If in the past the major referent object for regional security was the state, now, at least at the policy level, SADC states lean on a broad conception of security, to wit, state and human security. SADC policy frameworks also show an inclination to build a development community anchored in total development of the regional economy. But there is a disjuncture between policy and practice.
On security, most accounts suggest that SADC’s security architecture is overly statist, militaristic and averse to popular consultation. It is reactive, focusing on peace keeping/making or brokerage in the event of conflict. There is no real focus on the internal sources of conflict and insecurity. Most states lack internal cohesion and legitimacy because of poor governance: political oppression and marginalisation, economic inequalities, persecution of sub-altern groups, weak democratic culture, human rights violations and disregard for rule of law. So, governments resort to clientelistic networks and repression to retain control. SADC does not have any effective proactive mechanism to deal with these internal challenges. The reason is that the old notions of sovereignty stand in the way.
Building a development community anchored in balanced and mutually rewarding forms of development faces challenges on several fronts. Let us focus on three. One, despite policy commitments to this goal the priority is market integration which appeals to the mercantilist impulses of the regional economic giant. South African businesses which have internationalised their operations, often in partnership with transnational economic actors, have a strong presence in the telecommunication, retail, entertainment and leisure, agricultural and other markets in the region. Several accounts have pointed out that the hegemonic status of free trade regionalism deepens asymmetry in integrative gains; it creates winners and losers between states, between societies and between people, which have led some to conclude that the prioritization of trade integration is not enough to achieve broader development objectives. Two, there is no real political commitment to development integration. Many commentaries show that regional states readily sign development based cooperative agreements. However, it is not matched by implementation. Three, analysts on the region’s affairs worry that the EU proposed Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs), anchored in free trade ideas will further undermine SADC States developmental agenda. Already it is fragmenting the region. SADC member states belong to different EPA Zones. In addition, whiles some states like Swaziland and Lesotho have initialled interim EPA agreement with EU some have not. Further, critics argue that EPA will lead to flooding of regional markets with EU goods and services and undermine growth of nascent industries. To repeat an earlier point, peace is a vital condition for sustainable development but peace can be illusory in the face of development challenges. Therefore, attaining a ‘working’ peace calls for the pursuit of a hegemonic agenda anchored in broad ideas on security and promotion of balanced and mutually rewarding integrative project.
What Role for South Africa in SADC?
Every order needs a hegemon for its stability and progress. The envisaged order cannot be attained without the leading role of South Africa on account of its economic, political, institutional and other resources. So what role for South Africa? The South African state has to initiate the hegemonic projects in the security and development domains and mobilise state and non-state stakeholders behind it. As stated, most states in the region face internal security problems arising from governance challenges and that SADC cannot address these problems because of the prevailing notions of sovereignty. The task for South Africa will be to lead a coalition of progressive, like-minded state and non–state actors to ‘persuade’ regional counterparts to shift from a traditional to progressive conceptualisation of sovereignty. While the former vest absolute sovereignty in the state and accentuate state rights, a progressive conceptualisation of sovereignty emphasizes popular sovereignty—the rights of citizens and the responsibility of state authorities to guarantee the safety and welfare of their citizens in a democratic political order. For South Africa this vocation has an additional significance. It will lead to a concretisation of its rights-based foreign policy, anchored in democracy and human rights, which is now constrained by realpolitik and shared norms of traditional sovereignty. The coalition should include States such as Botswana, Malawi, Zambia and Tanzania. For example, Botswana has gained international respect for its critical position on human rights violations at both continental and regional level. The coalition will also include regional civil society groups who resolutely incline towards a rights-based order. This South African-led coalition should show an unstinted, uncompromising and practical commitment to democracy and human rights in their engagements with regional states and institutions. This commitment, hopefully, can lead to the emergence of democratic and human rights values as hegemonic norms through the moral and political force of the coalition.
South Africa will have to deploy soft power, particularly in the interaction context where it has incontrovertible economic leverage, to achieve a rights-based regional order. Donor states are known to set conditions on their development assistance, and often these conditions are based on some core values. Therefore, the proposed South African Development Partnership Agency (SADPA) can perform similar function. This structure will coordinate donor transfers to South Africa and its development assistance to other states. Following the practice of established donor states South Africa, can tie its aid to democracy and human rights. South Africa should also lead efforts towards promotion of equitable regionalism. It is gratifying to note that some South African development-minded politicians share this imperative. Rob Davies, the South African Minister for Trade and Industry, conceded that the ‘pattern of trade is very uneven and unequal’ and recommended production-led integration (cited in Amandla, December 5-6 2008, p. 40). The enabling conditions for this order include capital, innovation (in the form of technology and ideas), rules and political will– the region will have to produce the skills (both at the level of technology and ideas) required for industrial development, harness domestic capital for industrial growth, fashion rules and sanctioning mechanisms that commit regional states to implementation of collective agreements. National interests often trump collective goals embedded in integrative processes. One reason for this is the perceived asymmetry in integrative gains. Therefore an ‘equity principle” should undergird the process to foster political will. Some believe that this can be achieved through creation of multi-state industrial projects or enterprises in which states, private capital and people all have equity stakes. It is claimed that the universal gains promoted by such trans-boundary companies or what some term ‘industrial giants’ can induce states, particularly the peripheral ones to cede some authority to a supra-national body, like the SADC Secretariat which works for collective goals. This equity principle will also rekindle faith in regional integration and hold at bay the divisive influences of external actors. Certainly, an equitable regionalist project must begin with a policy change in South Africa, one anchored in a constructive balance between trade and development in the region. South Africa must understand that there is no trade-off between peace and development and that it is in its own national interest to promote lasting peace and development in the region.
Dr. Albert Domson-Lindsay is the head of the department of Political and Administrative Studies at the University of Swaziland. This article was written for the Institute for Global Dialogue’s project on South Africa’s role in strengthening the institutions of SADC, funded by the Open Society Foundation for South Africa (OSF-SA).
The article was first published on SABC News.com on 29 April 2014