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SADC Development Conference Opens in Tanzania

The annual conference of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) is under way in the Tanzania's capital, Dar es Salaam. The conference is focusing on the region's draft development strategy.

The draft strategy, known as the Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan, proposes the use of key indicators as a method to both set and evaluate progress toward development targets.

During the next few days senior officials and ministers hope to fine-tune the plan in preparation for a summit of regional leaders early next week.

The plan foresees a 15-year development period during which member states will be expected to legislate and implement plans to reduce poverty, combat HIV/AIDS and other serious diseases, and improve health, education and gender equity.

The plan also seeks to redress imbalances in the regional economies. South Africa, whose population is about one-fifth of the region's 208 million, produces 75 percent of the gross domestic product.

Only South Africa and Mauritius have significant manufacturing sectors, while the rest of the region depends predominantly on agricultural production. This adds to concerns for food security in the region because many of the countries are prone to droughts and flooding.

Preparatory documents for the conference cite greater political stability in several countries in the region such as Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo. But they also appear to gloss over the region's politically troubled countries, in particular Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe has not been included as a formal agenda item at this meeting, but the presidents of South Africa, Botswana and Mozambique likely will seek the support of regional leaders to persuade Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe to engage in dialogue with his political opponents.