Region-building in southern Africa: can the SADC pick up the pace? Book review

Few would argue that, “with its relatively weak economies, widespread poverty and great inerqualities, region-building remains a goal progressively to to be aimed at” in southern Africa (p.297).  Or that the stress must be on it being a goal to be aimed at rather than one  that has been reached or even one which has seen significant progress.  That is the effective message of the very comprehensive  and tightly packed analysis of regional cooperation in Region-building in southern Africa: Progress, problems and prospects  written by Chris Saunders, Gwinyayi Dzinesa and Dawn Nagar and published by Zed.

The volume covers a huge range in great detail and benefits from contributions by diplomats and southern Africans closely involved in integration efforts, such as former Southern African Development Community (SADC) head Kaire Mbuende.  Chapters cover everything from the case for regional integration through governance and security to economic integration, the customs union, food security, fighting HIV/AIDS,climate change and relations with key partners outside Africa.

The main message of the book is rather a gloomy one, that southern African states have come together because they are in the same geographical area but do not yet share “a set of either common interests or common values” (p. 99).   Mbuende, from his experience as  Executive Secretary of the SADC for five years, laments the lack of any regional capacity building and the SADC modus operandi of giving sectoral responsibilities to individual states (p.41).    Landsberg picks up on this and points to the lack of institutional capacity in the SADC to rise about national interests and, particularly, to overcome rivalries and contrasting approaches to governnance, democracy and development.

The message is that unless the SADC can become more extra-national and build its own capacity and take for itself control of sectors such as customs, trade, transport etc on a regional basis, the Community will progress litle further.  In their introduction, the editors of the volume point to the key fact that little has been achieved in promoting trade within the region and South Africa, as the regional economic power, trades more with Europe, China and the United States individually than with the whole of the SADC region.  China’s role seems particularly key here and it is good that there is a chapter devoted to it, but it is sadly the least effective in the book and seems superifical and lacking in serious analysis of problems as well as positive sides of Chinese investment and trade.  There is no real discussion of the flooding of southern African  markets with cheap manufactured goods often sold at a loss that then undercut local products and decrease rather than increase economic development in the region in thelong-term. Similarly, the influx of Chinese unskilled workers as well as skilled workers means that projects often fail to provide employment for local people.  This is a failing and the chapter doesn’t come up to the standards, for example, of Chris Alden’s more realistic and balanced examination of Chinese investment  in and trade with Africa (China in Africa, Zed Books, 2007).

But overall, it is a very useful volume with clear and sobering assessments of the limits to region-building in the southern Africa – for those interested  in the prospects for regional community-building this book will provide a lot of food for thought.

Chris Saunders, Gwinyayi A. Dzinesa and Dawn Nagar (ed), Region-building in southern Africa: Progress, problems and prospects, London, Zed Books, 2012,  ISBN 978 1 78032 178 3 (pb).

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One response to “Region-building in southern Africa: can the SADC pick up the pace? Book review

  1. Pingback: Africa Journalism Reviews Region-building in Southern Africa: Progress, Problems and Prospectus | Books LIVE

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