By Gershom Ndhlovu
Before Zambia chooses which regional organisation to stick to between the Southern African Development Community (SADC) which has just had a successful summit in Lusaka, and the Common Market for East and Southern Africa (COMESA) whose headquarters are in the same city, it would be important to examine the objectives of the two bodies.
Some of the objectives of the 15 nation member SADC are to achieve development and economic growth, alleviate poverty, enhance the standard and quality of life of the people of Southern Africa and support the socially disadvantaged through regional integration; evolve common political values, systems and institutions and promote self-sustaining development on the basis of collective self-reliance, and the interdependence of Member States.
Others are to promote and maximise productive employment and utilisation of resources of the region and achieve sustainable utilisation of natural resources and effective protection of the environment and achieve complementarity between national and regional strategies and programmes.
The following are some of the 19 member nation COMESA’s objectives: to attain sustainable growth and development of member states by promoting a more balanced and harmonious development of production and marketing structures and to promote joint development in all fields of economic activity and the joint adoption of macro-economic policies and programmes to raise the standard of living of its peoples and to foster closer relationship among member states.
Others are to co-operate in the creation of an enabling environment of foreign, cross-border and domestic investment including the joint promotion of research and adoption of science and technology and to contribute towards the establishment, progress and the realisation of the objectives of the African Economic Community.
The countries whose membership overlaps between the two regional bodies are Zambia, Malawi, Madagascar, Mauritius, Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo and Seychelles which has just been re-admitted to SADC.
On the other hand, COMESA has 19 member countries which include Libya, Egypt and Sudan, among others. Tanzania pulled out of COMESA sometime back to concentrate on its SADC membership.
Zambian President and current SADC chairman Levy Mwanawasa could not have put it any better.
"We have a big challenge as Zambia. We are members of COMESA and we host COMESA… We are also members of SADC and presently I am the chairman. So it becomes a very difficult problem for us to choose which organisation we should go to.”"But our priority should not be deciding to which regional body we should belong. Our problem must be to work hard to try and harmonise the decisions in both organisations so that if we have common customs union, perhaps in the end it will not be necessary to decide where we should belong… The economists will advise me."
It is indeed a difficult choice for Zambia which immensely contributed to the formation of the two regional groupings.
The case for sticking with COMESA cannot be overstated. First and foremost, we accommodate its headquarters from which we benefit in terms of employment opportunities it has created for our citizens, but also from the spending power of foreign nationals working at COMESA.
In the case of Zambia, if it came to choosing the regional body to stick with, COMESA would, in my view, be a better option because of its wider membership which stretches up to Libya and Egypt rather than on SADC which is obviously anchored on the stronger economy of South Africa.
In terms of the grassroots, ordinary Zambians would easily relate to COMESA whose “benefits” they are able to see by the trade going on at the “COMESA” market in Lusaka whether or not it has any official connection with the COMESA headquarters. The ease with which people are able to conduct small-scale cross-border trade makes it all the more attractive compared to the harassment they get from some SADC countries where they are treated like criminals.Or maybe, the smaller SADC should merge with the larger COMESA?