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!

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