Kizito Sikuka Correspondent
Southern Africa should leverage the vast “knowledge dividend” that resides in its young people, as well as harness new technology to ensure deeper regional integration.
The former president of the United Republic of Tanzania, H.E. Benjamin Mkapa, said this at a public lecture ahead of the 39th Summit of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), which opened on August 17 in Dar es Salaam.
Mkapa, who was president of Tanzania from 1995 to 2005, and chaired SADC in 2003-04, said investment in education and infrastructure development, as well as curbing the illicit financial flows out of Africa, is critical in ensuring that SADC achieves its longstanding vision of a united, integrated and prosperous region.
“With a burgeoning population in SADC, the majority of whom are youths, we have to harness their potential in an age dominated by digital technologies,” he said.
“We must build capabilities that grant us insights into the employability of our young people. Consequently, our education systems must be designed to offer the kind of skills that will not only allow them to survive but to thrive.”
He said all stakeholders including the governments, private sector, civil society and the SADC Secretariat should work together in empowering the youths, who are the future leaders and torch-bearers of the regional integration agenda.
In fact, most of the regional strategies such as the SADC Industrialisation Strategy and Roadmap processes have timespans that progress towards the future, and aim to ensure that the youth of today benefit from the strategies.
“There is no option other than improving our youth’s capacity,” he said, adding that this requires revamping of the education system.
“Institutions such as SADC, universities, learning and training centres, as well as civil societies, are today challenged to redesign their in-house competencies if they are to remain relevant and credible to their development mission and objectives,” he said.
“We must distinguish ourselves through learning and adopting new and innovative strategies that truly add value and bring tangible benefit to our people and countries; they remain our primary stakeholders and to whom we are solely responsible.”
Complementary to this, Mkapa said it is critical for SADC to also harness new technologies to promote integration and sustainable development.
“See how new technologies have affected all our lives, I believe the solution is also in developing appropriate digital tools that are relevant to our daily lives.”
“These are the skills we need to instil in our youths to render them not only employable but also useful in solving daily productivity problems. Furthermore, this will grant us the resilience to become more adaptive to the learned experiences of our youths as they assist in developing the practical tools for mitigating unemployment and unproductivity.”
On infrastructure development and industrialisation, Mkapa said the region has the capacity to be self-sufficient through its natural resources as well as a vibrant and skilled human capital.
“We are endowed with vast natural resources that offer vast potential for unleashing growth and development for our region.”
However, it is critical for SADC to come up with new and innovative strategies to ensure that it adds value to its resources before exporting and ensure that the resources “bring tangible benefit to our people and countries.”
With regard to SADC’s relations with external partners, he said the region should have a common position and ensure that its interests are addressed, and he stressed the importance of reducing dependence on foreign aid.
“Development partners have been helpful. But we tend to depend too much on them. We must proactively drop the bucket where we are. Governments can raise more revenue for development by strict collection of taxes and pursuing tax evaders, and corrupt people engaging in illicit money transfers across borders and continents.”
It is estimated that Africa has lost more than US$1.8 trillion to Illicit Financial Flows (IFF) between 1970 and 2008, and continues to lose resources valued at up to US$150 billion annually through capital flight, mainly through tax evasion, and mispricing of goods and services by multinational companies, according to a study commissioned by the AU.
This means that resources that are intended to develop Africa are being used elsewhere to improve the economies of other countries in Europe, Asia and the US.
Mkapa said SADC should continue to work together in promoting deeper integration, as the strength of region is in its unity, adding that cooperation among member states “has given the region a face and a voice that has gained international recognition and respect.”
“As we look into the future our combined strength is a leverage we can only underutilise at our own disadvantage and peril,” he said.
“For the small size of our individual economies demands that we stand better opportunities to fulfilling our aspirations by exploiting the synergies among us.”
He said one of the success stories recorded by SADC cooperation is the peace and security that exists in most parts of the region.
In fact, the stable political situation in SADC is “a source of inspiration” for many and must serve as a foundation for economic development.
“With a few exceptions, perhaps there is no single area that SADC and the region can rightful boast about than the peace and security it has been able to render for our people.”
“I can state boldly and proudly that in terms of peace and stability the region has done very well,” he said, adding that where political challenges have emerged “SADC leaders together, explicitly or implicitly, have hastened to come up and offer counsel and urged restoration of constitutional and political reconciliation.”
On ensuring that citizens enjoy the benefits of belonging to a shared community, Mkapa said SADC should intensify its efforts to implement all regional initiatives and strategies according to the agreed timelines.
He said it is critical for SADC to have more realistic initiatives as many strategies are overambitious or unrealistic, affecting implementation of the regional plans and the ultimate realisation of the set milestones.
Development of more realistic initiatives will improve the pace of implementation, thereby allowing the region to consolidate and strengthen the gains of political independence as well as advance such achievements into economic prosperity.
“There is the English adage which says ‘if wishes were horses, everyone would ride.’ As a region, we have had a lot of wishes and programmes, but very few can really say were are riding on these programmes,” Mkapa said.
True to his assessment, SADC has since its transformation from the Southern African Development Coordination Conference (SADCC) in 1992 signed more than 33 protocols that range from trade and investment, peace and security, to transboundary natural resources and the empowerment of women and young people.
However, many of these protocols have not been ratified or implemented at national level, thus derailing the integration agenda in the region.
These initiatives are therefore mainly blueprints and objectives, “calling for full implementation,” he said, adding that the slow pace of implementation could be due to a variety of factors including limited resources.
He said SADC should, however, remain resolute and united in addressing some of the challenges hindering deeper integration such as poor infrastructure, poverty and low levels of productivity.
In fact, the region should draw inspiration from its revolutionary leaders who succeeded against all odds in fighting off colonialism through an unprecedented coalescence of pan-African effort which enabled them to mount a formidable liberation front against colonialism.
The lecture titled “Deepening Integration in SADC: Achievements, Challenges and Opportunities” was delivered at the University of Dar es Salaam.
Mkapa ended his well-attended lecture by urging SADC to “tell its own story” since the story of regional integration is often only understood by those who deal with regional issues on a daily basis.
“More effort is needed to explain the goings on in the SADC and to elicit the people’s sense of ownership of their organisation,” he said.
The public lecture was organised by Uongozi Institute in collaboration with the SADC Secretariat, Tanzanian Ministry Foreign Affairs and East African Cooperation, and the University of Dar es Salaam to stimulate discussion on regional integration ahead of the 39th SADC Summit. — sardc.net