Breaking News

SADC businesswomens grand push for regional integration

28 Dec 2022

She used to be a regular business traveller to Zambian markets to buy goods, but since the COVID-19 pandemic, she has not been able to visit any of the SADC countries to pursue her way of life that assists her to put food on the table.

This does not mean that before the pandemic life was a battered slice of bread for her. No, the pandemic caused a rigorous change in many lives. Hers included. She now finds it difficult to save money because her businesses produce little profit.  It is time for a grand push.

Kutlwano magazine meets Felicity Madiabaso, a 55-year-old woman of Shoshong, a semi-urban village in the central District of Botswana. She is eager to explain the difficulties she experiences in doing trade in the Southern African Region.

Being one of those who buy goods such as shoes, jewellery, facial products, clothes, bags and medicines from other traders to sell, she decries exorbitant tax of the goods at Kazungula border, a meeting point of four  countries; Botswana, Zambia, Namibia and Zimbabwe.

Such tax often shatters the dreams of most businesswomen in their pursuit to buy and sell across the region. Madiabaso says high prices of accommodation in regional countries also have soared and has affected their trips from one country to another.

Having been an entrepreneur since 2016, she advocates for working together to speak as one voice. Hence she is now the treasurer at Thusanang Bagwebi Association, an association of businesswomen in the same line of business.

They intend to jopin other associations in the Southern African Region to resolve issues affecting free trade in the region.

Madiabaso explains that the association is made up of small entrepreneurs and exists to unite them and ensure they receive equal treatment when it comes to occupying space in the market.

“Our legal adviser will help us to meet with other business women either in Namibia, Malawi, Mozambique, Zambia and South Africa,” she says.

Women in the region, according to Madiabaso can play a key role when efforts are directed at closing their financing gap, which she says hinders more women businesses growth.

She strongly opines that member states should come up with programmes and policies that are favourable for women to help them realise their dream and eliminate the struggle against economic marginalisation.

“As we seek to become more involved in regional development actions, we should intensify and gear our efforts not only towards enhancing gender equalities, but smooth and full transition economic empowerment. I am talking about projects financing for women in the region,” she elaborates. 

Madiabaso emphasises that regional integration is a critical necessary tool and strategy for development. This she says, calls for women conferences to participate in issues of trade in order to create opportunities, engage women entrepreneurs and exposes them to new and suitable expertise.

Women, according to Madiabaso should join hands for change by merging their resources and implement trans boundary projects in order to impact one another positively.

“Our region is rich in natural resources and by utilising these, we’ll help other women to venture into other industries such as construction, sports, mining, tourism, pastoral farming and other areas, which have for a long time been dominated by our male counterparts,” she says.

Perhaps these partnerships could tap into Germany’s generosity, which German Ambassador to Botswana and Special Representative to SADC, Margit Hellwig-Botte, talked about at a one-day conference of SADC Female Founders in Gaborone in 2022.

Ambassador Hellwig-Botte said her government put about 90 per cent of funds into the SADC for women economic empowerment to build capacity of women entrepreneurs to actively participate in the SADC Industrialisation Agenda.

The funds will address the impact of COVID-19 on women-led enterprises by building their innovative abilities with the objective of enhancing the standard of living and quality of life of the southern African region with employment creation.

 “In today’s inter connected world, it is important to maintain strong network of business connections for entrepreneurial success.” Ambassador Hellwig-Botte says.

Furthermore, she emphasised that sector businesses such as creative industry, marketing, finance and the informal sector for integration and development could also be encouraged.

Another speaker at the conference, who emphasized the importance of business unity was Acting Zambian High Commissioner to Botswana, Brighton Litula.

He notes that networking is cardinal, explaining further that regional integration is networking at a broader sense because it involves different states engaging in economic and political cooperation.

“Networking, therefore, is the basis for all the agreements and regional projects that have been undertaken in the SADC region. We need to network with each other to learn practices from one another,” he adds.

Capacity building is also another important factor that Acting High Commissioner Litula says will ensure the region has effective work force and be able to provide the necessary skills internally as opposed to always seeking technical assistance from cooperating partners in the western world.

Commenting on the development and implementation of gender conducive laws, he says Mckinsey Global Institute’s study, which was conducted in 2019, shows that women make over 50 per cent of Africa’s population, but they contribute only 33 per cent of the continent’s Gross Domestic Product.

This is due to inequalities as most African women work in low paid, and often subsistence jobs in the formal sector.

In addition, the Acting High Commissioner says the gender parity score indicates that participation of women in the labour market is 0.76 per cent in Africa, indicating gender inequality.

“This shows that the continent is not utilising their greatest workforce of women. Therefore, it is essential that affirmative action laws, which encourage quota-based allocation are introduced in order to promote equity in opportunities for women and enable them to actively participate in the economic growth of the continent,” he concludes. Ends

Source : BOPA

Author : Idah Basimane

Location : GABORONE

Event : Interview

Date : 28 Dec 2022