By Thoboloko Ntšonyane

MASERU – The Prime Minister (PM) Ntsoakoane Matekane had last week called on the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Heads of State and Government to embrace a path towards regional unity, progress and integration.

He made this appeal while delivering his maiden speech at the 43rd Ordinary SADC Summit of Heads of State and Government held in Luanda, Angola. The Summit was held under the theme: “Human and financial capital: The key drivers for sustainable industrialization of the SADC Region”.

The PM told the Summit that the “SADC that we want” can be achieved adding that no one should be left behind in the process to remaining committed and faithful to the ideals and main objectives of the bloc, the African Union Agenda 2063, and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Matekane entreated the Heads of State and Government to increase investment in their respective communities. “I, therefore, request that we redouble our efforts in the implementation of the infrastructure development projects contained in the implementation of the infrastructure and development projects contained in our Regional Infrastructure Development Master Plan.”

He continued: “We need to reinforce our resource mobilization strategies to enable us to augment the financial resources that we inject into the implementation of our regional integration agenda as Annual Member States’ Contributions. We have noticed that these are not enough, let alone the fact that it is becoming increasingly evident that the financial burden on our struggling economies is getting heavier year by year. I believe we can do better!”

Resonating SADC Anthem’s plea for unity and collective developmental progress, he appealed to the Heads of State and Government to “let us all endeavor to make SADC a “dawn of a better future and hope for regional and universal integration, towards our peoples unity and harmony”by defeating in our time, the greatest challenges facing our people and states, such as terrorism, human trafficking, poverty, lack of development, climate change and trade amongst others”.

He reaffirmed his commitment to working in concert with the leaders in the region towards realizing the unity, solidarity, and cooperation amongst citizens and the countries.

Amongst the six strategic priority areas of the Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan (RISDP) 2020-2030 is the industrial development and market integration (Pillar I) and the infrastructure development support of regional integration (Pillar II).

The RISDP 2030 operationalizes the ambitious long-term SADC Vision 2050 which contains the aspirations for the region. They are both premised in the following pillars: Industrial Development and Market Integration; Infrastructure Development in support of Regional integration; and Social and Human Capital Development. 

Save for the global economic challenges and the rising prices of fuel and other commodities, largely exacerbated by the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war, Matekane assured to the Summit the Lesotho’s commitment to observing the Macroeconomic Convergence benchmarks that the region has set for itself.

He said the country is committed to moving together with the rest of the region and continent to participating in the implementation of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). Initiated in 2021, this agreement among the African Union Member States aims to create a single market for goods and services in Africa while also promoting intra-African trade and economic integration.

The AfCFTA further fosters development across the continent by proposing the elimination of the tariffs on a wide range of products in order to facilitate smooth trade to approximately 1, 3 billion in the African market.

“This agreement is not only a stepping stone for claiming our share of global market, also an enabler for both regional and global value chains. We are working tirelessly to harness all the potential benefits of the market preferences extended under the [AfCFTA]. We appreciate all the efforts that SADC Secretariat is taking to realize this goal.”

On the sidelines of the Summit, the PM had an audience with Botswana President, Dr Mokgwetsi Masisi.

He assured them that Lesotho shall no longer be on the SADC Agenda for “all wrong reasons”.

“We are cognizant of the fact that in order to achieve these noble objectives, we need to change the way we do things. It is in this context that we reiterate our unwavering political commitment to the National Reforms process,” he said.

Taking stock of the reforms which are the national agenda the nation is looking forward to their implementation as expressed in the plenary report, also SADC is looking forward to, he noted thus: “The reforms are a national priority that we have a responsibility to ensure are carried forward and finalized. The government strongly believes that it is through this programme, that a new era of peace and stability will be achieved in Lesotho”.

The Summit had also received an update on the political and security situation in Lesotho and had according to the communique issued by SADC, “conveyed its appreciation for the progress and for the commitment by the government of Lesotho to finalize the comprehensive reforms process”.

It will be recalled that in July, SADC dispatched a Panel of Elders to Lesotho led by the former President of Tanzania, Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete to take stock on the progress the country is registering as far as the ongoing reforms process is concerned. It is in that study tour where the delegation was briefed by the government on the ground covered and had also had an audience with different stakeholders including politicians, civil society actors but such was not directed to engage media despite media having direct involvement on the reforms process.

“[The] Summit noted the readiness of the Member States that will hold elections during the year, namely the Republic of Zimbabwe in August, the Kingdom of Eswatini in September, the Republic of Madagascar in November and December, the Democratic Republic of Congo in December, and South Africa in 2024 and Botswana in 2024 and wished the Member States peaceful elections,” reads the communique in pertinent part. 

During the Summit, the President of Angola, HE João Manuel Gonçlaves Lourenço assumed the chairmanship of SADC from the President of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), HE Félix Tshisekedi Tshilombo.

The Summit has also elected the HE Hakainde Hichilema, the President of Zambia and the President of Tanzania Dr Samia Suluhu Hassan as the Chairperson of the Organ on Politics, Defense and Security Cooperation taking over from Namibian President Dr Hage Geingob.

Angola’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Téte António had on also assumed the Chairpersonship of the Council of Ministers.

Preceding the Summit were some of the following events of which some are yet to take place: a Public Lecture titled ‘Dynamics of SADC Integration-Achievements, Challenges and Outlook’ on August 12, the Meeting of SADC Council of Ministers on August 13 to 14, and Organ Troika Summit to happen on August 16.

The SADC Summit convenes yearly and draws participation from the Heads of State and Government representing the 16 Member States: Angola, Botswana, Comoros, DRC, Eswatini, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Present at the 43rd Summit where Heads of State and Government and their representatives from the bloc’s 16 Member States.

The PM’s delegation was made of the Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Dr Retšelisitsoe Matlanyane, Minister of Trade, Industry, Business Development and Tourism, Hon Mokhethi Shelile and Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Relations, Hon Lejone Mpotjoane.