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SADC and regional energy security: a dream deferred?

dlaminiAccording to Cheikh Anta Diop in Black Africa: The Economic and Cultural Basis for a Federated State, published in 1974 made the point that fundamental to African countries’ developmental future is the generation of adequate energy1.

This matter will be on the agenda of the SADC Summit of Heads of States and Governments in Lilongwe, Malawi, on 17-18 August 2013. Taking place shortly after the Regional Infrastructure Investment Conference in Mozambique on 27June 2013, the Summit is expected to find ways to implement the Regional Infrastructure Development Master Plan (RIDMP) launched in 2012. This article intends to highlight the need for a strong integrated energy policy within the SADC region to implement the RIDMP

 

The RIDMP is expected to run until 2027, and is to be implemented in three phases, i.e. short term (2013-2017), medium term (2017-2022), and long term (2022-2027). It is envisaged that the master plan will benefit SADC member states in different aspects of development including building roads, rails and ports. The energy division is one of the prioritized sectors and falls under the Regional Infrastructure Development Master Plan Energy Sector Plan (ESP) 2012.

Energy is a critical component in any development plan as it underpins our socio-economic growth. Currently, shortage of energy supply, lack of infrastructure to generate power (electricity) and the need to increase multilateral trade in the region’s energy market continue to hinder socio-economic development within SADC. As a result, most member states experience regular power crisis and blackouts. These problems cannot be solved until mechanisms to implement and foster regional integrated energy policy are put in place.

There have been some efforts in addressing these energy challenges and electricity blackouts, through agreements and policy documents that are continually signed by member states to create a beneficial environment for energy trade and relations within the region, yet these kinds of efforts have yet to yield practical results of indisputable energy cooperation in the region.

The ESP is the 4thSADC strategic plan for energy development since the adoption of the energy protocol in 1996. The first three were: the SADC Energy Cooperation Policy and Strategy in 1996, the SADC Energy Action Plan in 1997 and the SADC Energy Activity Plan of 2000.

The previous strategic plans played a vital role in terms of bringing member states into agreements on how to conduct their relations in the energy market under collective values and principles established in the 1996 energy protocol. According to Article 2(1) of the energy protocol; the use of energy must support economic growth and development, alleviation of poverty and improvement of the standard and quality of life throughout the region2. While the objectives of the protocol also states in article 3 (1) that energy co-operation in the region shall strive to harmonize national and regional energy policies, strategies and programmes on matters of common interest based on equity, balanced and mutual benefit3.

These strategic plans, however, did not bring much change and improvement in the SADC energy market as envisaged because of poor commitment by member states to implement them. Consequently, the regulation of the energy market and the region’s integration on infrastructure development remain in limbo. Member states generally fail to comply with the regional energy guidelines because they are more driven by achieving domestic national interest than regional obligations. For example, power trade in the SADC region is dominated by bilateral agreements instead of multilateral agreements. Member states are much more comfortable in making long-term power purchase agreements bilaterally to secure their energy interest outside the regional value chain. By failing to act in the regional interest, including building the infrastructure and implementing regional plans, SADC states are showing poor commitment to regional integrated energy policy.

Lilongwe Summit must, therefore, not only prioritize the financing of the RIDMP, but leaders must also emphasise the urgent need to build reliable structures to enforce regional integration energy policy and mutual interest. They must address in clear terms the lack of regulatory, transparent and efficient systems to enforce regional integration in the SADC energy market. For the RIDMP to improve the region’s economy and infrastructure development, strong integrated energy relations must take place in order to meet the objectives of the 1996 energy protocol. Until then the age-old African dream of energy security, as explained by Diop over 40 years ago, will remain deferred.

 

1 Diop, C.A. 1974. Black Africa: The Economic and Cultural Basis for a Federated State, Paris: Présence Africaine.
2 SADC energy protocol 1996
3 SADC energy protocol 1996

Mr. Kenny Dlamini holds a BA Hons in Politics from the Rhodes University and is a research assistant at the IGD. His views do not necessarily reflect those of the IGD

 

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