Accelerating Regional Integration in the SADC REC

 A Path to Sustainable Development  


Although commonly referred to as landlocked, Botswana actually is a land-linked country. This is much better because it captures the essence of our regional foreign policy, which is predicated on working closely and amicably with our neighbours towards regional integration and ultimately becoming one borderless socio-economic region. Special Correspondent DOUGLAS RASBASH makes the case for Botswana leading the way 

The recent passing away of the President of Namibia, Hage Geingob, brought under sharp relief the immense importance of the alliance between Botswana and Namibia that is characterised by the amity between the two nations and of regional integration in general.

Yet, despite the politically correct policy of land-linking, there remains profound distrust particularly regarding freedom of movement. The relatively more affluent Botswana has fears of an immigration deluge, climbing crime rates and overstretched public services. But the benefits of regional integration surely outweigh the detriments.

The pressing needs for global responses to security, climate change and collapsing biodiversity serve to remind us that not only must Botswana be land-linked to facilitate trade or the movement of people, but it also shares common problems that can only be solved collectively. What is also clear in this election year, as all previous elections, regionalisation will certainly be low on the list of issues addressed in political party manifestos.

Yet regional integration holds the key to our future. Botswana, as a land-linked nation, has embraced the concept of regional integration within the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Regional Economic Community (REC).


This feature item argues that accelerating regionalisation within the SADC REC is crucial for fostering socio-economic development, addressing shared challenges, and securing a prosperous future for member states.

Regional integration offers numerous benefits for SADC member states, including Botswana and Namibia. By breaking down barriers to trade, investment and movement of people, countries can harness collective resources and expertise to stimulate economic growth. This leads to the creation of larger markets, economies of scale, and increased competitiveness on the global stage. Moreover, regional integration facilitates infrastructure development, such as transportation networks and energy grids, which are essential for enhancing connectivity and promoting sustainable development.

By pooling resources and coordinating policies, member states can overcome challenges that transcend national borders, such as poverty, inequality, and underdevelopment. Botswana’s alliance with Namibia underscores the significance of collaboration with neighbouring countries. Through joint efforts in areas such as trade, security, and environmental conservation, both nations can leverage their strengths to address common challenges and pursue shared opportunities.

Comprehensive strategies

However, despite the politically correct policy of land-linking, there remains profound distrust regarding freedom of movement. This apprehension, often fuelled by concerns about immigration, crime rates, and public services, highlights the need for comprehensive strategies to manage cross-border movements effectively. Enhanced cooperation in areas such as border security, law enforcement, and social services can mitigate these challenges and promote mutual trust and understanding among member states.

In addition to promoting economic development, regional integration is essential for addressing global challenges such as security threats, climate change, and biodiversity loss. As Botswana and other SADC member states grapple with these pressing issues, a coordinated approach is needed to achieve meaningful progress. For instance, by collaborating on security initiatives, member states can enhance their collective capacity to combat transnational crime, terrorism, and illicit trafficking. Similarly, through joint efforts to mitigate climate change and preserve biodiversity, countries can protect their natural resources and promote sustainable development for future generations.

Botswana’s election year

In the context of this being Botswana’s election year, it is essential to recognise the importance of regional integration in national politics. While regionalisation may not be a top priority in electoral manifestos, its significance cannot be overstated. By advancing regional integration agendas, political leaders can demonstrate their commitment to promoting long-term prosperity, stability, and cooperation within the SADC REC. Furthermore, regional integration holds the key to unlocking new opportunities for economic growth, job creation, and social development. By fostering closer ties with neighbouring countries and embracing a shared vision of regional cooperation, Botswana can position itself as a leading advocate of integration and a catalyst for positive change in the SADC region.

In keeping with The Gazette tradition of providing constructive commentary we give 10 strategies that could advance the cause of regional integration.

  1. Harmonisation of Immigration Policies: SADC member states should work towards harmonising immigration policies to facilitate freedom of movement within the region. This involves streamlining visa requirements, residence permits and border controls to promote seamless travel for citizens across borders.
  2. Establishment of a Regional Visa-Free Travel Zone: SADC should explore creation of a visa-free travel zone similar to the Schengen Area in Europe. This initiative would enhance mobility and foster closer ties among member states while promoting tourism, trade and cultural exchange, ultimately leading to freedom of movement.
  3. Development of Cross-Border Infrastructure: Investment in cross-border infrastructure, including roads, railways, and airports, is essential for improving connectivity and facilitating movement of goods and people within the region. SADC should prioritise infrastructure projects that promote regional integration and economic development.
  4. Implementation of a Common Currency: SADC member states should consider adopting a common currency to facilitate trade and investment within the region. A unified currency would reduce transaction costs, exchange rate risks, and barriers to trade, thereby promoting economic integration and stability.
  5. Creation of Regional Financial Institutions: SADC should establish regional financial institutions, such as a central bank and monetary authority, to oversee implementation of a common currency and coordinate monetary policies among member states. These institutions would promote financial stability, facilitate currency conversion, and support economic growth within the region.
  6. Promotion of Trade Facilitation Measures: SADC should implement trade facilitation measures, such as customs harmonisation, electronic documentation systems, and border clearance procedures, to simplify and expedite cross-border trade. These initiatives would reduce trade barriers, enhance competitiveness, and stimulate economic integration.
  7. Enhancement of Regional Cooperation in Security: Strengthening regional cooperation in security, including intelligence sharing, joint military exercises and counter-terrorism initiatives is essential for maintaining peace, stability and security within the SADC region. Collaborative efforts in security will create a conducive environment for economic development and integration.
  8. Promotion of Regional Education and Skills Development: SADC member states should prioritise investments in education and skills development to build a skilled workforce capable of driving economic growth and innovation. Regional cooperation in education, research and technology transfer would promote human capital development and enhance the region’s competitiveness in the global economy.
  9. Fostering of People-to-People Exchanges and Cultural Integration: SADC should promote people-to-people exchanges, cultural events, and educational programmes to foster mutual understanding, respect and solidarity among member states. Cultural integration initiatives would promote social cohesion, diversity and inclusivity within the region.
  10. Advancement of Political Dialogue and Institutional Reform: SADC member states should engage in political dialogue and institutional reform to strengthen governance, democracy, and the rule of law within the region. Enhanced political cooperation and institutional capacity-building would create an enabling environment for regional integration and cooperation.

Botswana and SADC have plenty of successful examples of regional integration to benchmark with. Here are three of the best.

The European Union (EU): The EU is one of the most successful examples of regional integration, leading to significant economic benefits for its member states. Since its inception, the EU has facilitated the free movement of goods, services, capital and people among member countries.

Spain offers a good case study. After joining the EU, Spain experienced a substantial increase in GDP. For instance, between 1986 (the year Spain joined the EU) and 2007, Spain’s GDP per capita more than doubled largely due to increased trade, foreign investment, and access to EU funding for infrastructure projects.

The EU’s single market and common currency (Eurozone) have also contributed to economic growth and stability, enabling member states to pool resources, access larger markets, and benefit from economies of scale.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN): ASEAN is a regional organisation comprising 10 Southeast Asian countries aimed at promoting economic integration and political cooperation among its members.

Singapore offers a good case in point. A founding member of ASEAN, Singapore has significantly benefitted from regional integration initiatives. As a small, open economy, Singapore has leveraged its membership in ASEAN to expand its trade and investment networks within the region.

The ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA), established in 1992, has facilitated tariff reductions and trade liberalisation among member states, leading to increased intra-regional trade and investment flows. Singapore’s GDP has steadily grown since joining ASEAN, driven in part by its deepening economic ties with neighbouring countries.

The East African Community (EAC): The EAC is an intergovernmental organisation comprising six countries in East Africa aimed at promoting economic integration and development in the region.

Rwanda is a good example of the advantages and benefits of regional integration, Rwanda a member of the EAC, has experienced robust economic growth following its integration into the regional bloc. Since joining the EAC in 2007, Rwanda has benefitted from increased trade and investment opportunities, infrastructure development projects, and regional cooperation initiatives. In particular, Rwanda’s GDP has seen steady growth, with an average annual GDP growth rate of over 7% in recent years.

The EAC’s common market protocol, which allows for the free movement of goods, services and people within the region, has contributed to Rwanda’s economic expansion and integration into the global economy.

These case studies demonstrate how regional integration initiatives such as the EU, ASEAN, and the EAC have significantly benefitted their members by promoting economic growth, increasing trade and investment flows, and enhancing regional cooperation and stability.

By implementing such key actions, SADC can advance the cause of integration, including freedom of movement and establishment of a common currency, to promote peace, prosperity, and sustainable development within the region. The strategy would increase GDP by 60% of all countries in SADC over a period of say 20 years and create millions of new jobs.

In conclusion, accelerating regionalisation within the SADC REC is essential for advancing socio-economic development, enhancing collaboration with neighbouring countries, and addressing global challenges. As Botswana and other member states navigate the complexities of regional integration, they must prioritise collective action, mutual trust and shared prosperity.

By strengthening regional institutions, promoting inclusive dialogue and implementing coordinated policies, Botswana can play a leading role in shaping the future of the SADC region. Ultimately, regional integration offers a pathway to a more prosperous, secure, and sustainable future for all member states.