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!

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