The Multinational Monitor


S O U T H   A F R I C A

Southern Africa's Black States Strive for Economic Coordination

Matthew Rothschild

A potentially historic meeting occurred recently when the leaders of nine southern African countries joined together to establish a framework for economic coordination and to proclaim their commitment to breaking economic dependence on South Africa. Coming on the heels of Zimbabwe's ,independence, the April I conference held at Lusaka, Zambia, may mark the next significant step in the realignment of economic and political power in southern Africa. However, success of this nascent regional integration plan is by no means secure. Beset by domestic hardships, problems of group cohesion, tricky foreign aid dilemmas, and threats of South African coercion, the "Lusaka Nine" face a difficult road ahead.

The participants at Lusaka-representatives of Angola, Mozambique, Tanzania, Botswana, Zambia, Lesotho, Swaziland, Malawi, and the new government of Zimbabwe-share two distinct, yet interrelated motivations. From a strictly economic standpoint, these countries want to diminish their dependence on South Africa; relying solely on any one country-whatever its politics-is not a sound economic strategy. As Seretse Khama, the now-deceased president of Botswana. remarked in his opening statement at the , conference, "What we seek is the ability to exercise some degree of choice which insures us against domination by one powerful partner. We are looking for choice of transportation routes, choice of market, choice of sources of energy, and choice of investment partners."

The end of the Zimbabwean struggle for majority rule has helped enable these countries to shift their attentions from aiding the Zimbabwe liberation movements to solving the problems of poverty and underdevelopment. Their economic initiative, however, is at the same time a highly political act-a prerequisite for lending strong support to the liberation movements in South Africa and Namibia, the territory that Pretoria continues to occupy in contravention of international law. As economic independence untwists the arms of South Africa's neighbors, it will allow them to act more freely upon their political commitments, which would mean giving refuge, arms, and training to nationalist groups. Zambia's President Kenneth Kaunda alluded to this underlying political purpose, optimistically predicting that "the economic success of the countries represented at this Summit will have an epoch-making impact within South Africa and will certainly deal a mortal blow to the policy of apartheid."

The aspirations of the Lusaka Nine take hold on the rich natural resources of southern Africa, on Zimbabwe's well-developed infrastructure, and on trade-complementarities that exist throughout the region. As Professor Ann Seidman, leading scholar in the field of southern African economics, notes, "If they unite, together they could transform the regional political economy into a powerful modern industrial unit."

Endowed with large deposits of petroleum, coal, uranium, copper, iron ore, chrome, bauxite, tungsten, and diamonds, and possessing fertile agricultural land, southern Africa has the greatest economic potential of any region on the continent.

To utilize these resources, Zimbabwe's rail lines are crucial. In the fifteen years of U.N. sanctions; Zambia, Mozambique and Botswana, wishing to avoid Rhodesia, rerouted their trade by circuitous routes leading, ironically, to South Africa. With the new Zimbabwean government, however, these countries may be able to use the more convenient Salisbury, Zimbabwe-Beira, Mozambique line for international trade. As a consequence, they could divert much of the traffic which presently rushes to and from South African ports.

The prospects for trade complementarities are great. Lesotho, Swaziland, and Botswana could look to Angola, rather than South Africa, for oil. Zambia, Malawi, arid Mozambique, instead of turning to South Africa, may not use Zimbabwe's more industrialized economy for consumer goods and machinery. In addition, Zimbabwe's agricultural sector-touted as a possible breadbasket of the region-could offer much-needed grain, while Botswana could serve as the major meat supply.

Such are the hopes. The sheer facts of dependence, however, are enough to give pause. Lesotho, Swaziland, and Botswana, members of South Africa's Customs Union, have been called the "hostage states," and for good reason - 90 percent of their imported goods come from South Africa, and up to 50 percent of their wage labor force migrates to South Africa's mines and commercial farms for employment. Mozambique and Zambia, although not quite so entrapped, still rely on South Africa as a major source of foodstuffs. Without South Africa's maize, for instance, both countries would currently be suffering disastrous shortages, given the severe spring drought that has ruined their domestic production of staple crops. Malawi, too, maintains close ties; nearly 40 percent of its imports come from South Africa, its greatest trading partner.

Zimbabwe itself, even though it has a more diversified economy, relies heavily on South Africa. As a result of U.N. sanctions, it has had no choice but to do business primarily with its southern neighbor. About 95 percent of its trade goes through South Africa, and the new government inherits a tidy U.S. $300 million debt to Pretoria. Moreover, South African capital has a towering presence, with $1 billion invested in Zimbabwean mines, manufactures and banks. Under Ian Smith's minority-ruled Rhodesia, these facts may not have been so rankling; for Robert Mugabe, guerilla-leader-turned-Prime Minister, however, Zimbabwe's ties harshly remind him that the Patriotic Front victory is unfinished. "Political independence without economic independence is completely meaningless," Mugabe observed at Lusaka.

Underlying South Africa's economic control rests a regional infrastructure geared towards the south. The Lusaka participants took careful note of this in their "Declaration Toward Economic Liberation," stating that "the dominance of the Republic of South Africa has been reinforced and strengthened by its transport system." Nearly all the key lines connect with Pretoria or Johannesburg, and from these centers, head toward the South African ports of Durban, Port Elizabeth, and Cape Town, or to Mozambique's port at Maputo. This tilt southward, a legacy of the colonial economy, leads neighboring countries into South Africa's trade network.

Military attacks by South Africa and Rhodesia's white minority governments have exacerbated this transport dependence by crippling the few alternative routes, in particular the Benguela railroad from Zaire west to the Angolan coast, and the Salisbury-Beira line. Pretoria-backed UNITA, Jonas Savimbi's rebel faction in Angola, seized part of the Benguela in August, 1975, and has not relinquished it yet; as a result, the line is still shut down. Rhodesian commandos in 1979 joined the sabotage efforts, blowing up a strategic bridge on the route to Beira, which left the entire region without a single important track to the sea-except via South Africa.

The apartheid government dominates the rails in another, less obvious but equally significant way: it administers the transport system for the entire region. According to an April study prepared for a State Department seminar, South African Railways lends technical assistance and material goods, including railway wagons, locomotives, and spare parts, to every major railway in southern Africa. In addition, it operates Mozambique's key port of Maputo.

To address their grave dependency relationship, the Front Line states-Mozambique, Angola, Tanzania, Zambia, and Botswana-met at Arusha, Tanzania last July. This prelude to the Lusaka conference served as a forum for discussion, and as a workshop for drafting a resolution, the body of which was adopted at Lusaka. Beyond proclamations, however, the Front Line states did not go. Recognizing that any restructuring of the region's economy would require the support of a majority-ruled Zimbabwe, and would be aided by the participation of Lesotho, Swaziland, and Mala Ni, the Front Line states scheduled a larger summit to be held after Zimbabwean independence was assured.

At Lusaka, the nine participating states set out to define their tasks. Each country was assigned a specific topic to investigate, such as food safety, industrial cooperation, trade complementarities, and group coordination. The priority project, however, was unquestionably transport. As the approved declaration states, "without the establishment of an adequate regional transport and communications system, other areas of cooperation become impractical." Acting upon this assessment, the participating states created a Regional Transport and Communications Commission at Maputo "to coordinate the use of existing systems and the planning and financing of additional regional facilities."

Some specific transport plans are already in the works: deepening the Mozambiquean ports of Beira and Nacala to permit greater shipping capacity, restoring the Salisbury-Beira route, building a line from Zambia to the new rails extending from Lilongwe to Malawi's border, and constructing a Trans-Kalahari line from Francistown, Botswana, to Walvis Bay, Namibia. (The Trans-Kalahari, most ambitious of the proposals, assumes a Namibia freed from South African suzerainty. SWAPO, the liberation group fighting to end South Africa's illegal occupation, was granted observer status at the conference, an indication of the Nine's commitment to SWAPO's cause.)

The Lusaka Nine estimate their transport restructuring scheme will cost "in excess of U.S. $ 1.5 billion over the next decade." Reaching out for assistance, the leaders of the southern African countries asked "to receive practical international cooperation in our struggle for reconstruction, development and genuine interdependence." Already they are planning an International Donor's Conference in Maputo for late November, where they hope to obtain some firm commitment% from multilateral and national donors.

The regional integration project is long-term; if it is to succeed, it must overcome some serious short-term obstacles. Domestic pressure for immediate gains is the first problem confronting several of these countries. Zambia's population, having paid a high financial price for enforcing trade sanctions against Rhodesia, and suffering greatly from economic mismanagement, needs a fast recovery. What is more, Zambians uneasily await such a turnaround, for President Kaunda has masked his own economic blunders by blaming the white minority government for most of Zambia's hardships. To stay in power, Kaunda may opt for a quick fix, concentrating on strictly domestic gains rather than long-term regional benefits. Sean Gervasi, southern Africa specialist and a U.N. consultant, thus sees Zambia as the potential "weak link in the Lusaka effort because its political situation is much more confused."

Predominantly ideological conflicts may also fuel political disputes. Lesotho, Swaziland, and Malawi certainly do not share the commitment to socialism which characterizes Mozambique, Angola, and to lesser degrees, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. Whether divisive spats will arise from these differences remains to be seen, but the potential for conflict exists, particularly concerning relations with western countries and multinational corporations.

Informal economic rivalries-the curse of regional cooperation schemes on the African continent and else-' where- could afflict the Lusaka Nine. Zimbabwe, with its economic strength and key geographic location "will benefit more than the other countries," predicts Professor David Wiley of Michigan State University. Zimbabwe could become the Kenya or Nigeria of southern Africa, breeding ill will amongst its less fortunate neighbors.

Those who are more optimistic, however, note that the current plan is not comparable to other regional integration schemes such as the now-defunct East African Community or the Economic Community of West African States. In these cases, participating countries established customs unions, with tariff schedules and trade-sharing provisions. The Lusaka plan, however, is more pragmatic; it centers on transport renovation, from which all countries are likely to gain. Mozambique's President Machel clarified this approach of Lusaka: "The history of Africa is unhappily rich in examples that failed . . . Therefore, we must be humble in our immediate objectives and ambitious in our long-term objectives. We must be conscious of the fact that we are not presently in conditions to create an economic community of the region."

More serious, perhaps, than any of the internal challenges are the troubles with which the nine Southern African countries as a unit must contend-the search for aid, and the South African threat. Short on capital, the Lusaka Nine are looking to western governments and multilateral financial institutions to underwrite their plans. Expected participants at the November donor conference include the United States, West Germany, Great Britain, the World Bank and the European Economic Community. The aid question, however, is not as simple as whether or not the Lusaka Nine can muster the $1.5 billion in commitments they seek. Like many developing countries, they run the risk of entangling themselves in the strings inevitably attached to aid packages.

The Nine will want to bargain from a position of strength, setting the precise terms on which foreign aid will be accepted. One leverage-increasing tactic that could conceivably be used with good effect would be attempting to play off East against West. The United States and other Western powers have grown increasingly wary of Soviet and Cuban influence in some parts of the region, particularly Angola and Mozambique, and could be expected to engage in a bidding war for geopolitical advantage. Significantly, however, the East-bloc countries have made little noise about attending the upcoming donor conference, and, from all available signs, the Nine are not seeking them out.

A major reason for the Nine's apparent lack of enthusiasm for the East is fear of white flight from the pivotal country of Zimbabwe. Mugabe, realizing the importance of white technical expertise, capital and farmers to Zimbabwe's economic well-being, has cautiously avoided actions which might alienate the settler population. Machel of Mozambique, who has opened to the West for similar reasons, is urging Mugabe to follow this course. It appears, then, that having to look to whites for "domestic" support inhibits the Lusaka Nine from pursuing a maximizing strategy with regard to foreign aid.

The overriding fear is that foreign aid projects benefit donors, not recipients. Critics of aid contend that western countries offer assistance primarily to secure strategic resources and enhance the investment climate for western business. Seidman notes that in the past such aid has enabled multinationals "to exploit regional markets, resources, and labor, rather than facilitate development to meet the needs of the people."

The hazards of aid are particularly great in southern Africa, as many of the donors have interests in maintaining the apartheid regime. The Financial Times of London, in an unusually frank editorial, elaborated on this fact: "The short-term advantage for the West is that providing aid will weaken the relations between the East Bloc and such countries as Mozambique. But the end result of that aid might be to create a Black Africa strong enough to take on South Africa, with all the implications such a move would create for Western economies in terms of their investment in South Africa and their dependence on its mineral resources." Given these aims, the West more than likely will try to peg its aid to carefully-selected projects which do not rock the apartheid boat. Such "aid," obviously, would run at cross-purposes with the expressed interests of the southern African countries.

Fearing precisely these deleterious effects, leading Africa scholars in the United States refused to participate in a 1977 Agency for International Development project that drafted aid proposals for southern Africa. Arguing that "spending money on aid is not a virtue in itself, and that badly spent money is far worse than unspent money, "a group of academics led by Immanuel Wallerstein rejected AID's consulting invitation. Specifically, the Africanists criticized a number of the agency's a priori plans: large allocations of funds to local white business; the denial of money to Mozambique and Angola; and the assumption, willy-nilly, of a free Namibia and Zimbabwe.

Of all the dangers facing the Lusaka Nine, the most ominous is South Africa. Just a year after Prime Minister Botha unveiled his plan for a "constellation of southern African states" revolving around Pretoria, the apartheid government is left with little hope of holding diplomatic sway over its neighbors. Rather, it can be expected to employ more heavy-handed tactics to extract obedience, particularly if and when it senses an indirect military threat resulting from the Lusaka initiatives. "South Africa has a variety of arrows in her quiver," notes the State Department seminar report. Economically, South Africa may strike its neighbors with price hikes and trade boycotts. Some onlookers even express the fear that South Africa may unleash a series of military attacks, similar to Rhodesia's, to level any newly created infrastructure. "South Africa will fight any restructuring very, very hard. It will conduct all kinds of covert military operations to bring about the failure of Lusaka," Gervasi gloomily predicts.

Remarks by the leaders of the Lusaka Nine attest to the severity of South Africa's threat. In almost every speech, inflammatory rhetoric was played down, even though the blueprint and partial motivation of Lusaka is to hasten the downfall of the apartheid government. President Machel set the tone when he remarked: "we want to clarify we are not declaring a war against South Africa." Given the political commitments of Mozambique, Machel's soft-pedalling suggests how keenly he and his partners are aware of South Africa's might. On the issue of South Africa, as on the subject of foreign aid, the Lusaka Nine must walk a fine line between compliance and assertiveness, for a misstep might jeopardize their already tenuous independence.

Events during the next 12 to 18 months will be critical in determining the feasibility of the Lusaka plans. The initiatives' fate will signal the direction of events in southern African for the 1980s and beyond, boding well or ill for the ability of these developing countries to take control of their economies, and in the process, to weaken the power of South Africa. Surveying the situation, Gervasi assessed the significance of the April meeting in Zambia: "Lusaka is part of the struggle to liberate southern Africa, an element in the great hidden battle over its future."

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