PESA Regional Integration Monitor, September 2017

Impact of Political Uncertainty on SADC Growth

The September 2017 issue focuses on political uncertainty and its impact on economic growth in the SADC region – What is the current political economy context in SADC? what is the source of uncertainty? what is the historical context behind the uncertainties? what are the drivers and key role players in the SADC growth story?




Headline Story by Tafadzwa Mahubaba

The Impact of Political Uncertainty on Economic Performance

Private interests leveraging political influence undermine consistency in policy-making and implementation, creating economic uncertainty. This further contributes to a deceleration of growth and development, inflating disunity and mistrust in the government, and heightened reservations from international investors and the global community.

Lately, global geopolitical uncertainty has been driven by Brexit) and US President Donald Trump’s isolationist policies and provocative international relations with North Korea. Trump’s unpredictable and populist approach to politics and international relations has led to increasing disunity and mistrust in his administration – evidenced by the recent failure to pass his proposed American Health Care Act, despite having a republican majority in the Senate1. Additionally, Trump’s questionable appointments of politically exposed individuals has resulted in increased public outcry and subsequent dismissals, such as the appointment of Anthony Scaramucci as Communications Director of the White House; Herbert McMaster who succeeded Michael Flynn after 24 days into his term; and Jeff Sessions as Attorney General2. Not forgetting, signing an executive order on 25 January 2017 to start building the Mexican border wall3.

On the other hand, Brexit has created an increasingly deteriorating external position for Britain, with the full extent of consequences unknown. From June 2016 to date, Britain’s trade deficit has increased by 14% from USD 10.3 billion to USD 11.7 billion, David Cameron has resigned as Prime Minister, and foreign currency reserves declined by 17.3% (USD 2.3 billion) to USD 10.5 billion4. Political uncertainty resulting from Brexit is expected to affect other countries, both within and outside the EU. This includes Malawi – a former colony of Britain, which heavily relies on British assistance and development funding and trade. Malawi has been forced to revise its budget for grant income downward by 18.5% for FY2016/17 and a further 19.5% for FY2017/18 budget5.

Inevitably, the high stakes, growing tensions and complexity of geopolitics are affecting international trade relations and perpetuating the slow recovery of the global economy. Directly affected is SADC growth, and the possibility of jeopardising the prospects of trade agreements being negotiated with Regional Economic Communities (RECs) such as the Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA) 6. For instance, Brexit could jeopardise the economic prospects and future of ongoing EU Economic Partnership Agreement (EPAs) negotiations, which have gradually increased SADC exports to the EU by 3.8% per annum from 2010 to 2015, before slowing to 0.8% in 20167. However, the British government has embarked on a stakeholder engagement campaign to reassure SADC partners of continued trade relations post-Brexit8. US isolationism could also affect the future of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) that advances market access for Sub-Saharan exports to the US, despite the Agreement being extended until 2025 by the Obama administration in April 20159.

An alarming increase in political uncertainty in the SADC region has raised concerns about the state of democratic transparency or succession. Timeously, this coincides with a number of national elections taking place: Madagascar (2017), Mozambique (2017), Swaziland (2017), the Democratic Republic of Congo (late 2017 or early 2018 after being postponed in 2016); Zimbabwe (2018) and South Africa is set to have its elections in 201910.

Lesotho’s elections on 3 June 2017 took place without major disruptions, despite the country’s recent history of post-election violence11. Political tensions remain however, given that incumbent Prime Minister, Thomas Thabane, returned to lead the new government after fleeing the country following a failed assassination attempt in 200912. The recent assassination of his ex-wife, Lipolelo Thabane, has increased the expectation of looming violence13.

Meanwhile, in Zimbabwe, there have been rising political tensions over the question of who will succeed President Mugabe after the 2018 elections. This is amidst calls for the ailing and aging president to step down – even from former supporters, like the military veterans14. With a history of post-election violence, political tensions have also been driven by a lack of confidence in the current administration, which has been exacerbated by recent economic challenges in the country. Coupled with international sanctions, Zimbabwe was forced to implement a ‘Look East Policy’15. However, due to its proximity and shared boundaries, Zimbabwe heavily relies on South Africa for trade, access to consumer and financial markets, and economic opportunities for a significant proportion its population living within the country.

With close economic and political ties with South Africa, Mozambique is also affected by deteriorating economic conditions. Together with the consequences of its own political uncertainty – resulting from a USD 2 billion hidden debt scandal, of which more than USD 500 million remains unexplained due to irregular and unlawful expenditure of public finances16. As a result of the hidden debt scandal and Kroll audit findings, investors have withdrawn financing and the IMF has suspended funding to Mozambique until audit findings are resolved17. Similarly, Malawi’s Cashgate scandal – where government officials misappropriated MWK 13.7 – 20 billion (approx. USD 18.8 – 27.4 million) – interrupted Malawi’s economic recovery and affected investor and donor confidence18. High ranking government officials closely linked to former President Joyce Banda, including seven ministers, were found guilty for looting state funding and adversely affecting the budget of the country19. These countries are in increasingly vulnerable positions and actively pursuing relations within SADC in pursuit of accessing regional markets and private capital.

Surrounded with external pressure, South Africa is also faced with numerous internal challenges. A rising the number of individuals announcing their intention to run for President within the ruling African National Congress (ANC), undermines the succession plans presented by the current president, Jacob Zuma. However, the ANC has not yet announced its official presidential candidates for the 2019 election. Apart from the expected two candidates Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma and Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa, other candidates such as Lindiwe Sisulu, Jeff Radebe and Mathews Phosa have announced their intention to run for President20. The list of presidential hopefuls also includes ANC National Executive Council members such as National Chairperson and Speaker of Parliament Baleka Mbethe, and Treasurer General, Zweli Mkhize. Increased contestation and internal voices calling for Zuma to step down, disagreements over Zuma’s recent reshuffles and democratic ideals, are signs of clear divisions and rising factionalism in the ANC. These internal interests have heightened political uncertainty, as different factions seek to gain power. Emerging allegations of state capture, featuring the influential Gupta family, have left state-owned enterprises (SOEs) like Eskom exposed.

These factors and an increasing government-guaranteed debt burden from SOEs, have resulted in downgrades from all three major international credit ratings agencies – Fitch, Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s21. Following the downgrade, Moody’s also downgraded the rating of five South African banks – Absa Bank Limited, FirstRand Bank Limited, Investec Bank Limited, Nedbank Limited and Standard Bank of South Africa, due to their exposure to sovereign risk through SOE debt22. This is bound to affect the government’s access to international capital markets, which is crucial for development, given that economic growth has been driven by public investment to implement structural changes identified in the National Development Plan (NDP) 23. In addition, the credit downgrades should increase the risk premiums on future borrowing, due to the insecurity of government policy and implementation. Despite these downgrades and declining market confidence, the Rand has remained resilient given the currency has only depreciated by 0.02% since the January 201724 – albeit coming off of a relatively low base. However economic growth has been strongly affected by the loss of market confidence and new stories of mismanagement of SOEs due to politically exposed individuals who are in control.

South Africa entered a recession as of June 2017, with growth declining by 0.7% in 1Q2017 after a 0.3% decline in 4Q201725. This is the eighth recession that the country has faced since 1961 and the last time the economy was in recession was in FY2008/0926. The recession has been driven by three consecutive quarterly losses, averaging -0.4% in manufacturing and an average of -0.5% in trade, catering and accommodation sectors since Q3.201627. Manufacturing production has declined by an average of -2.5% in 1Q2017, compared to 1Q2016 due to contractions in petrochemicals and wood and paper product subsectors28. In addition, the trading sector declined due to a quarterly average contraction of -2.5% since 3Q201729. These losses can be attributed to the stronger rand, low global demand and depressed oil prices. In the context of these fundamental economic dynamics, and low confidence caused by political uncertainty, South Africa’s economic recovery from the current recession may be slow or delayed.

The country will no longer enjoy the same access to international capital markets to receive financing for its public sector investment programme, due to these depressed economic conditions and credit downgrades. International investors and capital markets have now focused their attention on the rising SOE liabilities. This prompted the government to recapitalise South African Airways (SAA), which has not turned a profit in the last six years30. However, it is acknowledged that this bailout will not be sufficient to turn around the loss-making SOE without dealing with gross mismanagement and unfavourable loan agreements which have been guaranteed by government. Thus, political uncertainty has had a rising cost effect on the government and will continue to have a negative impact on growth given the difficult economic environment and increasing cost of borrowing, disrupting government’s attempts to stimulate growth through infrastructure investment.

This has prompted the South African National Treasury to implement a 14 Point Action Plan to regain market confidence. But the deterioration of public financial management is likely to lead to investor fatigue. In addition, the annual growth recovery plans create policy uncertainty and lack of accountability, since leaders are rarely required to evaluate progress on previous plans such as the 9 Point Plan of 2015, which overshadowed the NDP31. These multiple short-term actions plans are reactive, and their implementation is rarely evaluated, which will deteriorate public and investor confidence in government’s commitment and further implementation. Given the central role played by South Africa in SADC and SACU, the negative economic impacts of political uncertainty will have a regional effect. This is apart from the domestic political uncertainties in SADC member states, which is affecting economies like Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

It is recognised that causes of political uncertainty should be understood from foundational values that influence policy surrounding state intervention in economic performance. A skilful and deliberate balancing act is required to understand the political economy climate. This also requires stepping out from the mainstream economic approach, which seeks to simply minimise the role of the state in the economy. It requires an appreciation of the very important role played by the state in promoting a more equitable distribution of income, even when this is not strictly efficient, and the role of the state in resolving market failure. More importantly, strong and decisive states can also consolidate private economic interest in favour of national development interest – which is the primary lesson from the Developmental State Theory, and evidenced by Southeast Asian states. However, this also requires the state to be insulated from private economic interest and political influence in order to maintain focus on the national interest. This has been the primary challenge affecting SADC states.

Ultimately, the central contentions need to mature beyond the equally distributed pros and cons. Although free markets are efficient, they cannot ensure equity and often lead to rising inequality, for example. While, state intervention is necessary to overcome inherent market failures, the state is not typically efficient, and can be susceptible to private capture. So the central question is: How to harness the efficiency of free markets whilst enabling inclusive economic growth and equitable distribution of income?

The role of the state in the economy is highly contested, with varying schools of thought contributing their diagnosis on the influence of politics on economic performance. The challenge of political uncertainty is accompanied by complex intersectional issues, which need to be understood through a historical lens. Nevertheless, public and private sector transparency, accountability, and responsiveness are required to unlock the developmental potential of the state and private sector.

1 United States Senate; US Congress
2 BBC News
3 White House; White House
4 Office for National Statistics; UK Government; Bank of England
5 Political Economy Southern Africa; Political Economy Southern Africa
6 Political Economy Southern Africa
7 European Commission; European Commission
8 UK Parliament
9 UK Parliament; US Congress
10 Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa
11 Southern Africa Development Community
12 Government of Lesotho
13 Voice of Africa
14 News24
15 Zimbabwean Ministry of Foreign Affairs
16-17 Government of Malawi
18 International Monetary Fund; Baker Tilly Business Services Limited
19 Baker Tilly Business Services Limited, ibid.; BBC News
20 Mail & Guardian
21 Moody’s Investors Service; National Treasury of the Republic of South Africa
22 Fitch Ratings
23 National Treasury of the Republic of South Africa
24 South African Reserve Bank
25-27 Statistics South Africa
28 Statistics South Africa
29 Statistics South Africa, ibid.
30 National Treasury of the Republic of South Africa
31 National Treasury of the Republic of South Africa

Country Spotlight by Trevor Mbedzi

The Kingdom of Lesotho

Lesotho is a small land-locked country, completely surrounded by its neighbour South Africa. The Kingdom has a population of about two million and a gross domestic product (GDP) per capita of USD 1020. It is classified as a low-income country with a territory characterised by mountainous highland. Historically Lesotho was a British protectorate until 1966. Lesotho is a constitutional monarchy ruled by King Letsie III who is the head of state and the Prime Minister is Head of Government with a 33-member Senate and a 120-member National Assembly1.

In recent times Lesotho’s political climate has been in flux, with the country seeing its first coalition government formed after the 2012 election. A snap election was held in 2015 and another coalition government was formed after Prime Minister Thomas Thabane prorogued parliament and advised the King to call for fresh elections. Following the 2015 elections, Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili was elected but a motion of no-confidence was passed against the Prime Minister, who advised the King to dissolve Parliament in March 2017, and the country went for another election in June 2017 which resulted in the return of Thabane as Prime Minister2.

After robust economic growth averaging 4.5% annually from 2010 to 2015, Lesotho’s growth declined to an estimated 1.6% in 20163. Lesotho’s declining growth has been largely due to weakness in the construction and manufacturing sectors and it is expected to remain rebound to 3.3% in 2017 before returning to its historical average of 4.1% from 2017 to 20224. Unemployment, poverty and inequality have remained pervasive despite the government’s drive for non-inclusive growth. The high rate of urbanisation has outpaced the ability of the authorities to provide necessary services, and the sustainability of living conditions in urban areas and most of the rural population; which remains a critical challenge.

Consequently, a large population is still languishing in extreme poverty. Unemployment remains high at 32.8%, and the country’s Gini coefficient of 0.52 means that inequality is still a problem5. Some 57.1% of the population is still trapped in extreme poverty living below the national poverty line6. Efforts to promote inclusive growth are constrained by the pressure of high HIV prevalence (22.9% of the total population) and the volatility of receipts from the Southern African Customs Union (SACU), which finances more than 50% of the government budget7.

Rapid urbanisation has been triggered by a number of factors such as climate change, which has resulted in low agricultural productivity and spatial inequalities in the provision of services and availability of economic opportunities which often favours urban areas. With urban dwellers estimated at 23.0% of the overall population and the urban population growing at a rate of 37.0% between 1996 and 2006, sustainability of livelihoods remains a critical challenge8. The urban population has outpaced the ability of the authorities to provide commensurate social services. This in turn has often resulted in other challenges, such as poor waste disposal, pollution of water bodies, poor housing and inadequate social and economic infrastructure9. For urbanisation to remain sustainable, innovative policies are required, along with commitment towards their effective implementation. The government plan to link urban growth nodes to the rural economy and its commitment to implement climate change adaptation initiatives are highly commendable.

The country’s inability to generate adequate domestic revenue, declining SACU revenues, and increasing recurrent expenditure fuelled by a growing wage bill call for major fiscal consolidation for the next few years. The Thabane-led coalition government has committed that, when time of replacement comes, Ministers’ utility cars will no longer be replaced with luxury vehicles such as the Toyota Land Cruiser10. This is part of the government’s commitment to sound fiscal policy. However, the real challenge will be implementation of these commitments. In March 2016 the European Union (EU) halted the planned disbursement of USD 29.5 million towards budget support due to noncompliance with agreed reforms relating to public financial management. The EU had, as early as November 2012, highlighted budget management, spending and transparency as areas of concern over Lesotho.

Following his recent return as Prime Minister, Thabane has blamed the army for the country’s chronic political instability. Thabane has argued that his 2012 Administration was “scuttled” by the army and that he now intended to neutralise the Lesotho Defence Force, even if it means getting rid of it entirely11. With its history of political instability and little prospect of employment, unless one can access government largesse, politics in Lesotho are driven by bread and butter issues. This means that politicians scramble desperately for position and, if they lose, they undermine the prospects for the victors which leads to political crises. For example, after losing the vote of no confidence, Mosisili immediately advised the King to dissolve the parliament in hope that he would be re-elected in the snap elections that followed. It is clear that the dominant faction in the army remains hostile towards Thabane as evidenced by the assassination of his estranged wife just before he was sworn in as Prime Minister12.

There is doubt that any political failure in Lesotho will have a contagion effect in the SADC region, especially for South Africa. Also, given that the country is completely surrounded by South Africa, it is also upon South Africa help maintain peace and stability in Lesotho. South Africa also has a vested interest in stability in Lesotho given that it depends on water imports under the Lesotho Highlands Water Project arrangement, which is entering Phase 2. Lesotho should also find long term and innovative solution to its political crises given the ineffectiveness of snap election as evidenced by the recurring political crises in the country. This will help to redirect focus and efforts towards economic growth and development once political stability and national unity is achieved. But these two are not mutually exclusive.

1 Parliament of Lesotho
2 Government of Lesotho; Government Secretary’s Office
3 Government of Lesotho; Lesotho Bureau of Statistics
4 Government of Lesotho, ibid.
5 Lesotho Bureau of Statistics; United Nations Development Programme
6 United Nations Development Programme
7 Southern African Customs Union
8 Lesotho Bureau of Statistics
9 African Development Bank, Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development & United National Development Programme
10 Parliament of Lesotho
11 University of the Witwatersrand
12 Government of Lesotho

Industry Spotlight by Grace Nsomba


The SADC agro-processing industry encompasses a diverse range of value chains and has the potential to generate significant growth and stimulate trade in the region. However, political uncertainty and the slow progress of regional integration continue to affect the sector’s potential. Agriculture is a prominent sector in the SADC region. Between 2009 and 2015, SADC agriculture exports grew by an annual average rate of 6.5%1. Owing to the agrarian nature of the region, SADC members came to a consensus to stimulate the agricultural sector towards improved food availability and security through crop development, protection, storage, processing, utilisation and trade, using the Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan (RISDP)2. Growing processing, utilisation and trade is integral to vertical integration of primary agriculture into the agro-processing industry3.

Agro-processing focuses on increasing the value-addition by incorporating countries in different levels of the agriculture and food value-chain. In 2014, SADC member states adopted the SADC Regional Agricultural Policy which is aimed at guiding the process of promoting and supporting agriculture sector development at a regional level4. Agro-processing development is important for food security and establishing an economic basis for regional integration through mutual benefit for all SADC member states. But there is still no clear strategy for specific sectors at a regional level despite some countries having national strategies with particular focus. For example the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC) focuses on horticulture, wheat and sugar, livestock, fishing and aquaculture, beverages and forestry; whereas SADC is currently undertaking studies to determine the specific sector focus as a regional level5. Nevertheless, some progress has been achieved in understanding the complete set of factors that will unlock agro-processing, such as a regional agreement on Sanitary & Phytosanitary (SPS) standards6. The issue of SPS is important to support regional agro-processing trade and enabling exports of processed agricultural products to international markets with stringent SPS standards, like the European Union (EU) and United States.

For countries such as Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, and Zambia, the agro-processing industry can help their respective economies break out from commodity dependence and increase domestic value-addition in agriculture. For instance, in Botswana, economic growth has contracted since 2015, mainly due to the weak performance of the mining sector where the production of diamonds and copper decreased by 15.6% and 35% respectively7. Low commodity prices and continued reliance on raw commodity exports has seen deindustrialisation take place within the region. Local value addition to agricultural commodities could bring the necessary value addition to GDP through manufacturing and industry. However, differences in SPS standards and lack of a coherent regional policy within the sector significantly affects manufacturing and industrial progress that can be made within agro-processing.

Growth in agro-processing is also heavily affected by trade restrictions such as non-tariff barriers (NTBs) to trade. Although there have been efforts to address NTBs, very little progress has been made due to different SPS standards and competing national interests8. Improving agro processing value-chains within the region requires sectoral focus and substantial efforts towards resolving NTBs. However, the fact that SADC member states participate in more than one REC, dampens efforts towards these improvements by further complicating the process of unifying standards to establish an economic basis for regional integration.

A coherent transport infrastructure and concise common industrial policy are also crucial for growing agro-processing. Progress is already underway towards improving transport infrastructure within SADC, particularly because the benefits are clear for each member state. Industrial policy, however, is an issue requiring extensive coordination and cooperation by all member states9, which all RECs have struggled with in the past. The proposed Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA) agreement seeks to address issues such as these by consolidating the major Southern and East African RECs.

Nevertheless agro-processing presents significant growth potential due to its strong linkages with other industries, including the manufacturing of capital equipment, chemical inputs, packaging industries, and services such as marketing, transport and retail10. As a manufacturing sub-sector, agro-processing holds significant capacity and potential to generate inclusive growth and industrial development for SADC economies. However, in many instances, the sector is characterised by significant barriers to entry; with smallholder farmers lacking access to value-chains within the market11. Targeting small scale farmers could be an important route towards achieving substantial expansion of agro-progressing and agricultural production. For example, the cotton sector in Zambia has seen private sector companies become more active in setting up out grower schemes to target smallholder farmers12, which now sees the involvement of 220 000 smallholder farmers. The Lower Usuthu Smallholder Irrigation Project (LUSIP) in Swaziland is another example of effective smallholder development, through the support of external funders, government, NGO’s and the private sector13. Increased private sector involvement can be a viable strategy to reduce barriers to entry within agro-processing; as private sector participants can play a significant role in facilitating capacity building, creating linkages and providing access to the latest technologies.

Improved economic performance derived from agro-processing is not impossible for the SADC region. However, political uncertainty is a significant hindrance towards achieving this, given the competition between policy prerogatives of the different RECs that countries are members to, and the annual rotation of SADC chairpersonship. The region is made up of low income countries facing high inflation due to reliance on food imports, in the context of currency depreciation caused by low commodity prices, and reduced export earnings and unemployment. Agro-processing can stimulate regional industrialisation, resolve food insecurity and diversify domestic economies. But the national economic challenges have resulted in member states focusing on domestic challenges, rather than resolving regional integration policy incoherence in SADC. Hence, SADC member states are tied to different policies within various RECs, based on what suits their domestic agendas, which undermines progress toward supporting regional markets that would unlock the potential of agro-processing.

1 Political Economy Southern Africa
2 Southern African Development Community
3 Centre for Competition, Regulation and Economic Development
4 Southern African Development Community
5 Industrial Development Corporation
6 Southern African Development Community
7 Political Economy Southern Africa
8-9 Political Economy Southern Africa
10 Centre for Competition, Regulation and Economic Development, ibid.
11 Centre for Competition, Regulation and Economic Development
12 United Nations Conference on Trade and Development
13 Illovo Sugar Africa

Policy Spotlight by Serge Hadisi

Peace, Security and Elections in SADC

Political stability is an empty slogan without addressing socioeconomic challenges and ensuring a free and democratic society. In order to create a stable political environment and strengthen mutual trust among SADC countries, which will encourage regional integration, SADC established institutions such as the Inter-State Politics and Diplomacy Committee (ISPDC), SADC Electoral Advisory Council (SEAC) and the Mediation Unit1. These institutions aim to prevent, contain and resolve inter- and intra-state conflicts through peaceful means, while promoting political cooperation among SADC countries and ensuring the building of democratic institutions and practices. These institutions have succeeded in promoting peace post elections, through the presence of SADC Electoral Observation Missions for example, and emphasising respect for the rule of law. The institutions have strengthened cooperation in various areas such as defence, peace and security, and the launch of the SADC Standby Force2. SADC has established several treaties supporting democratic governance, constitutional legislative changes, and socioeconomic development. In this regard, the Revised Strategic Indicative Plan for the Organ (SIPO II) on Defence, Politics and Security provides guides and objectives for the region. SIPO II was launched in November 2012 to evaluate progress made under SIPO since 2004 and it is directly linked to the Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan (RISDP) which aims to simulate regional socioeconomic development and deepen the SADC integration agenda3. However, the political outlook in SADC has been beset with many uncertainties in recent years. These uncertainties have impacted economic growth and disrupt regional cooperation and integration. SADC has experienced highly contested elections, which often led to the credibility of results being questioned and on occasion, post-election violence.

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Lesotho, Madagascar, and Zimbabwe have faced such political challenges and outbreaks of post-election violence. For example, the DRC has plunged into political turmoil after failing to organise its national elections which were initially planned for November 2016. When the incumbent president, Joseph Kabila’s term ended in December 2016, a political crisis ensued, prompting the opposition and religious leaders to broker a settlement with Kabila, who refused to vacate office. But the settlement has not succeeded in resolving the political crisis. Kabila has not fully implemented the 31 December 2016 Episcopal Council of Catholic Bishops (CENCO) mediated Agreement and the chair of CENI has announced that the elections may not take place in 2017 as was planned4. In Lesotho, coalition governments have been facing political challenges since the 2012 elections, leading to a series of violent outbreaks such as the attempted coup by Lesotho’s military against Thomas Thabane in August 20145.

In Zimbabwe, the organisation of elections has been controversial and riddled with many irregularities. The ongoing, unresolved tension around Mugabe’s pending succession, who currently remains ZANU-PF’s official candidate for the 2018 election, is a central challenge to political stability in Zimbabwe. However, SADC has been closely monitoring the situation and taken measures, including peace mediation and military support, to address the political challenges6. For example, in March 2009, SADC suspended Madagascar membership and participation, after an outbreak of post-election violence undermined the democratic change of government and the outcomes of its elections7. At the time, there were relatively few economic and political interests in Madagascar, which allowed SADC leaders to take punitive actions against the governance challenges in the country8. In contrast, countries such as the DRC, Lesotho and Zimbabwe, have enjoyed impunity and SADC leaders have taken less concrete actions to address political challenges in these countries due to conflicts of interest. SADC members typically have greater economic interest in these countries; these countries also have greater voice in SADC, and closer historical, political ties with dominant countries like South Africa. Another important element to point out, it seems there have been mutual support between heads of states or political solidarity amongst the most influential countries in SADC, despite national political crises9.

In comparison with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), SADC’s role in regional governance has been unpredictable and inconsistent. For instance, ECOWAS has taken more decisive actions, even conducting military interventions such as the recent case in The Gambia where the ECOWAS Mission in the Gambia (ECOMIG) intervened when former President Yahya Jammeh admitted losing the poll but refused to vacate office. It is not the first time that ECOWAS intervened in national governance of members states in the region. The Economic Community Cease-Fire Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) also intervened in Liberia during the civil war in 1990. In addition, in Mali in 2013, ECOWAS intervened in collaboration with French and other African forces10. Both SADC and ECOWAS support the option of diplomacy and military intervention to restore democracy. However, SADC plays a conservative role, preferring diplomatic means, or even “silent diplomacy” which is a more passive approach against unconstitutional changes occurring in the region. Apart from the inconsistencies in the SADC approach, there is a preference to not interfere in member states’ internal political affairs. South Africa plays a leading role in influencing and advancing peace, stability and regional integration in the region. The current stance taken by SADC can be attributed to former President Thabo Mbeki’s “silent diplomacy”. This has enabled greater political instability, since inaction against political crises has been taken as acquiescence and support11.

To sum up, the ISPDC, SEAC and the Mediation Unit have managed to achieve some significant progress in terms of conflicts resolution, maintaining political stability, promoting co-operation in various areas (e.g., defence) and adopting the 2015 revised SADC Principles and Guidelines Governing Democratic Elections12. The core problem resides among member states, to respect the rule of law and to strongly stand against unconstitutional change of government. Furthermore, to breakaway from “silent diplomacy” and stop using double standard measures of holding each member state accountable. SADC should prioritise national and regional interest and surpass any individual economic interest or historical-political ties which opposes the betterment of the entire region. As South Africa has resumed the chairpersonship of SADC, South Africa has the responsibility to show its impartiality on how of dealing with the political and economic challenges in the region. South Africa needs to play its role of power house in the region to influence and advance the regional integration agenda. If not, then there is nothing much different to expect from the current SADC body approach.

SADC Electoral Observer Mission to Mozambique
SADC Electoral Observer Mission to Mozambique, issuing a preliminary statement on the 2014 Mozambique elections.


1-3 Southern African Development Community; Southern African Development Community; Southern African Development Community; Southern African Development Community; Southern African Development Community
4 Kinshasa Times; Radio Okapi; Southern African Development Community; La Prosperite; Southern African Development Community; Human Rights Watch
5 Southern African Research and Documentation Centre; Institute for Security Studies
6 Institute for Security Studies
7-9 Friedrich Ebert Stiftung
10 Economic Community of West African States; Human Rights Watch
11 Afrika Spectrum, Vol. 39, No. 2
12 Institute for Security Studies; Southern African Development Community

Tafadzwa Mahubaba

Former Research Associate

Trevor Mbedzi

Former Research Associate

Grace Nsomba

Former Research Associate

Serge Hadisi

Role: Research Associate
Serge is an Economist with extensive research and publications on sustainable economic development focusing on social development in sub-Saharan Africa...

Siya Biniza

Role: Executive Director
Siya is a Political Economist specialising in Development Finance, Industrial Development, and Regional Integration...

Michelle Livie

Former Editing and Research Specialist

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