc) member states approved the implementation of the Sadc Financial Inclusion Strategy and Small and Medium Entrepreneurs (SMEs) Access to Finance tool.
This paved the way for implementation of activities and assisting member states develop strategies and programmes aimed at empowering SMEs, youth and women to participate and contribute to economic activities of their respective countries.
About 10 member states have either developed own financial inclusion strategies or a national roadmap on financial inclusion.
They include Angola, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), eSwatini, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
But as Nixon Zimba, 29, contends, the benefits of this arrangement have not yet trickled down to the intended constituents in Malawi.
Zimba, who resides at Jenda Rural Growth Centre in Mzimba, argues that, for decades, the local youth, women and SMEs have received negligible support from the government to propel their economic activities.
“Stagnation in the fight for financial inclusion is evidence for this lack of support. And I can challenge you that, if the government continues sidelining SMEs, women and the youth in its development programmes, this country is bound to fail in everything, including its efforts to seal the gap between the poor and the rich,” he challenges.
However, in its 2019 Status of Integration in the Sadc Region Report, the bloc claims that notable progress has been made in the area of financial inclusion.
The report indicates that, in total, 68 percent of adults in the region are financially included (including both formal and informal financial products/services), which is around 97 million individuals.
“This is an improvement from 60 percent of the financially included adult population in 2016. Overall levels of financial inclusion vary considerably across the region from 97 percent in Seychelles to 40 percent in Mozambique. Seychelles, Mauritius, South Africa, Botswana, Les o t h o , Namibia, eSwatini and Tanzania show the highest levels of overall financial inclusion,” the report reads.
It adds that more than 70 percent of adults in the Sadc region have access to cell phones although only 27 percent of the adults are using mobile money.
Tanzania followed by Zimbabwe rank high at 57 percent and 47 percent, respectively, in terms of uptake of mobile money.
There is no denying that, for the countries within Southern Africa, regional cooperation and integration are preconditions for accelerated economic and social development.
And this calls for the authorities at Sadc secretariat to develop into a regional organisation with true supranational institutions endowed with far reaching decision-making competences.
Locally, the National Initiative for Civic Education (Nice) Trust is implementing Sadc regional integration project in 10 districts in an effort to increase citizens’ knowledge and awareness about the existence of the bloc and what it stands for.
The project is being implemented in Lilongwe Urban, Karonga, Mzuzu city, Blantyre Urban, Mulanje, Nsanje, Mangochi, Mchinji, Mwanza and Dedza.
Nice/Sadc Regional Integration Project Coordinator Enock Chinkhuntha observes that there is a fairly increased knowledge of the existence of Sadc and what it stands for as a regional bloc.
“Main aim of this project is to raise awareness of the potential opportunities that Sadc protocols offer with the ultimate purpose of creating an empowered active citizenship,” he says.
In his presentation at a day-long training for the journalists in December 2020, Chinkhuntha highlighted a number factors as being contributors to the yawning gap between Sadc regional commitments and national implementation.
Chinkhuntha cited weak alignment of national and regional plans, dormant or absent national coordination structures, weak collaboration of national coordination structures, planning and budgeting authorities.
He added that international cooperating partners’ (ICP) support is usually not aligned with Sadc agenda while, on the other hand, there is limited involvement of the academia and the private sector.
“And this has led to low awareness of Sadc benefits among national stakeholders,” he said.
Chinkhuntha lamented that this denies Malawians at the district level access to information on crucial matters such as regional integration and financial inclusion.
The decision by the government to recruit district trade officers and the placing of Trade Information Desk Officers at the country’s border posts excited cross-border traders who expected that this would facilitate free flow of information on trade protocols.
However, Nice has observed that key districts, do not have trade officers. A case in point is that of Nsanje, which is currently being served by a trade officer from Chikwawa.
“This is disadvantaging people of Nsanje to get the much needed information from this officer to help them do business in an informed manner with Mozambique,” he said.
Nice has also observed that there is very poor coordination between trade partners situated at the border and the Trade Office at Dedza District Council.
In Dedza again, a Trade Information Desk Officer has been put at the border with support from Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (Comesa) and Chinkhuntha feared that the officer will be concentrating on Comesa and do little on Sadc.
The project has also helped in creating a constructive dialogue and interaction space between cross-border traders, farmers engaging in cross border agribusiness and policy implementers such as the immigration, MRA, trade departments and the agricultural department.