The dialectics of developmental regionalism in Southern Africa and the challenge of sustainability

The foregoing clearly illustrates why developmental regionalism has to take centre-stage in southern Africa at this point in time. The simple reason is that experience shows that the way forward lies in a heterodox approach where the states of the region need to reach a consensus on how best to pool their energies and resources to govern and transform the regional development project. What this suggests is that although there is an emerging consensus within the community about what needs to be done, the people and states of the region stand to gain significantly from the benefits that will inevitably flow from removing the hurdles that lie in the path of developmental regionalism. Of note also is the need to think through how to peacefully build upon the developmental politics of states within the regions both within countries and in terms of intraregional cooperation and coordination alongside the corresponding “activist” political will.

In so far as South Africa continues to loom large over the region, there will be challenges linked to its domination of regional trade, and the rapid penetration and expansion of South African capital into neighbouring states. There is also the issue of migration from low-income to more prosperous Southern African states, with South Africa receiving a large number of migrants from neighbouring and other African countries, which in the context of economic contraction has sparked episodes of xenophobic attacks on African foreigners, including citizens of some SADC countries. It has also been noted that “South Africa has experienced greater success in exporting goods to the SADC region than other member states have had in exporting to South Africa. South African still dominates services exports and is by far the largest source of intra-SADC FDI” (Arndt and Roberts 2018: 300). It underlines the point that apart from dominating the regional economy, South Africa occupies a critical place in shaping the agenda of regional integration.

Therefore an agenda of developmental regionalism will have to include the political will to drive deliberate efforts to engineer greater diversity in the economies and markets in the region. It will have to iiwolve the redistribution of economic opportunities in a more equitable way, within and across all SADC member states, develop infrastructure that promote intraregional trade, and bridge existing inequalities, while promoting symbols and activities that uphold common regional values and principles.

Several critical steps need to be taken in relation to new thinking by scholars, civil society activists and policy makers on how to engineer breakthroughs in terms of innovative ideas to reinvigorate local skills and talents necessary for the domestic production of internationally competitive goods and services as one of the important steps towards integrated developmental regionalism. This will both involve research, innovation, capacity building at all levels, continuous dialogue, and sharing information on new findings across the region. It will also be instrumental as states seek buy-in from citizens and various sectors of society as well as economic actors. In a globalized age, SADC member states cannot run away from the reality that ideas drive change. Part of the change will also iiwolve paying more attention to, and shifting resources from norm setting to effective implementation of new regional developmental policies and interventions.

Sustaining developmental regionalism will require fresh ideas/knowledge and the political commitment of effective developmental states, visionary elites and empowered citizens to address the historical and socio-economic and structural factors that fuel crises and instability within member states. Regional and national interests need not compete against each other, rather coherent strategies should be devised for managing them, broaden the concept of sovereignty, recognize, grow and build on complementarities by resolving differences peacefully. These and other issues will benefit from research and knowledge production on areas of critical need accompanied by a political context that feeds innovative thinking and information into the policy design and implementation processes. Also important is the need to renegotiate the place of the region in the global division of labour and renegotiate more favourable terms of trade as well as selective integration into the global market. It should also be noted that developmental regionalism should be driven by democratic developmental states and a mobilized regional citizenry.

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