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Interview with João Samuel Caholo, former SADC Deputy Executive Secretary

October 2013

Caholo, J.S., Hove, K. van. ECDPM. 2013. Interview with João Samuel Caholo, former SADC Deputy Executive Secretary. GREAT Insights, Volume 2, Issue 7. October 2013. Maastricht: ECDPM.

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ECDPM: There seems to be a considerable gap in terms of regional integration (RI) commitments and the implementation, which cannot be explained solely by a lack of resources and capacities? What do you see as the main explanation? In what way are factors like history, geography or natural resource endowments determining the shape and progress of RI in Southern Africa?

SADC: The common history of political liberalization processes and the fact that most of the Southern African countries have a population composed of Bantu, are factors that contribute positively to regional integration rather than impede the process. 

What is negatively affecting the RI process is the lack of leadership and commitment by the member states (MS). The SADC Free Trade Agreement was launched in 2008, and all member states signed up to the roadmap with the various integration milestones from Customs Union, Monetary Union, and Common Market to Political Federation. But still today the region is preoccupied with implementing the FTA. The last review of the implementation of the roadmap dates from 2012 and shows little progress. The intra-SADC trade remains low, and taking South Africa out of the equation, is less than 10%. This is why the Secretariat is pushing for an industrialisation programme. Because further liberalisation is seen to mainly benefit South Africa as the only MS able to take advantage of liberalisation because of being competitive enough. 

When I emphasise leadership I do not mean only political leadership but rather leadership coming from the civil society, private sector, NGOs as well as from government. We find there is too little commitment from the MS to engage within the country and the sub-region to address the impediments to regional trade and integration. One way of addressing this gap is via a regional industrial development programme, and via the SADC Development Fund, as established in Article 26a of the SADC treaty. Ultimately what we need is the establishment of the SADC development bank. That will hopefully speed up the process of RI and make a relevant impact on the continental and even global stage.

ECDPM: You refer to the SADC bank, but isn’t there the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA)?

SADC: The Development Bank of Southern Africa only exists in name. What does exist is the Development Bank of South Africa. A regional bank is supposed to have regional representation of all SADC member states, or at least the participating members in the governance structure. This is still not the case for DBSA. Until then, we should focus on the implementation of the Southern African Development Fund, which is happening with the support of South Africa and the other member states.

ECDPM: Some argue there was more regional commitment and ownership at the time of SADC than now. Some would argue that the SADC secretariat is not given the means and space by its members to play the role it should be playing as regional organisation. What do you think?

SADC: Yes and no. 
Yes, as the commitment to regional integration is clearly reflected in the SADC treaty, which was signed in August 1992 in Windhoek. That was a critical turning point at which the majority of the independent countries recognised that the democratisation in South Africa was going to be a reality. We therefore needed to move from political solidarity, cooperation and a loose coordination to a deeper process of cooperation. The treaty itself defines the secretariat as the sole executive arm of SADC having received the mandate by the MS to coordinate RI.

The no is when we look at the deeds, i.e. the actual funding and capacity that is given by the member states. This is largely insufficient for the secretariat to implement the spirit of the treaty. It begs the question why are we not more committed? 

ECDPM: The literature refers to political signalling; the signing of treaties at the regional level gives visibility, while non-implementation does not cost much since there are few enforcement mechanisms at regional level.

SADC: Indeed, I agree with you. That is why monitoring, accountability, transparency and proper institutional governance are utterly important in the process of RI. The parliamentary institutions are not sufficiently involved and briefed on the process of regional integration. They are just asked to ratify protocols or executive decisions taken at summit or council level. The process of parliamentary scrutiny and of monitoring the countries’ compliance with these protocols does not exist. The SADC tribunal is another case in point. Hence, in my view, issues of governance commitment and institution building both at the regional and national level are very critical. We have to seriously think about how to make progress. Regional integration is about people to people commitment to cooperate, to do trade. This raises the question of how to involve the Southern African population into the process of RI.

ECDPM: Even in Europe that is a challenge. There is probably a need for translating the formal process of RI into concrete examples showing how the Southern African population can actually benefit, without overselling RI as a panacea to all development problems. The task is to build a bigger constituency of people participating in RI dialogue.

SADC: RI is the right path to go but you need leadership. Europe has only been able to make progress because there was a small group of countries taking the lead and responsibility to commit. Despite the current challenges, it is obvious how Portugal progressed since its accession to the EU. Why do not we take Europe as an example in Southern Africa?

ECDPM: But there is a complexity with regard to leadership in Southern Africa relating to South Africa…

SADC: Well, I do not think that South Africa, the largest economy in Africa, is a disadvantage to regional integration in Southern Africa. It can actually be a real asset for the process. The point is that the leadership is open to all countries. There simply needs to be a small group taking the lead and being committed to support the secretariat to push the RI agenda forward.

ECDPM: Focussing more on regional industrial policy and industrialisation would be an important step in that process?

SADC: Yes industrialisation, and secondly, we need to fill in the missing gap of infrastructure. The major emphasis should be on power generation and transmission. Already in 1995, under my stewardship as SADC director of the energy commission, we established the first power pool on the African continent when Angola coordinated the energy sector. We drew a regional grid, which still exists today. However due to lack of leadership and civil war in Angola and Mozambique, some countries could not link to the power grid. But today that is becoming more of a reality in the region. Tanzania and Zambia need to connect to the grid in order to link to the East Africa Power Pool through Kenya. Malawi and Mozambique are making that vital link to tap on the Cahora Bassa and M’panda- Ncua power generation potential. Priority number two is ITC. The lack of basic communication infrastructure and the cost of roaming and cell phones leads to very high cost of doing business in this sub-region. Therefore, infrastructure, resource mobilisation and skills development are essential to industrialisation. That is why our own development fund is so critical and we invite everyone one else who wants to contribute to allow us to make the strategic leap forward towards common future. 

ECDPM: For regional integration to be concrete, it means citizens are able to travel and communicate easily within a sub region, as seems to be the case in East Africa. Beyond infrastructure that also means competitively priced services.

SADC: No debate about the validity and importance of services, but if you are constrained by resources like we are, you focus on these later. Transport is crucial indeed, but we don’t have money. Actually, Southern Africa is the most interconnected region in the continent. Anything you do in transport is a value addition, but you cannot industrialise and become competitive if you don’t focus first on energy, secondly on ITC. There is a SADC protocol on trade in services, but it is still hamstrung by the same factors. 

ECDPM: What is the role of outside actors in terms of fostering the process?

SADC: Absolutely, there is a role for outside institutions but there is a caveat. There is no free lunch in life! Hence the onus of RI should continue to remain with the member states. We have in place a SADC Regional Industrial Development Programme, a Regional Infrastructure Master Plan, and a regional broadband infrastructure project worth US$20billion. Imagine if we had a SADC development fund in place that could drive this process, it would be much easier for any external partner who is willing to take part in the regional integration process, to come to the table. However, let’s be realistic. Our major outside partner is the EU, which is facing an enormous financial and economic crisis. Why would they come to support us, given their internal challenges. Therefore SADC must ensure that there is commitment from its own members. But clearly Africa is part of a globalised world and therefore we need external partners doing businesses here in Southern Africa.

ECDPM: Allow me to ask one final question on the Tripartite FTA. Where is the process going? Will this process be able to overcome some of the challenges faced by the sub-regions and be an important step towards continental integration, or is it another over-ambitious plan that is doomed to remain at the level of intention declarations?

SADC: In my viewpoint, the TFTA can only succeed if we all understand why we set up the mechanism. I fortunately happened to have been part of the process of institutionalising the tripartite cooperation process. And I firmly believed this was the way to go. As SADC we are part of Africa. And for too long we have gone around the Abuja Treaty and the Lagos Plan of action. We need to find a way to fast track continental integration because Africa cannot continue to be marginalised as it is now. The three RECs, COMESA, EAC and SADC, who are faced by overlapping membership, came up with the tripartite to jointly identify challenges, plan ahead and mobilise domestic resources to accelerate the process of RI. As all 3 RECs are engaged in an FTA, the challenge would be to harmonize the missing gaps that exist in the individual FTAs. However, at the 2008 Kampala summit, the member states felt that the TFTA process should lead to the abolishment of the existing 3 RECs and form one tripartite REC. The debate was then how to form this REC, but our proposal to have that process led by the existing RECs was not accepted. Up to today there is still no progress, while we are meant to launch the TFTA by January 2014. We need a debate on why are we not progressing, because as things stand we will give reason to the pessimists. We need to identify the issues that need to be addressed to move forward to build consensus of 26 MS of the AU, approximately 500 million consumers. If only we could leave behind the national interests to prepare the way for a continental FTA. This requires that we all decide whether RI is a process worth pursuing.

This interview was conducted on September 18th by Kathleen Van Hove, Senior Policy Officer for the Economic Transformation, Governance, Trade and Regional Integration Programme at ECDPM.

This article was published in GREAT Insights Volume 2, Issue 7 (October 2013)

Economic Transformation and TradeRegional IntegrationEast African Community (EAC)Regional Economic Communities (RECs)Southern African Development Community (SADC)AfricaSouth Africa

External authors

João Samuel Caholo