‘Keep out the med­dle­some ones’

Zim­pa­pers Tele­vi­sion Net­work spoke to Sadc Ex­ec­u­tive Sec­re­tary Dr Ster­gom­ena Lawrence Tax at the bloc’s head­quar­ters in Botswana last week, fo­cus­ing on is­sues like the role of for­eign ob­servers in African elec­tions, eco­nomic man­age­ment in South­ern Africa

The Sunday Mail (Zimbabwe) - - NEWS - Sun­day Mail Re­porter

AFRICAN coun­tries have am­ple ca­pac­ity to con­duct elec­tions and are jus­ti­fied to bar in­tru­sive Western­ers from ob­serv­ing their polls, Sadc Ex­ec­u­tive Sec­re­tary Dr Ster­gom­ena Lawrence Tax has said.

In a wide-rang­ing in­ter­view with Zim­pa­pers Tele­vi­sion Net­work at Sadc Head­quar­ters in Gaborone, Botswana last week, Dr Tax also said the first fruits of Sadc’s in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion strat­egy — ini­ti­ated by Pres­i­dent Mu­gabe — would be seen within two years as value chains take root across South­ern Africa.

Re­spond­ing to a ques­tion on West­ern crit­i­cism of Zim­babwe’s 2013 har­monised elec­tions, Dr Tax said: “If you go by that, then all elec­tions on the con­ti­nent won’t be cred­i­ble. Elec­tions in the re­gion are ob­served by the African Union. Elec­tions are ob­served by Sadc and other part­ners.

“For us, as Sadc, we are part of the African Union, and if it is very clear that our con­clu­sions and African Union con­clu­sions are the same, then we be­lieve that we did our job. Would it hap­pen that we have dif­fer­ences in terms of con­clu­sions, then it will be an is­sue of con­cern.

“We don’t know what their mea­sures are. We don’t know what their cri­te­ria are. We don’t know how they do it, so I can­not align my­self with some­thing which I am not party to.”

Dr Tax said it was time Africans took charge of their sys­tems and gained con­fi­dence in their ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

“When you go to elec­tions, you have to ex­plain how you want to do it be­cause elec­tions are not about in­ter­fer­ing with in­ter­nal pro­cesses.

‘‘There are in­stances, I am not go­ing to men­tion a coun­try (it’s within Sadc), where one of our ex­ter­nal part­ners wanted to be part of the count­ing process.

“And they wanted to even count be­fore the Elec­toral Com­mis­sion Board. They wanted to go a step fur­ther to put their own in­stru­ment. Now, are you ob­serv­ing or you want to be part of the in­ter­nal pro­cesses? We don’t go and in­ter­fere in in­ter­nal pro­cesses . . . even if you are not sure about the sys­tem, which is be­ing used, ask and get an ex­pla­na­tion.”

On eco­nomic growth, she said: “In Sadc, we have mi­cro-eco­nomic con­ver­gence cri­te­ria.

‘‘We have agreed that for us to mea­sure whether an econ­omy is mov­ing in the right di­rec­tion, GDP should not be be­low (a par­tic­u­lar level), in­fla­tion should not be higher than (a cer­tain point) and debt-sus­tain­abil­ity should not be be­low this, and we are within those ranges.

“The only thing that I may ad­mit that it is still a chal­lenge is that yes, we are see­ing eco­nomic growth but the eco­nomic growth has not trans­lated to ad­dress­ing poverty, which, for us as a re­gion, is our ul­ti­mate ob­jec­tive.

“What we need to do and are do­ing now is to un­der­stand that if economies are grow­ing, as as­sessed via the mi­cro-eco­nomic in­di­ca­tors, why are we not ad­dress­ing poverty to that level? And that is what we are now busy try­ing to see.”

*** Q: You have been the Ex­ec­u­tive Sec­re­tary of Sadc for the past four years, and you are the first woman to hold that post. What does this mile­stone mean for you and African women?

A: I ap­pre­ci­ate this ap­point­ment and the trust be­stowed upon me. Such po­si­tions are com­pet­i­tive, strate­gic and po­lit­i­cally sen­si­tive. And Sadc, in par­tic­u­lar the Heads of State, felt it fit to pro­vide me this op­por­tu­nity to serve the or­gan­i­sa­tion.

With re­gard to women, I en­cour­age them that th­ese po­si­tions are not for any par­tic­u­lar gen­der. One just has to be con­fi­dent, pre­pare them­selves and take up the chal­lenge.

Q: Tell me about your re­la­tion­ship with your male coun­ter­parts given the strong link be­tween lead­er­ship and pa­tri­archy.

A: My re­la­tion­ship is very good; ex­cel­lent be­cause it de­pends on how you re­late with them your­self. If you go there and say, “I am a woman; here I am, I need favours”, then you might find chal­lenges.

In the re­gion, I in­ter­act with Heads of State, min­is­ters, and I get proper guid­ance and the needed sup­port with­out be­ing looked at as a woman. I am looked at as the Ex­ec­u­tive Sec­re­tary of Sadc.

I also re­late and work closely with my coun­ter­parts in other re­gions. For ex­am­ple, in Comesa we have a tri­par­tite ar­range­ment and we have task­force of CEOs. We lead and they chair on a ro­ta­tional ba­sis. In that con­fig­u­ra­tion/ ar­range­ment, what I have seen is re­spect, sup­port and en­cour­age­ment. I have not felt that I am here and that I have been looked at as a woman. No.

Q: Some for­mer lib­er­a­tion move­ments in Sadc say re­gional in­sta­bil­ity is largely caused by their for­mer colo­nial masters. Do you agree?

A: Yes and no. I may agree be­cause de­pen­dence is still there. We are still very de­pen­dent on ex­ter­nal part­ners for many rea­sons. So you can trans­late that be­cause of your de­pen­dence, one can in­flu­ence your pro­cesses.

But it also de­pends on how you (play) your cards when you ne­go­ti­ate.

Even if you de­pend on a part­ner, you also have to un­der­stand your strength; that I am ne­go­ti­at­ing a trade deal and I am the one who is go­ing to pro­vide the raw ma­te­ri­als or what­ever else you are com­ing with.

You have to cap­i­talise on your strength. Yes, you may have that in­flu­ence, but you have ways to man­age that in­flu­ence, de­pend­ing on how you play your cards.

Q: Have Sadc coun­tries been able to do that; com­pe­tently ne­go­ti­ate trade agree­ments?

A: That is a dif­fi­cult one. Even though I am an econ­o­mist, let me look at it from an eco­nomic-po­lit­i­cal point of view.

We have to un­der­stand where we have come from and where we are. In most of our coun­tries, some peo­ple say you have been in­de­pen­dent for 50 years, but we are see­ing very lit­tle.

But when they do that, they com­pare with other coun­tries which have been in­de­pen­dent for 300 years. So, it is a jour­ney, and I am look­ing at it from a his­tor­i­cal-eco­nomic-po­lit­i­cal point of view.

The focus when we were strug­gling for in­de­pen­dence was to get po­lit­i­cal and flag in­de­pen­dence.

And when we got in­de­pen­dence, we were to pre­pare our­selves to man­age our economies. That prepa­ra­tion took dif­fer­ent routes be­cause some mem­ber states had to de­fine ide­ol­ogy.

Now it de­pends on the ide­o­log­i­cal route they took. Also, we had to pre­pare our­selves in terms of so­cio-eco­nomic re­quire­ments, for ex­am­ple, skills devel­op­ment. Be­fore even go­ing to skills devel­op­ment, you had to come up with a vi­sion: Where do I want to go 50 years from now? What is my mis­sion and how do I go there?

I think that is where, maybe, it took some time for most of our coun­tries be­fore com­ing up with a clear mis­sion and from that mis­sion to say how do I pri­ori­tise to make sure that I ar­rive at that mis­sion?

You need to know what you are pri­ori­tis­ing be­cause you have to make sure that you have the elites who are go­ing to man­age the ad­min­is­tra­tion. How long does that take?

It’s not an ac­tiv­ity that you say I am go­ing to see the im­pact. Maybe, also, it took time in that we had a few peo­ple who can ne­go­ti­ate and ar­tic­u­late.

You are seated at a ta­ble with a part­ner from a Euro­pean coun­try. It’s a team of 20 peo­ple, ex­perts in dif­fer­ent as­pects. And you are a team of five peo­ple and you don’t have deep ex­per­tise in those ar­eas.

So, you will try your best to ne­go­ti­ate, but you have to un­der­stand that you may end up with­out the best deal. That has been re­alised now and that’s why you will see that the dy­nam­ics have changed com­pletely.

Q: Do you be­lieve most Sadc coun­tries ap­pre­ci­ate the role of ef­fec­tively manag­ing their economies?

A: They do. That’s why now, if you have been fol­low­ing what is go­ing on in most of th­ese economies, first even if you take Sadc as an ex­am­ple, we have now pri­ori­tised man­age­ment of our economies, in par­tic­u­lar, re­sources.

We have our re­sources and we need to make sure that we man­age those re­sources for our ben­e­fit.

And you can see the align­ment with the pri­or­i­ties.

Most coun­tries now have focus on mak­ing sure our pri­or­i­ties are right. We also un­der­stand that for those that we feel are right pri­or­i­ties, how are we go­ing to re­alise them? What do we need? And if this is what we need, how do we put in place those re­quire­ments?

Q: Is it rea­son­able, in your view, to have taken this long to get to the point of manag­ing our economies?

A: It is not a straight­for­ward ques­tion with a straight­for­ward an­swer. I al­ways lis­ten to the com­par­i­son:

There are late-com­ers, but they have leap-frogged oth­ers (I’m avoid­ing men­tion­ing coun­tries). But those had a bench­mark. They learnt from the mis­takes of oth­ers.

So, it took time be­cause we had to learn. Maybe we learnt the hard way. It has taken time. Per­haps we would have done it much ear­lier, but it is a process which was ex­pected to take place. It’s not unique to the Sadc re­gion. It was the same process even in other parts of the de­vel­op­ing world.

Q: Let’s talk about in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion. The Sadc In­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion Strat­egy and Roadmap is the re­gion’s guide into com­ing years. What has been im­ped­ing Africa’s quest to in­dus­tri­alise?

A: It’s the same rea­son; pri­ori­ti­sa­tion. Con­ven­tion­ally, peo­ple will talk about lack of skills, lack of fi­nances, in­fra­struc­ture gap.

But, again, I’m go­ing to (the ques­tion) why that? My an­swer will be ap­pro­pri­ate pri­ori­ti­sa­tion and not ap­pre­ci­at­ing the op­por­tu­ni­ties that ex­ist in util­is­ing co-oper­a­tion in re­gional in­te­gra­tion.

We started in the Free Trade Area. We knew that we have opened up our mar­ket, but did we go a step fur­ther to say yes we are open­ing up our mar­kets, what should we do?

And this is a tough les­son be­cause it is not only within Sadc.

We have also had a num­ber of trade agree­ments with other parts of the world, but it was very clear that the ma­jor chal­lenge has been sup­ply side con­straints.

Now it goes back to ap­pro­pri­ate pri­ori­ti­sa­tion. If you want to trade, you must make sure that you have the ca­pac­ity to pro­duce, com­pete and trade.

Yes, you have a lot of pri­or­i­ties, but which should come first? Is it the so­cial? It is also about bal­anc­ing your pri­or­i­ties be­cause as a coun­try, you have a lot of com­pet­ing pri­or­i­ties.

Q: Crit­ics look at the gen­eral per­for­mance of an in­di­vid­ual coun­try and then tie it to that coun­try’s lead­er­ship . . .

A: In Sadc, we have mi­cro-eco­nomic con­ver­gence cri­te­ria. We have agreed that for us to mea­sure whether an econ­omy is mov­ing in the right di­rec­tion, GDP should not be be­low (a par­tic­u­lar level), in­fla­tion should not be higher than (a cer­tain point) and debt-sus­tain­abil­ity should not be be­low this, and we are within those ranges. Last year, we had chal­lenges, which were at­trib­uted to a num­ber of fac­tors.

We had drought. We had the com­mod­ity cri­sis — world­wide. The only thing that I may (ad­mit) is still a chal­lenge is that yes, we are see­ing eco­nomic growth but that eco­nomic growth has not trans­lated to ad­dress­ing poverty, which, for us as a re­gion, is our ul­ti­mate ob­jec­tive.

What we need to do and are do­ing now is to un­der­stand that if economies are grow­ing as as­sessed via the mi­cro-eco­nomic in­di­ca­tors, why are we not ad­dress­ing poverty to that level?

And that is what we are now busy try­ing to see. What kind of mea­sures should we put in place to make sure that we ad­dress poverty is­sues?

Q: When can we be­gin to see tan­gi­ble re­sults in this march to­wards in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion?

A: “Tan­gi­ble re­sults” is sub­jec­tive and de­pends on how you de­fine it. In­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion is not an event; it is a process. And if you ask me what I am proud of since I joined this or­gan­i­sa­tion; that is one of the achieve­ments which I am see­ing but it will take time.

The de­ci­sion was taken in Au­gust 2014. When you say you want to in­dus­tri­alise, it is not just a state­ment. You must make sure that you have the tools and ca­pac­ity. (The strat­egy) is a mile­stone even though it is not im­pact­ful yet. But once you have a strat­egy, it is not enough.

You need to have a plan. So, the next stage we were now pre­par­ing to have was an op­er­a­tional­i­sa­tion plan, which, again, in one year was put in place, and was ap­proved in March 2016.

The de­ci­sion was, pre­pare a strat­egy and also to start front­load­ing in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion. So, we started work­ing on the value chains we pro­filed. We have al­ready iden­ti­fied phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals, min­er­als and agro-pro­cess­ing.

We are now mov­ing to com­ing up with value chains. So, progress is tak­ing place.

Within two years I be­lieve we are go­ing to have value chains in the dif­fer­ent coun­tries and then you can see the im­pact; not only the out­put but also the out­come of in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion.

Q: How would you de­scribe Pres­i­dent Mu­gabe’s chair­man­ship of Sadc (Au­gust 2014-Au­gust 2015)?

A: (laughs) I don’t want to as­sess my lead­ers, but what I will say is that it was not only Pres­i­dent Mu­gabe, but a num­ber of Chairs.

When you as­sume chair­man­ship, there are two things which you do. First, you de­cide on the theme, and based on the theme, a work pro­gramme is pre­pared.

His theme was “Value Ad­di­tion and Ben­e­fi­ci­a­tion”, and that is what drove in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion. Now, I’m throw­ing this ques­tion back to you: Since we started this con­ver­sa­tion, how much has in­dus­tri­al­i­sa­tion fea­tured?

That is a clear re­sponse that in­deed, there has been an im­pact not only dur­ing his ten­ure but a con­tin­u­ous im­pact.

Q: Botswana is host­ing an Amer­i­can mil­i­tary base and some rea­son that this is a threat to re­gional se­cu­rity given the hos­tile re­la­tions be­tween the West and some Sadc coun­tries.

A: I wouldn’t like to com­ment on that be­cause I have not an­a­lysed that mat­ter.

Q: Has the mat­ter come up at Sadc meet­ings?

A: It’s not part of the Sadc agenda and per­son­ally, I have not an­a­lysed it.

Q: Zim­babwe will hold elec­tions next year. Based on Sadc stan­dards, what is your assess­ment of the coun­try’s elec­toral sys­tem?

A: If I an­a­lyse the elec­toral sys­tem, it will be pre­ma­ture. I wouldn’t like to present my assess­ment on as­sump­tions.

And I am say­ing this be­cause ac­cord­ing to our struc­ture and guide­lines on demo­cratic elec­tions, be­fore a coun­try goes to elec­tions, we get a no­ti­fi­ca­tion from mem­ber states that “we are go­ing to con­duct elec­tions and we in­vite you to come and ob­serve those elec­tions”.

Be­fore we send the elec­tion ob­ser­va­tion mis­sion, what we do first is send what we call an assess­ment mis­sion, which as­sesses elec­toral pre­pared­ness in terms of leg­is­la­tion, the se­cu­rity sit­u­a­tion, among other ar­eas.

The last elec­tion, as you are aware, was cred­i­ble as pro­nounced by Sadc.

And since then, the Gov­ern­ment has been in power, and has gov­erned. We have not, as an or­gan­i­sa­tion, re­ceived any com­plaints.

You can­not gauge one elec­tion to the other be­cause you are talk­ing of a pe­riod of four years, but we have no rea­son . . . to doubt that things have changed that dra­mat­i­cally to ex­pect that there are go­ing to be mas­sive chal­lenges dur­ing th­ese elec­tions in terms of the law, in terms of the en­vi­ron­ment. We don’t ex­pect that.

Q: Some West­ern groups at­tacked the cred­i­bil­ity of that elec­tion . . .

A: If you go by that, then all the elec­tions on the con­ti­nent won’t be cred­i­ble.

Elec­tions in the re­gion are ob­served by the African Union. Elec­tions are ob­served by Sadc and other part­ners. For us, as Sadc, we are part of the African Union, and if it is very clear that our con­clu­sions and African Union con­clu­sions are the same, then we be­lieve that we did our job.

Would it hap­pen that we have dif­fer­ences in terms of con­clu­sions, then it will be an is­sue of con­cern. We don’t know what their mea­sures are. We don’t know what their cri­te­ria are. We don’t know how they do it, so I can­not align my­self with some­thing which I am not party to.

Q: The feel­ing has been that the pres­ence of West­ern groups gives more cred­i­bil­ity to African elec­tions . . .

A: Is it be­cause we don’t trust our sys­tems? Is it be­cause we feel that we don’t have cred­i­ble peo­ple to do that?

That is now where we also need to un­der­stand that we are Africans. It is our con­ti­nent. It is our re­gion and we have an obli­ga­tion of lead­ing our con­ti­nent.

When you go to elec­tions, you have to ex­plain how you want to do it be­cause elec­tions are not about in­ter­fer­ing with the in­ter­nal pro­cesses. It’s not about that.

There are in­stances, I am not go­ing to men­tion the coun­try (it’s within Sadc), where one of our ex­ter­nal part­ners wanted to be part of the count­ing process. And they wanted to even count be­fore the elec­toral com­mis­sion board. They wanted to go a step fur­ther to put their own in­stru­ment.

Now, are you ob­serv­ing or you want to be part of the in­ter­nal pro­cesses? We don’t go and in­ter­fere in in­ter­nal pro­cesses, but even if you are not sure about the sys­tem be­ing used, ask and get an ex­pla­na­tion.

That is why we even have pre-elec­tion (as­sess­ments). How did you con­duct your voter reg­is­tra­tion? This is what we did. Was everybody given an op­por­tu­nity to be reg­is­tered? Yes. And we con­sult widely.

We don’t con­sult only with the gov­ern­ment, but a num­ber of stake­hold­ers.

If you have doubts, you have to com­mu­ni­cate those doubts be­fore to en­able the gov­ern­ment to take the nec­es­sary ac­tion. Is the elec­toral com­mis­sion in­de­pen­dent enough? Do you feel that it is in­de­pen­dent? Yes. If it’s in­de­pen­dent, then let them do their work.

But if you now want to be the elec­toral board, you want to be the one to con­duct the vot­ers’ reg­is­ter, you are not help­ing. Be­cause what you need (to do) is to help by en­abling that coun­try to have the re­quired sys­tems.

Q: So, from the ex­am­ple you have given, is it fair then to say that coun­tries that bar Western­ers from ob­serv­ing their elec­tions are jus­ti­fied?

A: I may say they are jus­ti­fied if there are jus­ti­fi­able rea­sons. And they may not be jus­ti­fied be­cause I don’t have the facts, I can­not rule.

But what I am in­sist­ing on is that you need to ob­serve elec­tions based on your guid­ing prin­ci­ples and also un­der­stand­ing that that is a sov­er­eign coun­try with their leg­is­la­tion. Elec­tions are gov­erned by con­sti­tu­tions and elec­toral and other laws.

So, you have to un­der­stand those laws as well. A coun­try can­not just wake up in the morn­ing and say I don’t want you to come and be part of my elec­tions. There must be rea­sons.

Now, be­cause I don’t know the rea­sons, it’s very dif­fi­cult for me to say this was the case and this is how it hap­pened. But I am try­ing to ex­plain a (pos­si­ble) sce­nario.

— Pic­ture: Justin Mu­tenda

ZANU-PF Sec­re­tary for Ad­min­is­tra­tion Dr Ig­natius Chombo (left) and Chief Chidziva ad­mire some of the wares on dis­play at the Zvimba North Cul­tural Fes­ti­val in Mu­torashanga yes­ter­day.

Dr Ster­gom­ena Lawrence Tax

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