Thursday, May 24, 2007

Reflections on Regional Integration(II/III): COMESA Moves Forward...Pan-African Integration?

As Africa sits a day or two away from the 34th celebration of efforts at African unity, it becomes very timely that positive and constructive decisions would have taken place in Kenya at the 12th COMESA Summit.

The two-day meeting has yielded some very positive outcomes, which include:
  • the approval of a Common External Tariff(CET), which paves the way for the transformation of a FTA into a unified Customs Union in 2008

  • the exhortation by Kenyan premier Kibaki for COMESA to "reach out to regional economic blocs such as the EAC and SADC to consolidate integration"

  • the realisation that there need to be common understanding and positions in regional trade negotiations critical to a successful engagement with the regional blocs

  • Haven't we been here before? What of the African Economic Community? Is that not supposed to facilitate outreach towards the other regional blocs in Africa.

    My understanding had always been that that would be the framework. Anything else is this side of reinventing the wheel, when it's clearly fixed on a timeline, and already in motion.

    COMESA will be 13 years this December, and as is reputed to be the biggest African regional grouping in the sense that it groups

    20 countries with about 400 million people and a combined gross domestic product in excess of 180 billion U.S. dollars.

    Its members are Angola, Burundi, Comoros, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Rwanda, Libya, Seychelles, Sudan, Swaziland, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

    That's basically encompassing quite some countries from IGAD; COMESA; SADC and EAC countries. Already an over-lapping is inevitable, as has been discussed several times at international fora, and so I would have found it very interesting to have seen some talk of harmonising the over-lapping.

    Failing that, the outreach that Kibaki talks about is all well and good, but how would that be operationalised, in the sense that how would it work practically without interfering with existing mechanisms? Would it come in the form of SADC-COMESA/SADC-EAC/IGAD-EAC/IGAD-SADC/etc percolations, expressed through a bilateral arrangement predicated on economics and trade, or something else? Maybe cultural? Maybe political.

    It is clear that on regional integration in Africa, much needs to be done. There is talk that the next AU summit to be held here in Accra, Ghana, will discuss the putative United States of Africa. It promises to be an event worth monitoring, and RegionsWatch shall definitely be there to give you some insights.

    Over and beyond that, though, it is very interestings--albeit predictable--that Kenya should be talking about a regional integration strategy predicated on conflict prevention and conflict resolution. That's an idea that's been chewed and spat out several times in West Africa, and I do hope Kenya will consider some liasing with ECOWAS on this.

    This is because, as many know about the conflicts in Liberia and Sierra Leone, these conflicts in the sub-region compelled the region to beef up its knowledge and experience on conflict, to the extent of establishing centres on the training of conflict prevention, such as the Ghana-based Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre.

    All that said, I maintained Kenya's decision is "predictable", because, as it explained some posts ago, the facilitation of regional security is an important pillar in the strategy for Kenya's perspective on regional integration. Important, because it sees, for example, the accession of Rwanda and Burundi into the East African Community as a way of ensuring that possible inter-necine conflicts originating from those two countries are seriously clamped down on. If the regional security imperative is in place, it will prevent any possible spillovers into the region, of which Kenya is part of.

    Examples of Kenya having been the honest broker is what Vice President Moody Awori listed:

  • Kenya which successful[ly] mediated Somalia and Sudan peace processes two years ago will continue to spearhead regional conflict resolution efforts to bring peace and stability in the region to promote trade and investment

  • He further noted:

    "Kenya's commitment to proactive engagement in seeking security and stability in the region is informed by the essence for an environment that can facilitate our people to engage in both international and trans-border trade which is a prerequisite to our quest for economic development,"

    He couldn't have said it better. To boot, he compounds all this heavy talk by arguing what COMESA should begin to do as far as conflict prevention and management is concerned:

    COMESA should streamline its program of conflict prevention in its trade regimes with the aim of avoiding trade and investment related conflicts

    Who needs the EU when Africans themselves can make spurious ties to their regional integration?

    How a program of conflict prevention and management can be streamlined with trade and investment is beyond me.

    Any takers?

    Have a good AU day!

    Tuesday, May 22, 2007

    Reflections on Regional Integration(I)

    It's Africa Union Day this Friday 25th May. As such, it is celebrated as a holiday in all AU countries.

    In preparation for that celebration I deemed it incumbent on my part to do some reflection on how far regional integration has gone on the continent, by way of what the media is writing about it.

    The first article I came across, entitled African integration can't skip its five powerhouses is an interesting article that spends less time talking about how and why there are five powerhouses, which actually boils down to four: South Africa; Democratic Republic of Congo; Sudan; Nigeria.

    This, in theory, is not a bad idea, but the writer does little justice to the explanation as to why these are the ocuntries except to generally say they have:

  • big populations

  • (massive) economic resources

  • status as political and economic hub(s)

  • massive unexploited resources

  • sizeable skilled knowledge population

  • All in all, if it's not big, it's big and bad; or big and badly managed--except when it's South Africa, which he describes as:

    South Africa is Africa`s powerhouse in terms of industrial development and technologically skilled population.

    With its population standing at over 40 million and its relatively pronounced international posture, South Africa is a force to reckon with in the continent and can, therefore, help the continent look for viable integration solutions.


    Since when has South Africa been instrumental in the resolution of erstwhile conflicts in, say, the ECOWAS sub-region? Have we forgotten that it was Ghana's premier Kwame Nkrumah that was even, as his detractors maintain, helping fight apartheid, whilst along with Nasser, and others spearheaded what was then the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), which has evolved to become the African Union?

    Either way, my major point is the aggrandizement of South Africa as a country that has the ideas and tools for how African integration can be done is not just spurious and pie-in-the-sky, but ridiculous. It is a rare "regional integrationist" that should advance such a notion, without having an agenda of sucking up to the powerhouse of the SADC region.

    The elaboration of Nigeria, for example, is so poor and shoddy it's not funny. Little time is spent on explaining why it is the political and economic hub of West Africa. Were the author to be pressed, I am sure he would first cite the size of the population (140 million), and conveniently forget that Nigeria has a precedent in being the only ECOWAS country to have launched a satellite!

    And much more besides. But in the interests of time, let me just press on.

    I have talked about the IGAD country Sudan before, and concede very much it has a challenge of reconciling its oil-rich status with economic development. I would have expected this article to have transcended the issue of Darfur a bit and explained what some of the constraints on the country are.

    DRC is a good point, but, yet again, little explanation. It is only South Africa that glows.

    In his discussion of the regional powerhouses (the "regional" are mine), he mentions SADC; ECOWAS; COMESA. I would have expected a bit more about the Africa Economic Community, which the UN's regional commission of Africa, UNECA, elaborates on here:

    First of all, the Africa Economic Community: "article 6 of the Treaty lays down a timetable for the process of integration, or the creation of Africa Economic Community (AEC) to be carried out over a period of 34 years (1994-2027), in 6 different stages of different duration".

    Africa is making some progress in its attempts to integrate. However, the results are mixed. Notable progress has been made in the areas of trade, communications, macroeconomic policies, and transportation. The West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA), the East African Community (EAC) and the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) have all made significant progress in trade liberalization and facilitation. In the area of free movement of people, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) has made remarkable strides. The Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the East African Community (EAC) have progressed in the area of infrastructure. For peace and security, ECOWAS and SADC have made commendable.

    If we backtrack just a bit, we see that the regional blocs mentioned under the ambit of the AEC are: ECOWAS; SADC; UEMOA; COMESA; EAC. I would agree with the UNECA that these are the five regional powerhouses. Though, I find UEMOA less reliable in terms of grand regional integration projects, it is true that as far as economic regional integration goes, by way of the CFA, it is way up there.

    Suffice-to-say, our learned reporter needs to do some more research!

    Thursday, May 17, 2007

    People Power Through Mercosur Parliament?

    You have got to give it to the Latin Americans. When it comes to people power, they certainly have got it! Remember what happened with the Free Trade Area of the Americas(FTAA), which was scheduled to take off in 2005? It was in Brussels, in 2002, that I started writing about the FTAA, and it certainly looked like it was going to happen.

    But the Latin Americans got big on people power--and used it to good effect. In Wikipedia, description of the FTAA is "proposed". Never to have happened. A flop.

    Unlike the Latin Americans, the AU countries and their relations, by way of the ACP Group, with the EU on the EPAs continues apace as if regional integration à la européen would be the best transplant for the African continent.

    It seems like the Africans haven't quite gotten round to the effect of people power in the way our Latin American friends have. So sophisticated they appear to be in this regard that they have, as an article maintains, considered the:

    ...initiative to implement mechanisms of people's participation in the Parliament of the Common Market of the South (Mercosur) similar to the street parliamentarianism in Venezuela

    Is it any surprise that it is Venezuela that is proposing this idea?

    The mind boggles;-)

    Wednesday, May 16, 2007

    Jamaica Pooh-Poohs the CARICOM Special Visa; Whither ECLAC?

    In a post reminiscent of this one, I am re-visiting the issue of the CARICOM Special visa for the very fact that yesterday was the day that visa "ended".

    Meaning that now, countries like CARICOM-member Jamaica will...

    "...revert to its original national laws and policies as they relate to immigration, customs and other measures which were temporarily suspended for the hosting of the CWC 2007 games,"

    At least, so said a ministry coming from the Ministry of National Security.

    It further

    instructed visitors to check with their respective country authorities, and or their diplomatic and or consular offices to ascertain if they are required to have a national visa to enter the particular country

    I am not very sure about how Jamaica sees itself ensconced within the CARICOM region as a merely tourist destination, but for sure, it has issues about retaining the visa, and one of them is this:

    Jamaica has always been talking about diversifying, that we don't put our eggs in one basket," he said. "Now the basket that is affected is the same one that requires the CARICOM visa. So, rather than encouraging a developing market, the CARICOM visa will have the opposite effect of driving that market to other places that will not have such a visa requirement."

    I can understand that even if other members of CARICOM are in favour of the idea, it could not be extended or mooted just like that. There will, in fact, be a meeting in July in Barbados--not necessarily to discuss this issue. However, I am sensing that if other member states feel compelled to raise the issue, then why not.

    This development in the CARICOM region might seem odd to the casual observer like myself who feels that CARICOM is a region that has some similarities with regions like the West African one of ECOWAS. I couldn't be more wrong, for this is one of the things that underscores the importance of comparative studies of regional integration, which serve to help people get round in their mind what elements of a regional integration agreement can be emulated, or extrapolated to another one.

    The Belgium-based United Nations Univeristy's UNU-CRIS does a great job in reminding us of the importance of regional integration in the rapidly-changing landscape of international relations. It asks five major questions:

    We are a research and training programme of the United Nations University that is driven by the following questions:

    Question 1: What is happening in the world - Past, present and future - with regard to regional integration processes?
    Question 2: What governance structures are emerging through regional integration?
    Question 3: How can regional integration contribute to peace and human security in the framework of the UN?
    Question 4: How can regional integration contribute to the development of LDCs?
    Question 5: How do people and societies deal with regional integration?

    Finally, I believe that in asking those questions, we can begin to advance on the theory and practice of regional integration that is people-centred, as well as one that comprehensively bridges the disconnect that is perceived to exist between regional economic communities and the United Nations.

    I look forward to the day when in the discussion of CARICOM, there is an ineluctable, or inevitable, involvement of the central role of the UN's regional commission for that region, ECLAC.

    Tuesday, May 15, 2007

    Heads Up! What's the EU Admitting to the East African Community?

    In my view, the EAC is the bomb! It's got a good thing going, what with a language that is unique to the countries of Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania; coupled with a culture equally unique to them.

    Linguistic barriers are rarely a problem, though I am beginning to wonder what the implications of Rwanda and Burundi joining them might be. It's down to one thing, really, and that's regional security.

    I am one of those who espouse the philosophy that my security is your security. In short, security is re-inforcing. It therefore stands to reason why the EAC would like to admit Rwanda and its close neighbour into the community. As the Secretary-General of EAC Mwapachu said in this article:

    `If we left out these people (Burundi and Rwanda), we will fuel more conflicts and political instabilities. The best approach is to embrace them to enhance durable peace and political stability,` said Mwapachu.

    IPP Executive Chairman, Reginald Mengi, could not agree more with EAC boss when he said sidelining Rwanda and Burundi would not solve security-related problems in the region.

    Back to the reason why the EU is implicated in here at all, and we find that it's to do with the earth-shattering statement (fact, I would say), that:

    "I mention this to illustrate that there is nothing such as a model of good practice in political or economic integration,"

    These were the words of the EU Ambassador to Dar Es Salaam, Baan, speaking at the Dar es Salaam Institute of Technology. He further intoned:

    I am not revealing secrets if I admit that EU achievements made in the first fifty years came with uncertainties and hesitations and occasionally through painful arguments and recriminations` he said.

    I am glad some member of the EU is admitting that their integration project is not the best. I am feeling that Andrew Hurrell is seriously vindicated.

    And why wouldn't he? Each region should aspire to build its integration project the best manner possible, witout waiting for, say, an Economic Partnership Agreement that would provide spurious beneficial effects for the Africa, coupled with the dubious claim of facilitating Africa's already-complex regional integration efforts!

    Tuesday, May 08, 2007

    Sporadic Posting

    A critical and progressive development in my personal life has spawned a period of sporadic posting.

    Truth is I shall be away from my computer for the better part of this week, so I hope you'll forgive me when I say I shall most definitely be monitoring the regional integration landscape like a hawk!:-)

    Till the next post!

    (hopefully, Monday!)

    Happy watching!

    (Suffice to say, MERCOSUR must have already opened its parliament, and ECOWAS is big, news-wise in the sense that Malians are encouraging ECOWAS anglophone countries to fast-track integration as regards the ECO, the common currency)

    Friday, May 04, 2007

    The Arab World, through GCC, Gets Serious with MERCOSUR

    Looks like Mercosur is hitting it big off-late. First, it's going to be opening its parliament this month. Now, we're getting fresh news that the Arab world that had heretofore been rather lethargic on expressing itself in collaboration with other regional blocs, is now entertaining no less than a free trade area that will be completed by June with MERCOSUR.

    Oh baby.

    This is good stuff for the Gulf Cooperation Council that rarely features in this part of the world:

    the free trade agreement between the Mercosur and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) should be concluded up to the end of June of this year. The GCC includes Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Oman. This week the Emirates were visited by one of the presidents of the Mercosur, the Uruguayan Tabaré Vasquez.

    Thankfully, the leitmotiv behind this alliance is not one solely predicated on free trade; there is talk about other things, too:

    Another point presented by the secretary general at the Arab Chamber was the integration of productive chains within the bloc, especially in the automotive, energy and petrochemical industry sectors. "It is not enough just to seek trade, it is also necessary to seek productive integration, otherwise there may be an imbalance in exports and imports," he declared

    Wow. There's a turn-up for the books: not enough just to seek trade!

    The secretary general of the Arab Chamber is talking about productive integration.

    That's certainly one to look out for! With MERCOSUR and its associated countries talking about energy, this type of integration is probably a trend that needs to be looked out for...

    good weekend!

    Thursday, May 03, 2007

    Whither the European Union? Free-Trader, Egalitarian...or Hypocrite?

    The EU is going places--or at least that's what the EU would like its citizens to think. That is, judging by an opinion piece by a lawyer who now works in the financial services.

    She (I presume) writes an interesting piece about the EU, and looks at the following issues:

  • Withdrawing from the EU will put businesses in disadvantageous positions in Europe

  • Inconvenience caused to tourists and migrants

  • Withdrawal will distort the market

  • Member states should not enjoy benefits of the EU without facing drawbacks

  • We know the writer is a free-trader--and there's nothing wrong with that if that's what gets your kicks--because of the manner in which she castigates the attempt by the EU to assume an "egalitarian" EU predicated on a single market. She writes:

    With the egalitarian ideology at its core, the EU is heading in a direction that is opposite its original destination. The aim of the EU officials is to create a collective block and to build a high fortress around it. That block will hamper the growth of Europe. Instead of truly fostering free trade, EU regulations and directives hold back those who endeavor to progress; indeed such efforts are frowned upon.

    This is so ironic it's not funny. If you look at the steely attempts by the European Union and its arm-twisting of countries of the Africa, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States to comply with its version of regional integration à l'Africaine, you could arrive at the conclusion that the EU is ferociously free-trade.

    If you look at attempts by civil society organisations setting up websites, such as EPA Watch; specifically to monitor the obfuscatory tactics deployed by the EU in its relations with African countries, you begin to wonder whether a little hypocrisy is in the offing.

    So when the writer finally writes:

    It is one thing to devise policies founded on egalitarianism but quite another to implement them as if they are based on the ideas of free exchange.

    I begin to ask myself is it not time to question what the EU does and says in theory, and practice?

    Or is the EU pulling a very fast one on some of us?