No. 6: Region-building in Southern Africa / Roger Southall / Business Day, December 2013

Reviewed in: Business Day, 10 December 2013

Region-Building in Southern Africa: progress, problems and prospects, Chris Saunders, Gwinyayi Dzinesa, and Dawn Nagar (eds) (2012), London, Zed Books; Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press

The Business Life/Books & Authors

Long road to an integrated region

The history of "regional integration" in Southern Africa is unfortunate. Southern Rhodesia dominated Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland in the Central African Federation in the 1950s; SA lorded it over the former high commission territories (Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland) in the Southern African Customs Union from 1910 to 1992; and when regional countries had formed their own bloc to counter apartheid hegemony via the Southern African Development Co-ordination Conference from 1980, they encountered crude military, political and economic destabilisation by Pretoria. No wonder "regional integration" in Southern Africa has gone out of fashion, to be replaced by a much wider focus on "region building".

Whereas regional integration was market-led, region-building is more inclusive and "developmental" — arguing that classic objectives such as eliminating trade barriers, establishing common tariffs and forming monetary union are unlikely to succeed in the modern era unless linked to measures to ensure democracy, peace, and human security. Such is the message of this volume, which presents a comprehensive overview of the current state of regionalism — warts and all — in Southern Africa, with the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) as its main focus.

An initiative of the Centre for Conflict Resolution in Cape Town, the collection features chapters written by 19 scholars, most of whom are from or working in the region. I say "scholars", not merely because this is the term the editors use, but because the book can correctly said to constitute "scholarship", with a remarkably even level of high quality across a broad terrain: the historical legacy, governance and military security, economic integration, human security and the effect of external actors.

The volume views region-building as of vital importance for the wellbeing of all the peoples and countries within Sadc. It offers high marks to regional leaders and institutions for good intentions, yet provides a blunt assessment that their efforts have enjoyed limited success, and "developmental integration still has a long way to go".

Postapartheid SA, although seeking to avoid being seen as throwing its weight about, remains overwhelmingly economically dominant (accounting for 70% of Sadc's foreign direct investment). Trade remains heavily skewed towards Asia (especially China), Europe and the US rather than being intra-regionally oriented. The will to form common political and economic institutions is held back by the lack of a commitment to democracy. Conflicts in Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mozambique, Swaziland and Zimbabwe have proved divisive.

Coherence is undermined by member countries belonging to overlapping regional projects such as the Common Market for Southern and Eastern Africa. Further complications are presented by the competing objectives of external actors, notably the determination of the European Union to fight off Asian competition by getting African countries to sign up to economic partnership agreements. Another worry is that region-building has been overwhelmingly the work of national elites, with civil society organisations highly divided and little involved.

As the editors put it somewhat mildly in their conclusion: "Region-building in Southern Africa is ... a work in progress". Nonetheless, it is one which remains vital if economic development is to be underpinned by political and social stability.

Roger Southall
Professor Emeritus of Sociology, University of the Witwatersrand

Synopsis of the book »

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