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On Friday January 30, President Mugabe was confirmed as the Chairman of the African Union.

In a historic feat, he now holds the chairmanship of both the region (Sadc) and the continental body, the AU.

In his acceptance speech President Mugabe made reference to how Sadc “adopted several economic strategies to propel the sub-region to greater heights.” These include the Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan (RISDP) and the Strategic Indicative Plan for the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security (SIPO II).

Through these strategies, the Sadc region intends to attain economic independence and transformation. Using the vast resources available to Sadc countries, RISDP and SIPO II aim to bring about a higher level of industrialisation and value addition to the region’s resources.

President Mugabe’s mentioning of this was critical as regional integration is an essential step in achieving continental growth. The AU has embarked on a 50-year plan through Agenda 2063 with the resultant aim to build a harmonised continent with shared values and a common destiny. Africa, however, is not a country or a homogenous entity.

The diversity of people, beliefs, cultures, customs, religions, politics, governments, economies and systems make it difficult to set an agenda or policy that will immediately suit all 55 countries on the continent.

For this reason, a move towards full regional integration is better and more beneficial to the AU’s continental aspirations. Sadc, Ecowas, East African Community (EAC), Economic Community of East African States (ECCAS) and the Community of Sahel-Saharan States are perfect institutions to drive the continental agenda. What is important for countries to look at is the manner and focus of their regional integration.

According to Sadc, the ultimate objective of RISDP is “to deepen integration in the region with a view to accelerate poverty eradication and the attainment of other economic and non-economic development goals.” In theory the comprehensive plan is a good policy however, one might ask whether it is in line with practices that take place daily between people in neighbouring African countries.

The pertinent step for African governments is to realise that regional integration is already taking place on a social and economic level.

The politics and policies now need to catch up and be formulated in line with what is occurring on a daily basis.

According to the United Nations Entity of Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, informal cross-border trade in the Sadc region has an annual average value of US$17,6 billion and constitutes 30-40 percent of intra-Sadc trade.

In contrast, the approved 201415 Sadc Consolidated Business Plan and a Budget amounted to US$88,335 million, 38 percent of the contributions coming from member states and 61 percent from International Co-operating Partners (ICPs).

The Sadc budget is a paltry 0,005 percent of the average value of informal trade. It therefore follows that it would be prudent for Sadc to develop policies in line with what people are already doing.

This would not only improve the lives of the traders, for example, but also provide Sadc a supplementary source of income and not have the organisation relying on foreign ICPs. In West and Central Africa, informal cross-border trade employs at least one person who then supports an average of six people, both immediate and distant relatives.

With this being such a vital component of livelihoods, regional organisations should mainstream trade policies and institutions, in an effort not to undermine the profitability and visibility of informal trade activities.

But informal trade is not the only manner in which ordinary people are integrating regionally. The media and social media have changed how Africans on the continent relate to each other.

Increasingly, musicians from different parts of the continent are collaborating with each other and touring all over the continent. Zimbabwe’s Simba Tagz in 2014 released a song with Nigeria’s Ice Prince.

Nigerian, Kenyan, Namibian, Batswana, South African artists are consistently crossing borders to entertain crowds who learn of their music from their online social media presence on Facebook and Twitter.

Source : The Herald