Dar es Salaam. President John Magufuli took over leadership of the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) yesterday, pledging to steer the region to an accelerated growth.
He said the bloc was yet to tap the full potential of its vast resources and appealed to member states to direct efforts towards reversing the slow or declining growth.
“Sadc is far from achieving economic objectives. This must change if we are to forge ahead,” he said after taking over the body’s chairmanship from President Hage Geingob o Namibia..
He told the 39th summit of the bloc in Dar es Salaam that weak economic growth witnessed in the region has to be addressed fully and tackled urgently.
Sadc recorded a growth of only 3.1 per cent in 2017 compared to 5.7 per cent and 4.9 per cent for the East African and North African blocs during the same period respectively.
President Magufuli pledged that under his leadership, the 16-nation bloc would strive to ensure the region utilised its resource potentials to spur economic growth and development.
“Our region is endowed with a variety of resources being minerals, wildlife, livestock, fisheries, among others,” he said at the Julius Nyerere International Convention Centre (JNICC).
The extensive bloc is also still grappling with low intra-regional trade estimated at 20 per cent, and low levels of industrialisation.
Member countries in the bloc are still obsessed with importing sugar, fuel and vehicles from overseas while the same were produced within the region.
The slow pace of industrialisation, he explained, has reduced Sadc region to being a net exporter of raw materials “and by extension an exporter of jobs”.
The cost of doing business also remains high in the region, a situation often blamed on bureaucracy and a host of barriers by the regulatory authorities.
But in a rather hard-hitting stance, President Magufuli challenged the Gaberone-based secretariat to do its work well.
He said the secretariat had not done much as the trade, economic growth and investment statistics within the region showed no or little improvement.
Dr Magufuli also reiterated the region’s appeal to the international community to lift the sanctions imposed some years ago on Zimbabwe, one of the founders of the 40 year old bloc. The sanctions were imposed on the southern African state and a bonafide Sadc member, then led by President Robert Mugabe, some years ago by Western powers.
This followed massive take over of commercial farms ran by white settlers, contested elections and alleged human rights abuses by Harare.
Dr Magufuli did not mention by name the countries behind the Zimbabwe blockade but hinted that the situation in the once troubled country “ had normalised”.
On his part, Dr Geingob cited unemployment, impact of climate change and lack of disaster preparedness among the challenges facing Sadc.
He stated that Mozambique, Malawi, Zimbabwe and others were among countries facing shortage of the staple cereals but the recent climatic disasters.
A recent report presented to a series of meetings said an estimated 41.2 million people are food insecure in 13 Sadc member states and needed 5.4 million tonnes.
As he passed on the button to President Magufuli, the Namibian leader urged his successor to ensure more resources are directed to infrastructure development to spur economic growth.
The two day summit which continues today was also addressed by the recently elected President Felix Tshisekedi of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
He called on increased integration efforts, saying that his landlocked and vast country benefitted a lot from Sadc through the use of sea ports for its export/import businesses.
He also said his country was open for investments from within the region, citing its vast natural resources, including the minerals like cobalt.