SADC at Odds with Civil Society

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By Wezi Tjaronda WINDHOEK Southern Africa will have to break with traditional models of state dominated approaches and involve non-state actors (NSAs) if it wants to build a regional community. This will include exercising a paradigm shift to community building and the involvement of non-state actors at regional level on issues of democratic governance and poverty alleviation, which will not only be people-oriented but also have a participatory approach. The situation at the moment is that several informal networks have sprung up in the region to redirect policies in areas of environment, human rights, basic needs and gender equality, yet regional governments distrust civil society and often undermine their ability to play a meaningful role in regional development, according to a recently released briefing paper of the Institute for Public Policy and Research, entitled, “Transcending State Centrism? Non-State Actors and Regionalism from below in the Southern African Development Community”. Pronunciations of NGOs about the inaccessibility of the SADC national contact point and their exclusion from SADC summit meetings, says the paper compiled by Lesley Blaauw, a University of Namibia lecturer in the Department of Political and Administrative Studies, “casts doubt about the gravity of SADC governments to embrace a broader spectrum of stakeholders into the security arena”. Although non-state actors could contribute to the definition and constitution of social space and political community taking place in the region, the experience is that there is little civil society involvement happening at SADC level. Blaauw says the limited involvement of NGOs at SADC level has made them “look beyond the geometry of state sovereignty” to address problems of unemployment, poverty and resource scarcity. One of the pillars of SADC is based on the assumption that the welfare of the people of the region can be promoted by the participation of ordinary citizens in building the region. The SADC Treaty of 1992 states that SADC will involve the people of the region and non-governmental organizations in the process of regional integration and would cooperate with people of the region and NGOs, which the paper says illustrates that SADC recognizes that NSAs have a role to play in the integration process. The SADC Treaty also makes reference to the role that NSAs such as civil society, the private sector, NGOs and workers could play in regional integration efforts, but that there is no formal recognition that actors outside the SADC structures lend new value to the region and of the notion of regional communities. “Not surprisingly, therefore, civil society in general still has problems establishing a durable relationship with SADC,” the paper adds. Although NGOs could help enhance the process of development from below, due to the fact that they may provide instruments which emphasize the participation of the poor, SADC unlike its European counterpart, where forces are stronger and better organised, has a moderate history of NGOs working within a regional framework. The emergence of NGOs that seek to address regional issues such as trade, debt relief, environmental degradation, migration and democracy provide impulses for a new approach to regionalism in SADC. The campaign by the Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development, the Swaziland Campaign against Poverty and Economic Inequality, the Malawi Economic Justice Network and peasants from Lesotho, provide the impulses for such an approach. “This suggests that the dominant conception of a regional community in SADC driven by states alone is increasingly at odds with events on the ground. Moreover, it represents a compelling example of both developing identity and community in formation beyond national borders,” the paper further says. Due to this, “using state-centric lenses to define SADC suggests a poor basis for understanding the region,” says Blaauw. Interactions of an economic nature among citizens of the region and increasing networks among civil society organisations, therefore, “present a compelling case for an emerging identity and a community in formation that lies beyond the geometry of state sovereignty in SADC,” the paper adds.