IRIN interview with Dr Prega Ramsamy, SADC executive secretary

Dr Prega Ramsamy, the Executive Secretary for the Southern African Development Community (SADC), recently led a mission to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), which included a meeting on Monday with President Joseph Kabila. IRIN spoke with Ramsamy just after this meeting, during which he talked about short-term and longer-term plans for collaboration between the DRC and SADC.

Among the objectives of the 14-member SADC, established in 1992, are promotion of regional development and economic growth; alleviation of poverty; enhancement of the standard and quality of life of the peoples of southern Africa; and support for the socially disadvantaged through regional integration.

Its member states are: Angola, Botswana, DRC, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. [For more information on SADC, go to www.sadc.int]

QUESTION: Dr Ramsamy, can you tell us what you just discussed with President Kabila?

ANSWER: It was both a courtesy visit, as well as a working visit. I raised various subjects with the president, especially with regard to the implementation of projects that are part of our strategy adopted in Dar es Salaam in August. As you know, we developed a 15-year plan for the future of SADC, addressing such matters as what needed to be done to eliminate poverty in the region and improve the quality of life of our people; to provide primary, secondary and tertiary education for all people; and also to have an important programme regarding gender.

So, we briefed each other on progress made thus far in the execution of this plan, how the DRC would work with us, and what structures would be put in place at the state ministerial level to ensure the best possible collaboration.

I proposed that someone be named as a representative to SADC, someone who would come to [SADC headquarters in] Gaborone, [the capital of] Botswana to participate in a three-month training and then travel to various member countries of SADC to see how each state's structures function. This person would then return to the DRC to help the country put the necessary structures in place to work with us.

I also told the president that I would look for resources so as to be able to have someone working long-term in this liaison position.

With regard to infrastructure, we spoke a little bit about the road network, how to have a multi-level plan for train routes and navigable waterways - what does the DRC have in mind for these sectors and how we at SADC can work with them.

We spoke about agriculture. If we are going to eradicate poverty, then we must first of all increase agricultural production.

We also spoke about planned SADC activities up until August of next year. I mentioned that there would be a meeting of the ministerial council in February of next year. But before this ministerial meeting, we are going to launch the plan that was approved in August of this year.

And then, there will probably be a summit on agricultural security. There will also be a ministerial meeting on Nepad [The New Partnership for Africa's Development - www.nepad.org], and how member states can benefit from Nepad.

I also told the president that I would soon be visiting Nigeria to meet with President [Olusegun] Obasanjo regarding Nepad. There will also be a seminar organised on this occasion, in which organisations such as SADC will participate.

We also discussed the issue of countries belonging to several organisations.

Finally, we spoke about putting a system in place that could help the DRC to work closely with SADC with a view to implementing projects. I will soon send a team of experts in the domain of infrastructure to work with the Congolese government.

Q: The programme seems ambitious. Does SADC have the means to achieve it?

A: That depends. If all the member states pay their dues, we will have the means. And beyond that, we are in the process of working with our partners for the financing of regional projects. We are also conducting a study to see how we ourselves can mobilise our own resources in the interior of the region. We call it the "SADC development phone", a way of seeing how we can implement the projects that we have in mind.

Q: The DRC recently paid a large portion of its membership arrears. What does it stand to gain in return?

A: There are a great many things to gain. First of all, it means belonging to a large regional family, which is something very important, enabling you to speak with a common voice before international forums such as the World Trade Organisation and [the] Cotonou [Agreement, see www.acpsec.org].

Moreover, there are regional projects. For example, projects in the energy sector, such as Inga 3 [hydroelectric facility], efforts to commercialise electricity. All these things are important contributions by SADC to its member countries.

In addition, a free trade zone will soon be established in which the Congolese can sell their products throughout the region, which will surely help to create jobs and improve [the] quality of life.