Development or Democracy: Tales of the SADC political conundrum.


The development-democracy dichotomy story is one of the region's most avoided discussions among politicians and policymakers. What makes it avoided is the intensity of the dichotomy maximized by the political interests of different political players. In the eyes and ears of ordinary citizens, the most common form of democracy is representative, where people elect government officials from local councils to the president. However, the cornerstones of democracy include freedom of assembly, association, property rights, freedom of religion and speech, inclusiveness and equality, citizenship, consent of the governed, voting rights, freedom from unwarranted governmental deprivation of the right to life and liberty, and minority rights. On the other hand, development is developing or being developed. Human development is a widely known and acceptable form of development by citizens across the region. Human development encompasses all aspects of an individual’s well-being, from health and education status to economic and political freedom.   


The development and democratic terrain of SADC is shaped by its history of colonialism and liberation struggle. Within the SADC community, history has shown that governments show solidarity with each other, which dates back to the formation of Front-Line States. This kind of informal solidarity in SADC has a clear structure where former liberation armies meet. These include the African National Congress (ANC), ZANU PF, the Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO), the Southwest Africa People’s Organization (SWAPO), and the Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) of Tanzania, among others. These regional political parties have been known for advocating for Ubuntu, a philosophy questionable to the citizens, particularly with opposition political movements that subscribe to the democracy promotes development hypothesis. Human rights violations, election violence, lack of the rule of law, and the general infringement of people’s rights led many to ask if the ruling parties across the region genuinely subscribe to the humanism that comes with Ubuntu. 


Based on the regional background and the current debate, the democracy and development conundrum is complex and complicated to unpack in a sober analysis. This article, l presents two hypotheses in the development and democracy debate. The first hypothesis denotes that democracy promotes growth because the motivations of citizens to work and invest, the effective allocation of resources in the marketplace, and profit-maximizing private activity can all be maintained in a climate of liberty, free-flowing information, and secured control of the property. The other school of thought posits that democracies can limit state intervention in the economy due to states being responsive to the public's demands in areas such as education, justice, and health; and encourage stable and long-run growth.  The democratization process positively affects growth, whose heterogeneity depends on the consolidation of democracy itself. Good political institutions are expected to favor growth by limiting volatility in the market, and the role political capital plays due to the stock of democracy is paramount.  


In essence, SADC, formerly the Southern African Development Coordination Conference (SADCC), was a politically motivated response and the defensive mechanism by the FLS to the PW Botha Apartheid regime in South Africa. The transformation of SADCC into SADC represented an increased emphasis on responding to international trends by mobilizing the region’s resources, potential, and capacity. The geopolitical terrain after the end of the Cold War, together with the demise of apartheid in South Africa, shifted international emphasis on traditional military-political security to a concentration on a much broader definition of security that included economic, environmental, and societal security. The demands for increased liberalization were met by the SADC Protocol on Free Trade in 1996, an agreement that contained a detailed strategy for achieving a free trade area in the region within eight years, but a project that eventually took much longer to ratify than had been expected.


Economic growth and development within a distinctly neo-liberal economic paradigm became the new ideological driving force that governed decisions at the regional level. However, during its two decades of existence (SADC was established in 1993), the organization has not yet resolved the question of a regional bank that could underpin and promote increased regionalization and a regional currency. Within the southern African region, significant changes had taken place during the early 1990s, changing the political face of the part and raising expectations of peace and security and an opportunity for development. The Apartheid regime ended with the ANC's unbanning and the release of the former President) Mandela and other liberation movement leaders in early 1990. At that point, it was clear that it was only a matter of time before South Africa would be politically acceptable to its neighbors and, therefore, able to join a regional organization. The underlying rationale for the establishment of SADCC had thus fallen away, and with the prospect of the region’s most significant and most robust economy joining its neighbors, the role and function of SADCC were revisited, and a new organization, taking the changing political nature of the region into consideration, formed. Therefore, SADC was not only a result of or response to changing international trends and demands but also a response to a changing political climate within the region. 

Globalization, particularly the neo-liberal economic paradigm spread through this process, significantly impacted how the southern African region perceived its future in the early 1990s. Given the region’s history and under circumstances of economic hardship and a host of problems ranging from internal political instability to food, health, and environmental insecurity, looking past and cooperating beyond immediate national demands and needs, SADC was established to create the enabling environment that would allow deep regional integration. The oppressive incumbents within the SADC region have learned from their collective experience that although development can be dangerous, it is possible to defuse that danger to a considerable extent. By limiting coordination goods, autocrats can have it all, a contented constituency of power brokers and military leaders who benefit from economic growth, increased resources to cope with economic and political shocks, and a weak and dispirited political opposition. 


The structure of the SADC leaders and their ideological orientation have mastered and recognized that promoting economic growth in the developing world is not nearly as effective as promoting democracy. Thus, the democracy aids growth view, on the other hand, argues that rulers or autocratic leaders are potential looters and democratic institutions can act to constrain them. Implementing the rule of law, contract enforcement, and protection of property rights do not necessarily require an authoritarian regime. The latter tends to confiscate assets if it expects a brief tenure or even a long one. Authoritarian regimes tend to be more corrupt and prone to extravagant use of resources, internally inconsistent policies, and short-lived and volatile economic progress. The motivation of citizens to work and invest, the effective allocation of resources in the marketplace, and profit-maximizing private activity can all be maintained with higher political rights and civil liberties.

The SADC region faces severe inequalities due to a lack of economic and ideological clarity and coordination among member countries. The two most common ways of measuring inequality, the Gini coefficient, and the Palma ratio, rate the SADC region similarly. The Gini coefficient uses numbers between 1 (total inequality) and 0 (total equality) based on income distribution and the Palma ratio, which compares the incomes of the top 10% and bottom 40%. SADC countries perform similarly on both indicators, with South Africa, Namibia, and Zambia the most unequal and Mauritius, Tanzaniaand the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) the least. SADC contains the world’s three most unequal countries: South Africa, Namibia, Zambia, Eswatini, Mozambique, and Botswana, another being three of the ten most unequal. Except for Tanzania and Mauritius, all SADC member states are in the top 50 most unequal countries. SADC countries have seen impressive economic growth in the past two decades, and significant reductions in poverty in 11 countries, but at least half have seen a widening gap between the richest and the poorest people.

To understand how authoritarian regimes manage to survive with such inequalities within the region, there is a need to understand the concept of strategic coordination. The term "strategic coordination" comes from the political science literature and refers to the activities people must do to win political power in a given situation. Such activities include disseminating information, recruiting and organizing members, choosing leaders, and developing a viable strategy to influence the group's power and policy. Strategic coordination is a valuable concept because it helps explain why economics has traditionally been thought to promote democratization. The way it works is linked to how economic growth leads to urbanization and improvements in technology and infrastructure. These improvements dramatically facilitate communication and recruitment by new groups. Economic growth also tends to lead to increased investment in education, which benefits the opposition by producing more sophisticated individuals from whom it can recruit support. 

The relationship between democracy and economic growth has long been investigated in political science and the economic literature both from a theoretical and empirical perspectiveindicating that the democracy and growth nexus largely depend on the world’s regions and periods considered. There are several factors inhibiting the transformation of SADC economies and their ability to improve industrialization capacity, namely the structural disarticulation of SADCeconomies, primarily the lop-sided patterns of production, consumption, and trade; sluggish growth, weak to poor manufacturing capabilities, and declining market share in regional and global markets; the lack of a vision to integrate economies involving macro-economic policy coordination and growth-oriented industrial and trade policies; the lack of new and upgraded physical infrastructure and trade facilitation measures; and procrastination and ambivalence regarding steps towards a unified labor market.

There is a need to clarify better the nature of national and regional industrial policies, their linkages, and areas of harmonization and coordination. The SADC regional policy must incorporate the merits of a ‘smart’ industrial policy that simultaneously enhances competitiveness and social inclusivity. An intelligent industrial approach based on a shared vision and the region’s specific comparative advantages, recognizing the central role of the private sector in poverty alleviation and balancing market failures and government failures, will lay a firm foundation for the region’s future development prospects.