In April 1980 the Southern Africa Coordination Conference (SADCC) was created to advance the cause of national political and economic liberation in Southern Africa. In July 1981, a Memorandum of Understanding came into force which formalized the establishment and operations of the organization. Its main objectives were to reduce the dependence of member States on the then apartheid South Africa, mobilize resources to promote national and regional policies as well as to facilitate cooperation and understanding amongst the member States.
In 1992, the Heads of State and Government decided to deepen the integration and cooperation processes in SADCC in the form of a Community. This culminated into the signing of the SADC Treaty that effectively transformed SADCC into SADC. The Heads of State and Government also signed a Declaration “Towards a Southern African Development Community” which clearly spelt out the SADC Common Agenda.
The member States of SADC are: Angola, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
The objectives of SADC, as stated in the SADC Treaty are to:
Achieve development and economic growth, alleviate poverty, enhance the standard and quality of life of the people of Southern Africa and support the socially disadvantaged through Regional Integration;
Evolve common political values, systems and institutions;
Promote and defend peace and security;
Promote self-sustaining development on the basis of collective self-reliance, and the inter-dependence of member States;
Achieve complementarity between national and regional strategies and programs;
Promote and maximize productive employment and utilization of resources of the region;
Achieve sustainable utilization of natural resources and effective protection of the environment; and
Strengthen and consolidate the long-standing historical, social and cultural affinities and links among the people of the Region.
The principal structures and institutions of SADC are:
The Summit of Heads of State and Government,
The Troika system from Summit,
The Council of Ministers,
Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation,
Sectoral/Cluster Ministerial Committees
The Standing Committee of Officials
The SADC Tribunal
The SADC Secretariat
The SADC National Committees.
Selected regional indicators for SADC (2014)
GDP per capita
Area (sq. km)
10 million sq. km
Source:United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, statistical database
The executive arm of the SADC organisational structure consists of eight Directorates, namely:
Directorate of Policy, Planning and Resource Mobilisation;
Directorate of the Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation;
Directorate of Trade, Industry, Finance and Investment;
Directorate of Infrastructure and Services;
Directorate of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources;
Directorate of Social and Human Development and Special Programmes;
Directorate of Budget and Finance; and
Directorate of Human Resources and Administration.
The SADC Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan (RISDP) was first developed and approved in 2003 for a 15-year period, but its implementation became effective as from 2005, thus giving an implementation time-frame of 2005-2020. The RISDP is the main blueprint for the SADC, providing a clear direction for SADC policies and programmes over the long term. Nevertheless, even before the RISDP, SADC had trade protocols in place. The Protocol on Trade was adopted in 1996 followed by a Protocol on Finance and Investment in 2006 and the draft Protocol on Trade in Services in 2012. The RISDP outlines a series of milestones to be achieved in the context of the SADC Common Agenda for 2005–2020. Its objectives include, the formation of a free trade area (FTA) by 2008; the establishment of a Customs Union with common external tariffs by 2010; the achievement of a Common Market by 2015; the creation of a Monetary Union by 2016, and finally forming a single currency and an Economic Union by 2018. In this regard, the Protocol on Trade was amended in 2010 and is, together with the Protocol on Trade in Services, the most important legal instruments guiding SADC’s work on trade.
The SADC FTA was launched in August 2008, following a tariff reduction programme that had started in 2001. In practice, 85 per cent of intra-regional trade among the member States attained zero duty. The minimum conditions for the programme were shortly met, however, the maximum tariff liberalization were only achieved in January 2012, when the tariff phase-down process for sensitive products was completed. For countries that fall under the Southern African Customs Union the process was completed in 2007, as five of the SADC member States already belong to a Customs Union. At present, 13 out of 15 SADC member States are part of FTA, while Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo remain outside.
Implementation of the integration milestones have, however, been delayed because of capacity constraints in the SADC Secretariat, resulting in postponements of the Customs Union, the Common Market and the Monetary Union. Other challenges are linked to the multiple memberships of some SADC member States to other regional integration arrangements and the subsequent challenge of having to meet multiple obligations simultaneously. Moreover, SADC’s complex and divergent trade policies as well as its revenue constraints, have also hindered progress of creating an integrated market. Integration has also been delayed by differences in the levels of development of member States. In addition, attainment of increased intra-regional trade in SADC has been made more difficult by poor infrastructure and inadequate trade facilitation systems.
SADC has taken various measures to address these challenges. In August 2012, the SADC Summit endorsed a report on the Framework for the SADC Customs Union. In particular, the sequencing of activities towards the establishment of the proposed Customs Union, namely, the consolidation of the SADC FTA, with focus on the review of rules of origin; the completion of tariff phase downs; the removal of non-tariff barriers to trade; and the development of mechanisms to assist member States that are not yet apart of the FTA to participate therein. Moreover, in July 2013, the SADC Ministers responsible for regional economic integration approved timelines for the Customs Union and to evaluate the progress made towards the SADC Customs Union. The outcome of the evaluation will determine SADC’s next steps on the issue.
In October 2008, SADC signed the Tripartite Free Trade Area (TFTA) Agreement together with the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the East African Development Community (EAC). After lengthy negotiations, the tripartite FTA was officially launched in June 2015. However, TFTA has not yet entered in to force due to outstanding technical work on tariff liberalization, rules of origin, trade remedies as well as the harmonization of trade related policies. To address issues with non-tariff barriers to trade, the regional economic communities have established a common reporting, monitoring and eliminating mechanism that has been operational since 2009.
Important milestones in terms of strengthening SADC’s regional integration agenda include macroeconomic convergence. The Memorandum of Understanding on Macroeconomic Convergence that was signed in 2002, and is annexed to the Protocol on Finance and Investment signed in 2006, stipulates that member States should converge and cooperate on economic policies to promote stability and economic growth. Furthermore, the SADC Protocol on Finance and Investment came into force in 2010 to foster harmonisation of the financial and investment policies of member States in order to make them consistent with objectives of SADC and ensure that any changes to financial and investment policies in one member State do not necessitate undesirable adjustments in other member States’ investment policies and laws. 
In the RISDP, SADC member States agree to restrict inflation to stable levels, maintain prudent fiscal stances with minimal deficits, maintain sustainable balances in current accounts, and minimize market distortions. More precisely, SADC has set itself macroeconomic convergence benchmarks of 3 per cent inflation rate by 2018, a budget balance deficit of 3 per cent as an anchor within a band of 1 per cent of GDP, public debt less than 60 per cent of GDP, the imports cover to be less than 6 months and a GDP level not less than 7 per cent. These benchmarks are used to assess macroeconomic convergence for member States. Assessments made for 2010–2013 indicated that member States were slightly below the GDP growth level of 7 per cent, apart from that, most member States were aligned with the set macroeconomic targets. In this context, the SADC Secretariat created a Macroeconomic Surveillance and Performance Unit to support implementation of the RISDP through provision of policy guidance and advice to member States in the areas of macroeconomic policy. In specific, to plan, facilitate, coordinate and monitor macroeconomic policies, including monetary and fiscal policies, with a view to promote economic liberalization and development.
One of the main objectives of the SADC Treaty is the promotion of policies that aim to eliminate obstacles to the free movement of persons in the region. A draft Protocol on the Free Movement of Persons within SADC was introduced in 1996, but was replaced by the more restrictive Protocol on the Facilitation of Movement of Persons in 1997. The restriction was due to the income disparities that create imbalances in migration flows between member States. The 1997 Protocol was further revised and adopted in 2005, which ensures granting visa-free entry, with lawful purpose, to citizens from other member States for a maximum of 90 days. The protocol is however not operational due to inadequate ratifications by member States. So far, only Botswana, Mozambique, South Africa and Swaziland have signed and ratified the Protocol.  Although the Protocol is not operational, it makes provision for member States to conclude bilateral agreements for visa exemptions. Most member States have exempted each other from visa requirements. However, citizens of SADC member States require visas for entering Angola, DRC and Madagascar. Moreover, there have been talks on a proposed single SADC passport initiative in the coming future.
The SADC Protocol on Employment and Labour (2014) calls for, among other things, member States to ensure that fundamental rights, in regards to labor, employment and social protection are accorded to migrant workers and their families. A Regional Labour Migration Policy Framework was developed in 2014 to assist SADC member States in addressing these identified priority areas. Furthermore, a revised SADC Labour Migration Action Plan for 2016-2019 was adopted in May 2016 to continue facilitating the implementation of the identified priority areas.
The SADC Treaty states the vision of a shared future in an environment of peace, security and stability, regional cooperation and integration based on equity, mutual benefit and solidarity in the SADC region. SADC is consequently committed to the principles of the United Nations Charter, the Constitutive Act of the African Union, and the Protocol Relating to the Establishment of the Peace and Security Council of the African Union. The latter includes the Continental Early Warning System where SADC has put in place schemes and networks of early warning in its region.
In order to respect its commitments, SADC Heads of State and Government established the SADC Organ on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation in June 1996, and signed the Protocol on Politics, Defence and Security Cooperation in 2001. The implementation of its goals and objectives are conducted through the Strategic Indicative Plan for the Organ (SIPO) that was established in 2004, as outlined in both the RISDP and the Protocol. The implementation of SIPO is meant to strengthen and deepen cooperation in the areas of politics, defence and security in SADC. The SIPO was revised in November 2012, and is now in the process of being realigned in a medium term plan for the period 2015-2020, with a view to ensure that the RISDP and SIPO are fully harmonized. Furthermore, SADC ratified its Mutual Defence Pact that in 2003, which establishes a framework for security cooperation among member States in the face of external aggression, and reflects a broader intention to build a regional security community in the region.
Article 4 of the SADC Treaty stipulates that: human rights, democracy and the rule of law are principles guiding the acts of its members States. The SADC region has made significant strides in the consolidation of the citizens’ participation in the decision-making processes and consolidation of democratic practice and institutions. However, despite a number of successes in the area of politics, defence and security in recent years, SADC continues to face a number of political, economic and social challenges with regard to, economic underdevelopment and poverty; the HIV and AIDS pandemic; interstate and intrastate conflicts; consolidation of democracy and good governance; refugees, illegal migrants and internally displaced persons as well as corruption.
The mandate of the SADC Secretariat, as outlined in the SADC Treaty, is the development of strategic expertise and the harmonization of policies and strategies to accelerate regional integration and sustainable development in the region. Although SADC does not have any specific protocols on the harmonization of sectoral policies, its thematic areas of cooperation, through the directories, comprise components of policy harmonization in the respective protocols adopted by its member States. The thematic areas of cooperation and harmonization include, trade, industry, finance and investment; infrastructure and services; food, agriculture and natural resources; social and human development, and special programmes; information and communications; environment and sustainable development; as well as cross-cutting issues such as poverty and sustainable development; gender and development; science and technology; SADC statistics; SADC private sector, among many others.
SADC is also undertaking initiatives to harmonise policies taking into consideration the commitments under the Tripartite FTA arrangement in the area of policy harmonisation in air transport liberalization, aligned with the African Union Agenda and the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. 
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