03 July 2007
The Southern African Development Community (SADC) will push for stronger regional integration before a considering unified continental government, as delegates at the 9th African Union heads of state summit in Ghana take part in the ‘grand debate’.
“The SADC member states sat in a special session and adopted a common position in this regard,” said Zambia’s permanent representative to the United Nations, Lazarous Kapambwe, who has been extensively involved in the SADC mission’s discussions toward an AU government.
“We believe that as much as we’d like to get to a unified, integrated government, we need a foundation and that will need to come from stronger regional economic communities.”
SADC’s 14 member countries are Angola, Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The theme of the summit – the grand debate – is an exploration into which of the three possible options put forward could make for a unified, integrated continent.
The “Union of African States” is a view led by South African President Thabo Mbeki, proposing the gradual strengthening of regions and AU institutions including the executive, judicial, financial and technical institutions.
The former Nigerian President Olesegun Obasanjo has suggested an “African Union Government” and advocates taking 15 continental institutions created under the AU and transforming them into the 55th state in Africa, by 2015.
The Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi, who wants an African government now, is leading the “United States of Africa” model.
“Our position is to strengthen SADC and the other regions. We have to be realistic in our goals towards a unified government,” Kapambwe said.
The SADC’s vision is one of a common future, in a regional community that will ensure the economic well-being, improvement in the quality of life, freedoms, social justice and peace and security for the people of Southern Africa.
“Our countries throughout Africa do not have the same level of development and it will take some time before we have the proper infrastructure in place to make that integration which we all agree upon possible,” he said.
Africa’s regional economic communities, many of which have overlapping memberships, consist primarily of trade blocs and, in some cases, some political and military cooperation.
These are the SADC, Community of Sahel-Saharan States (CEN-SAD), Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), East African Community (EAC), Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS/CEEAC), Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Inter-governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and the Union du Maghreb Arabe (UMA).
Kapambwe said that the SADC has done much towards regional integration, such as establishing the Southern African Customs Union, and abolishing the need for visas amongst countries such as South Africa, Zambia and Mozambique.
The nations in the region however, will still need some time to synchronise their essential functions in areas such as economics and governance.
“We need to reach a certain level of conformity in a number of elements and this can be further extrapolated to be the case with Africa’s integration,” Ambassador Kapambwe said.
‘Cultural gaps’ exist
Kapambwe added that further gaps between countries existed because culture dictated many aspects of how countries were run, and they would need to be harmonised before differing countries could share a government.
“These often have a direct correlation to the legislation and governance of countries, such as the case where many Muslim areas operate under Sharia Law and Christian countries would adopt Dutch-Roman or English common-law,” he explained.
“Going in at this point or in a matter of years and hoping to meld these nations under one banner is not feasible in SADC’s view.”
He added that members had to ensure that regions and eventually the continent have consensus regarding issues on human rights, selection procedures to run for office, legislation, governance and distribution of resources before having a unity government
“A unified Africa is an ideal to which all the leaders in the session over the next three days aspire. It will strengthen Africa’s economic position and contribute greatly towards internal conflict resolution and many other challenges which currently face us,” Kapambwe said.