New leaders at regional think tank

The board of the Southern Africa Research and Documentation Centre (SARDC) has welcomed the appointment of new leaders at the institution that was set up more than 30 years ago to document liberation struggles in parts of southern Africa that include Namibia and Zimbabwe.

Prompted by a succession plan for institutional renewal, the new leadership was endorsed during the SARDC's board meeting that took place in Windhoek last week. Speaker of the National Assembly of Namibia, Professor Peter Katjavivi, chairs the board.

Munetsi Madakufamba from Zimbabwe took over from Phyllis Johnson, the Founding Director, as Executive Director. Johnson had been at the helm of the regional organisation for more than 30 years in an institutional development and capacity-building role.

Madakufamba is a widely respected economist with a deep knowledge of regional integration and development in southern Africa. He joined SARDC more than 20 years ago and has been an active participant in institutional development, most recently serving as Deputy Executive Director and Secretary to the Board. He has been an integral part of the SARDC leadership for more than a decade.

The SARDC board appointed Joseph Ngwawi as the new Secretary to the Board. Ngwawi, also a Zimbabwean and an economist, is the head of SARDC's Regional Economic Development Institute (REDI).

SARDC was established more than 30 years ago, in 1985, following expressed need by the Front Line States (FLS) leaders, and the former FLS Chairman, the late President Julius Nyerere of the United Republic of Tanzania who was its founding patron.

Mwalimu Nyerere's son, Madaraka Nyerere, joined the SARDC Board last week. Nyerere who lives in Butiama, northern Tanzania, is a writer and blogger, and former banker. As one of his passions he climbs Africa's highest mountain Mount Kilimanjaro every year.

SARDC was conceived in 1977 on the side-lines of a conference in Maputo about independence for Namibia and Zimbabwe, and was born in 1985 in Harare and Maputo.

Former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa and Johnson's late husband, David Martin, were the visionary founders of this regional institution which sought to collect and disseminate information and share knowledge across borders in southern Africa, and from a regional perspective.

After more than three decades at the helm of SARDC, Johnson cites working with and learning from Mwalimu Nyerere who she says had a very clear and principled, long-term view of regional development, among the highlights of her tenure.

"As a result, our perspective is Southern and located in the development of the continent of Africa as an emerging economy," she said in an interview.

Johnson is credited for building and guiding SARDC as a regional think tank, and mentoring staff from most countries in southern Africa into leaders with a regional perspective and a firm grounding in research and communication skills. Several former SARDC staff now occupy senior positions in other institutions.

SARDC research work supports regional policies and their implementation.

"We always work in partnership with others. SARDC works with governments, parliaments, and non-state actors including private sector, universities and media, and has a structure that encompasses focus institutes for regional economic integration including energy, industrialization and agriculture," Johnson said.

She said SARDC works closely with the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and has done so since its conversion to a regional community in 1992. The SADC-SARDC MOU was initiated in 1995 and has been refreshed and updated in 2005 and 2015.

Johnson will now serve as an advisor and in the development of special projects, such as the Institute for China-Africa Studies in Southern Africa, as well as documenting the institutional history, and the history of the liberation struggle in southern Africa. She will remain a full member of the SARDC Board.

SARDC has played a key role in raising awareness of the importance of knowledge for development. It has also played a key role over many years in broadening SADC's perspective on the benefits to be gained from working with reliable partners in the non-state sector.

During last week's board meeting, Johnson broke the news that SARDC had lost a house given to it by the late Mozambican President Samora Machel in Maputo. Senior state officials in Maputo and a staff member allegedly colluded through the central housing authority to sell the premises to a company, without SARDC's knowledge and for a large sum of money. The house was the operations centre of SARDC in Maputo for almost 30 years, from 1986-2014 and was run by Mozambican staff.

"We have not yet stopped lobbying for the return of the office premises or at least our office contents, library and records. This takeover happened in a scandalous way that should be an embarrassment to Maputo, and during which we were given disinformation by very senior officials saying everything was on track while they were busy selling the premises and pocketing the returns," Johnson said.

Going forward, the SARDC board would like the institution to strengthen its role role as a regional think tank, and to work more closely with regional institutions and with Parliaments to generate awareness to support the domestication and implementation of SADC protocols.

The board discussed ways of strengthening partnerships with Parliaments and the SADC Parliamentary Forum and the Pan African Parliament, among others, as well as private sector institutions, and in strengthening the provision of knowledge for policy makers, according to their requirements.

This also involves re-activating and developing the regional research hub of scholars throughout the region who study and produce knowledge with a regional and continental perspective. SARDC has some continental initiatives such as the database on Illicit Financial Flows out of Africa. The board members were supportive of SARDC's expansion of communication methods online, including social media, and its plans to strengthen focus on digital, multi-media access going forward, as well as strengthening dialogue in the region.

SARDC board members come from various countries in southern Africa, serving in their personal capacity.

Source: New Era Newspaper Namibia