Cape Town -The Southern African Development Community (SADC) believes regional integration needs to be achieved before the formation of a single African Union (AU) government can be realised.
"In as much as SADC supports the integration of Africa, we first need to seek regional integration before we proceed to continental integration as a gradual approach," said Chairperson of the SADC Council of Ministers and Minister of Foreign Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, speaking at the close of the two-day SADC Council of Ministers
Meeting in Cape Town.
"A united Africa speaking with a single voice would also be more influential in global affairs, but the establishment of a United States of Africa cannot be achieved in one giant leap."
The formation of the single government was high on the agenda of the 12th AU Heads of State and Government Summit held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in January.
While African leaders in Ethiopia agreed that more regional integration was needed to boost Africa's international standing, they could not agree on the establishment of a single AU government as many were reluctant to relinquish any of their sovereignty to a new government.
Many favoured strengthening regional institutions before creating a continent-wide system.
Ms Dlamini Zuma said there can be no doubt that investments in critical sectors like energy and infrastructure such as roads, ports and telecommunications which would facilitate easier intra and inter-regional trade, were required to grow the region.
Economic regional and continental integration is not optional but a must, said the minister, due to the current global financial crisis as well as in the wake of some of the destructive conflicts the region has been experiencing.
The two-day meeting deliberated on the implementation of various decisions that the council had taken at previous meetings with regards to the development of the region.
Regarding the regional pursuit of the COMESA-EAC-SADC Tripartite Summit decision of October 2008 for the establishment of a Free Trade Area of the three Regional Economic Communities (RECs) with the ultimate aim of establishing a single Customs Union (CU), the minister said progress had been made with a roadmap put in place.
She said a feasibility study, methodology and timelines for the creation of the FTA and the facilitation of free movement of business persons; implementation of joint programmes of regional infrastructure development; finalisation of legal and institutional framework for the Tripartite Framework and arrangements for the North-South Pilot Corridor Donors Conference are ready for the submission of bankable projects taking place in Lusaka in April.
"The conference will provide high-level support for the implementation of the Tripartite Summit decisions, secure commitment from International Financial Institutions, donors and the private sector as well as Aid for Trade to finance identified project in transport, trade facilitation and development," said Ms Dlamini Zuma.
On the conflicts in the region, Ms Dlamini Zuma said the regional body would continue to work with the government and people of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Madagascar and Zimbabwe in their efforts to address their challenges with a view to ensuring that peace and stability reigned in the region.