Since the early days of independence in the 1950s, African governments have made regional integration a priority, providing several platforms from which they can achieve their mutual goals.
Already, efforts are being made to integrate economies at the continental level through the African Union and at the regional level through various groupings.
The Abuja Treaty of 1991 divided the continent into five regional zones – North, West, South, East and Central.
From these regional spaces, the continent is now enriched with 14 regional and sub-regional groups.
This article focuses on the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the Southern African Customs Union (SACU), the two coexisting bodies in Southern Africa.
Both bodies have the potential to play an important role in regional integration, but much remains to be done for them to become more effective, including by harmonizing their operations.
Based in Gaborone, Botswana, the main objectives of SADC are to promote socio-economic cooperation and integration and political and security cooperation in the region.
The body is made up of Angola, Botswana, Comoros, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eswatini, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, from South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Meanwhile, SACU is the oldest attempt at a regional integration customs union in the world, having been formed in 1910.
It was created following the signing of the Customs Union Agreement between the Union of South Africa and its administered territories.
The organization now has five members: Lesotho, Botswana, South Africa, Eswatini and Namibia.
SACU provides for the adoption of common policies and strategies among its members and recognizes the crucial role that tariffs play as an instrument of regional integration and development.
As SADC and SACU strive to advance regional integration, one issue that stands out is the duplication of their membership – will all five SACU members also belong to SADC?
What this shows is that there are two regional bodies in Southern Africa with almost the same objectives, but dual membership for some countries.
The roles of the members thus overlap, leading in many cases to conflicts of interest.
SADC and SACU member countries are notorious for disagreeing on several issues and for advocating for the adoption of cohort positions, thus dividing opinion on regional integration.
Yet the main roles of SADC and SACU, as set out in various of their protocols, are to enhance regional integration among Southern African countries through cooperation in the economic, political, social and cultural spheres.
The objective of both organizations is to enhance development in the Southern African region, while establishing links with other regional groupings on the continent and possibly the African Union.
In the presence of both SADC and SACU, it became clear that full regional integration still remains pending.
Large economies like South Africa still maintain tariffs that prevent goods from other countries from reaching their shores, while smaller economies do not realize any competitive advantage.
SADC, for example, has 27 legally binding protocols on a range of issues, including development, defence, free trade and movement of people, illicit drug trade and energy, with the aim of promoting a harmonious framework for regional integration and development.
While progress is being made in other areas of cooperation such as defense and security, some of the other areas are making slow progress to fully integrate the region.
SADC must continue to evolve and reorganize to be ready to deal with changing global systems that impact on regional integration.
We witnessed such a change in 2001 when the regional body had to reorganize its institutions so that it could become more articulated in driving the common regional integration agenda.
The 2001 review of the operation of the regional body resulted in the amendment of the treaty creating the body in 1992.
The amended Treaty now includes explicit questions that take into consideration development orientation, subsidiarity, market integration, trade and investment facilitation and promotion.
SADC has since summarized its scope of work into four clusters, which are: trade, industry and investment; food, agriculture and natural resources; social and human development; infrastructure and special services and programs.
Yet the regional body still falls short when it comes to protecting small economies from the consequences of unfair trade that accompanies the removal of trade barriers.
This means that in promoting regional integration, SADC Member States should from time to time continue to refine the scope and sectors of cooperation and identify appropriate strategies and mechanisms to overcome obstacles to integration and remedy regional imbalances.
This is supported by the Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan (RISDP) which was formulated in 2001 by SADC, with the aim of enhancing regional integration and overall development in the region.
The RISDP aimed to accelerate the fight against poverty and the achievement of economic and non-economic development goals.
SADC’s success in regional integration depends on how far it will go in bringing about comprehensive development and eradicating poverty.
But this does not mean that the regional body has been desperate in promoting regional integration – it has done much within its means to achieve its goals.
SADC has been at the forefront of creating momentum that has resulted in the establishment of several regional treaties that have catapulted the body to respect on integration.
Economically, the region has made significant progress as all member states now have faith in market-oriented economic policies through which they are gradually opening up to trade both within and outside the region. the region.
SADC has been able to enjoy peace and political stability thanks to the regional body’s early intervention in conflict resolution through the SADC Organ on Politics, Defense and Cooperation in matters of security.
On the other hand, SACU has had its own successes in tariff liberalization and in establishing advanced integration in customs union.
Besides the customs union, the organization has a common external tariff and four of its members – South Africa, Lesotho, Eswatini and Namibia – have a common currency area that recognizes the South African rand as their currency. common.
The common currency area encourages integration between member states as they can produce goods and services at par and trade them without problems of weighing the pros and cons of currency exchanges.
SACU is also strengthening a legal framework that aims to extend integration by developing a common industrial development policy, cooperation in agriculture and mutual agreement on competition policies. Overall, it is the contradictions in regional integration that result from SACU’s existence alongside SADC that are of concern.
Both have similar objectives rooted in improving development and regional integration in the region.
What even makes this a major cause for concern is that SACU is made up of only five members who are all members of the 16-member SADC.
The major difficulty is when it comes to implementing protocols aimed at regional integration which are not uniform for SACU and SADC.
SACU members, for example, are not allowed by their protocols to enter into new preferential trade agreements with third parties, but they are in SADC where they are supposed to implement similar agreements with 11 other states.
This alone has posed a major problem for regional integration programs.
SACU has often proposed agreements seen as undermining regional integration in cases such as when it negotiated Economic Partnership Agreements with the European Union without involving SADC.
This is likely to lead to disruption of regional integration as other SADC Member States are left behind in such important cooperation instruments.
It is important that SACU has since realized the threat posed by such actions to regional integration and has set up a task force to examine how its activities can be harmonized with the wider SADC bloc and to advise on how issues and challenges for deeper regional integration can be addressed.
Considering the above arguments, it can be concluded that for SADC and SACU to be more effective in promoting regional integration, they should form a common body or platform where they harmonize their activities.
Existing separate structures involving members of the same bloc have proven contradictory and are helping to derail the rapid movement towards full regional integration.