Why economy took centre stage in Sadc, despite wars

Saturday August 3 2019


By Zephania Ubwani @TheCitizenTz

Arusha. When the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) was born 40 years ago, it did not take long to realise it was focused on economy, despite the raging liberation war.

The first of the principle objectives of the organisation was explicit on that: to reduce the member states’ dependence on South Africa, the region’s economic giant.

Incidentally, the apartheid ruled South Africa was feared for its military might and incursions to several countries in pursuit of the freedom fighters.

But South Africa, too, was an economic powerhouse. It had a big presence in practically all countries in the region with the exception of few states like Tanzania. The present Sadc came into being in 1992 as the precursor of the Southern African Development Coordination Conference (Sadcc), formed by countries spearheading the liberation struggle

A message from the leaders behind the idea was simple: Sadcc is born as a further consolidation of the Frontline States.

There were reasons why the five members of the Frontline States and other free nations in the region wanted reduced dependence on the giant South Africa. The apartheid ruled state was still entrenched in its racial segregation policies.


There were little signs the Boers would give in. The majority Africans there were at the tail end. With South Africa wielding its military and economic muscle, the best thing the Frontline States thought was to form an alliance against Pretoria’s powerful economic strings.

To reduce dependence on South Africa still under the minority rule, Sadcc members decided to mobilise their resources for collective self reliance.

They also agreed to implement projects and programmes with national and regional impact. Through Sadcc, the region also aimed to secure international support.

Besides the economic domination by South Africa, it was evident also that Sadcc was heavily dependent on foreign donors.

Donor countries, especially the Nordic countries, Britain and Germany, though saw Sadcc as another important tool in the anti-apartheid struggle.

As a sign Sadcc was bent on economic liberation, it did not take long before it started to pay more attention to the promotion of the private sector, investments and trade.

That was way back in the mid 1980s when the liberation war was fiercely raging both within South Africa, Namibia and through destabilisation of countries supporting the struggle.

Within the sub-continent, member countries were encouraged to reform their economies and liberalize trade in order to attract foreign investors.

That was how the organization was seen when Sadcc was transformed into Sadc in August 1992; an economic bloc bent on regional integration.

Economic growth, poverty alleviation, of course, through regional integration are among the key objectives of the 16-nation organisation.

Economic development would be realised through maximisation of productive employment and utilisation of resources, among others.

The amended Sadc Treaty signed in August 2001 put more emphasis on the business focus through the private sector development. Today, Sadc is an economic bloc with a total population of 334 million and a $700 billion market, according to Herbert Mrango, a retired Tanzanian diplomat.

In 2005, the bloc signed a Protocol on Trade which envisaged the establishment of a Free Trade Area in a bid to further liberalise intra-regional trade.

The effort was also meant to improve climate for cross border and foreign investment, enhance economic development and industrialisation.

The onus of the protocol was to create a larger market, releasing the potential for trade, economic growth and job creation.

For the private sector, it would spur increased domestic production, greater business opportunities and higher regional imports and exports. In turn, people would be accessed to cheaper inputs and consumer goods and greater employment opportunities. Ambassador Mtango said the Sadc FTA has seen 85 per cent of intra-regional trade amongst the partner states attaining zero duty.


To achieve this goal, Sadc has identified the following specific objectives:

Market integration; macro-economic convergence; strengthening of financial and capital markets; attainment of deeper monetary cooperation; increasing levels of investment; and enhance Sadc competitiveness.

Through the Trade, Industry, Finance and Investment Directorate, Sadc identified a group of related sectors as key priority areas. Sadc addresses its goal and objectives through work in each of these sectors.