THE KEYSTONE

Zambia 2017 | DIPLOMACY | FOCUS: REGIONAL INTEGRATION

As though to complement its central geographical position in the region, Zambia is taking on a greater political position as one of the key countries backing the desire for more close-knit regional relationships in Africa.

With its economic, political, and geographical advantages, Zambia is a key member of regional communities and is set to play an ever-more instrumental role in intercontinental initiatives in the coming years. This is evident in its commitment to supporting certain regional integration programs spearheaded by the African Union (AU), the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), and the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD). Zambia has been a member of the AU since 1964, COMESA since 1981, and NEPAD since 2013, and was one of the founding members of the Southern African Development Co-ordination Conference (SADCC), the predecessor to the SADC, established in Lusaka in 1980. Zambia has played an active role in all of these groupings, promoting and exemplifying major attributes of the collectives' mandate and signing up to their key initiatives.

Zambia's involvement in the AU grew in January 2017 when Albert Muchanga was named commissioner for the AU Commission for Trade and Industry. In addition, perhaps spurred by its landlocked nature, Zambia has been steadfast in its quest to work with the rest of Africa to expedite some of the AU's linkages programs. One such program is the African Highway project, designed to ensure infrastructure connectivity by road when completed by 2030. Similarly, Zambia is pushing for better connectivity via air and sea by 2025 and by rail by 2040. It is among the number of countries that will greatly benefit from in-country connectivity to the Africa Integrated High Speed Railway Network (AIHSRN), due for completion by the year 2063.

The AIHSRN is proposed to comprise 11 different routes, stretching the length and width of the entire continent. Lusaka is serviced by two of these lines: one reaching west to east, from Lobito to Beira, and the other north to south, from Cairo to Cape Town. Zambia has also been singled out as one of the countries in which components of the AIHSRN will be manufactured, with the collaboration of the Chinese government, at TAZARA Mpika. In order for construction to take place, the AU has given the green light on a series of refurbishments to the TAZARA facilities.

Further to this, the representative for Zambia to the AU, Susan Sikaneta, revealed to TBY that “a regional training institute that will be established in Mpika will offer courses from certificate to PhD levels and will accordingly benefit Zambians alongside other students drawn from the region.

NEPAD, meanwhile, was the result of a decision by the AU to merge the Millennium Africa Recovery Plan (MAP) with the Omega plan for Africa. In June 2001, the UN laid out the framework for the New African Initiative (NAI), which was finalized by the OAU six months later and christened NEPAD. Its chief objectives are to: strengthen internal regional networks of infrastructure and trade; encourage advances in industrialization, technology, and innovation; better manage natural resources and increase food security; and develop human capital. More concrete goals include maintaining an average GDP growth rate of over 7% per annum for the next decade and a half, particularly stressing the sustainable nature of these rates.

Zambia has signed up to several of NEPAD's initiatives, including the Program for Infrastructure Development in Africa (PIDA), the Presidential Infrastructure Champion Initiative (PICI), and Africa Power Vision, focusing on the energy sector.

Some Zambian projects that have been launched as a result include the construction of an 8,000km transmission line system that stretches from Egypt through to South Africa, the initiative “Single African Sky” that will create a high-level satellite-based air navigation system for the continent, and a Zambia-Angola rail and road link.

Past successes of the AU, SADC, COMESA, and NEPAD reflect just how much can be achieved through regional integration in Africa. Further such activities are critical to the realization of Agenda 2063, triggering and promoting development in diverse areas at both the continental and national levels.