Despite instability in three of the 14 Southern African Development Community (SADC) member states, executive secretary Tomaz Salomao says the political climate in the region remains stable. However, Salomao acknowledges that the region is faced with the challenges of high inflation, skewed distribution of resources, and poverty, even though most members are showing signs of economic growth.
Playing down instability in Lesotho, Zimbabwe and Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Dr Salomao said:" The overall political and security situation in the SADC region remains stable and is expected to remain the same."
He was speaking at a media briefing at the SADC Secretariat ahead of the forthcoming SADC Heads of State Summit to be held in Lusaka, Zambia, later this month.
Salomao said the regional body responded to the challenges in the three countries accordingly through the extraordinary summit held in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania, which directed several of its organs and the Secretariat to assess the situation in Maseru, Harare and Kinshasa.
" It also mandated South African President Thabo Mbeki to mediate political dialogue in Zimbabwe and report back to the summit," he said. He said that assessment missions were also undertaken to Lesotho and the DRC by the ministerial troika of the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation. Former Botswana president Sir Ketumile Masire, in his capacity as SADC Eminent Person, undertook a mission to Lesotho "to facilitate dialogue amongst the stakeholders on issues pertaining to the electoral process in that country and consultations are ongoing".
The executive secretary hailed SADC's economic performance, saying it had improved in terms of output and per capita income in 2006 compared to 2005. He said the growth outlook for the region is projected to be at about seven per cent in 2007. " The SADC average real GDP grew at about five per cent in 2006, the same as in 2005. A country-by-country analysis of growth trends shows that during the period under consideration, seven member states achieved growth rates or five per cent of higher, whilst only four member states grew by less than three per cent.
The other three member states grew by less than five per cent", Salomao said. He singled out Angola as having achieved the highest GDP annual growth rate of 18.6 percent last year while other high performers included Mozambique and Malawi at 7.9 and 7.4 per cent respectively. The SADC boss noted that Zimbabwe, which continues to experience economic and political turmoil, recorded the least growth rate of negative 4.4 percent.
However, Salomao observed that inflation remains higher than the Sub-Saharan Africa average of 13 percent. For this year, inflation also remains higher than the SADC macroeconomic target of achieving single digit inflation by next year. He attributed high inflation to soaring oil prices. Without including Zimbabwe, SADC's inflation remains at 17. 3 percent. Harare recorded inflation of 1,016.7 per cent in 2006.
On poverty, the SADC executive secretary said poverty is high with an average 50 percent of SADC citizens living in abject poverty. " The second major challenge for SADC is the HIV and AIDS pandemic that has significantly reduced life expectancy from 53.6 years to 45.7 years It also continues to absorb a substantial proportion of national budgets utilised in various mitigating measures in response to HIV and AIDS," Salomao said.
" The SADC average HIV prevalence rate is about 18 percent, which is more than twice the Africa average rate estimated at seven percent in 2003. Botswana and Swaziland have the highest rates with life expectancy in these member states reduced by almost 50 percent in the last two decades. The lowest rates are found in Madagascar," Salomao said.