BY Moses Magadza THE Southern African Development Community (Sadc) requires a more internally-driven economic strategy that conquers the constraints of the current closed economies if it is to overcome the challenges of mass unemployment, pervasive poverty and acute inequality.
This was said by Sadc secretary-general Boemo Mmandu-Sekgoma, in a keynote address presented on her behalf during the launch of the Southern Africa Commitments to Reducing Inequality index report at the 13th Alternative Mining Indaba — 2022 parallel session on May 10, 2022.
The report was compiled by Oxfam, Norwegian Church Aid and Development Finance International to encourage Sadc member governments to scale up their efforts to reduce inequality.
“The region is still battling with the colonial and apartheid-induced legacy of ‘dualism and enclavity’, coupled with post-independence governance challenges, and their attendant, unacceptably high levels of unemployment, poverty and inequality.
“We need a different kind of economic growth in the region, one that does not exclude women, young people, movements, community-based organisations and those with disability,” said Mmandu-Sekgoma.
She said the focus of the report was a matter dear to the Sadc PF and parliamentarians of the region in view of the sad reality that their constituencies continue to struggle with acute inequalities as the region is host to some of the most unequal countries in the world.
Mmandu-Sekgoma said poverty and inequality are on the increase, particularly in countries that have gone through political crises.
“Even agricultural economies and resource-rich countries of the region have not been able to reduce wealth gaps and the rates of poverty and unemployment,” she said, adding that inequality undermines human dignity and perpetuates human rights violations.
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“It also triggers social strife and conflicts, with women and children bearing the brunt. Ultimately, inequalities and extreme poverty pose an existential threat to peace and stability in communities in member states across the region,” she said.
According to Mmandu-Sekgoma, the enclave economy, which is typically characterised by a relatively small, well-resourced and male-dominated formal sector that operates in isolation from a large, growing and poverty-stricken women-dominated informal economy and the communal subsistence economy, is a major driver of the current trend of inequality.
She cited the report which showed that southern Africa was the most unequal regional economic community in Africa, with South Africa, Namibia and Zambia the three most unequal countries.
“Three other Sadc countries (eSwatini, Mozambique and Botswana); were among the 10 most unequal countries in Africa and all the other Sadc states, except for Tanzania and Mauritius, were in the top 50 most unequal countries,” said the report.
In addition, the report highlighted that the Sadc region exhibited inequality between countries as well as gross inequality within nations, including the gender and age dimensions.
The report further highlighted that gender inequity, poverty among women, weak economic capacity, sexual and gender-based violence are major impediments to improving women’s health in the Sadc region.
“Women in Sadc were more likely to die from communicable diseases like HIV, tuberculosis, and malaria, maternal and perinatal conditions, and nutritional deficiencies than women in other regions,” said the report.
In addition, six Sadc countries were among the top 12 with the highest youth unemployment rates as of 2017: eSwatini (54,8%), South Africa (57,4%), Namibia (45,4%), Mozambique (42,7%), Lesotho (38,5%), Botswana (35,7%) and Mauritius (23,3%).
The acute inequalities and a sense of exclusion among the youth was triggering new challenges in some Sadc member States, including social protests and xenophobia which are characterised by collective violence and destruction.
Mmandu-Sekgoma said the structure of the economies of Sadc States lends itself to severe volatility in the global economy as many global crises have shown — whether it is the global financial crisis, or the COVID-19 pandemic — crises that begin far from Africa, but quickly turn into a huge crisis for the region and the continent, retaining long-lasting impacts, well after the other regions of the world have recovered.
“The COVID-19 pandemic amplified rather than concealed global, regional and national inequalities. The rush for common pool resources such as health care and vaccines have been a battleground between the haves and the have nots,” she said.
The Sadc secretary-general said although access to a COVID-19 vaccine could mean the difference between life and death, right now, billions of people around the world are denied access to a life-saving vaccine because some pharmaceutical companies were actively locking out other manufacturers from producing much-needed doses and continue to prioritise selling vaccines to rich countries.
Despite various urgent calls to ensure the equal distribution of COVID-19 vaccines in 2021, pharmaceutical companies tragically failed to rise to the challenge of a once-in-a-century global health and human rights crisis.
Instead, they monopolised technology, blocked and lobbied against the sharing of intellectual property, charged high prices for vaccines and prioritised supplies to wealthy countries.
In evaluating inequality in southern Africa, it is critical to note that like elsewhere on the continent, inequality has risen using many other indices, including gender inequality, the historical racial inequality, generational inequality and inequality based on ethnicity, bodily ability, space and zone.
“In Sadc, inequality and poverty are feminised. There is simply an unacceptably high number of women trapped in the triple burden of unemployment, poverty and inequality relative to male counterparts.
“For persons with disabilities including albinism, for instance, inequality is made worse by deliberate discrimination and social exclusion,” Mmandu-Sekgoma noted.
“Tackling gender inequality is important for inclusive development and this must be done across a range of sectors by setting the right policy framework — and Parliaments can play a big role in ensuring that it happens,” she said.
The Sadc secretariat boss added: “For example, while employment and wage labour are important elements of tackling poverty and inequality, statistics show that women and youth are particularly vulnerable in the labour force from discriminatory pay structure, to lack of opportunity for upward mobility.
“Only 12% of Africa’s working-age women were in waged employment in 2016, compared to 22% in Asia and 33% in Latin America, for instance.”
She noted that Sadc needs a more human-centred economic model that does not accentuate pre-existing inequalities.
“We need an Africa State that is democratic, developmental, accountable and responsive.
“The committee system and the transformation of Sadc PF into a Sadc Parliament offer strategic opportunities for further stakeholder engagement in this regard,” she said.
Mmandu-Sekgoma urged parliaments to be proactive in influencing public policy design, implementation and outcomes.
This requires partnerships that enhance parliamentary capacity in policy literacy, appreciation and ability to connect with civic actors to augment parliamentary oversight role through evidence, normative, knowledge tools and benchmarking.
“Importantly, here is the development stand and norm setting for effective, robust and imaginative laws that take the region to the future,” she said.
“This includes the entire legislative process from green papers or white papers to an Act, including public hearings, and expert testimonies. This is now needed more than ever before, if laws passed by Parliaments are to have enough teeth to slow down inequality, reduce it and eliminate it.”
Mmandu-Sekgoma said for inclusive development to take place, the policymaking matrix and arena must be inclusive.
“It must allow active convergence between social partners in and on the policymaking table. This is why governance matters.”
Democracy and governance on the one end and economic development on the other are and must be mutually reinforcing elements in building vibrant, inclusive and developed societies.
Pronounced absence of one side profoundly impacts on the presence of the other.
There is thus need to strengthen mechanisms for public participation along the extractive industries value chain, from contract negotiation/licensing and free prior informed community participation leading to conflict and evictions, corruption and State capture, unfair taxation, illicit financial flows and smuggling.
According to Mmandu-Sekgoma, Parliament should and must be a watchdog and a people’s arena of battle against bad governance, and for the pursuit of more just, more equal and more prosperous societies.
“But this needs active citizenship, active participation and partnership between citizens and Parliaments,” she said.
- Moses Magadza is a doctoral student with research interests in agenda setting, framing, (re)presentation, critical discourse analysis and social justice.