Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Prospects for an AU govt: ISS Paper Review

Prospects for an AU govt: ISS Paper Review

18 July, 2007

By E.K.Bensah II


Even at the best of times, regional integration is slow and protracted, and at the very worst, a problematic enterprise. Key institutions like the UN’s Economic Commission for Africa maintain that a combination of lack of ratification of protocols, coupled with the overlapping membership are some of the primordial reasons why regional integration in Africa is as encumbered as it is. To this end, a united African Union government would offer a new way of Africa doing things its own way, and what better place to discuss an AU government than in the very country that spawned one of the greatest Pan-Africanists that ever lived—Dr.Kwame Nkrumah;l even better was the fact that this discussion would take place at the Ninth Summit of the African Union, held in July.


It is against this backdrop that the South-African based Institute for Security Studies would launch seven papers in Accra, looking at different facets of regional integration. Given the wide scope of issues flowing from any conception of an AU government, it was important to focus on some of the challenges that might give vent to the detractors of a union government. Some of these challenges were elaborated on by one of ISS”s academics.


To say that Dr.Mzukisi Qobo, a research associate at the South African Institute of International Affairs, is against union government is, in fact, to do a disservice to the man, for he is not so much against any conception of union government as he is against one that fails to take into account a market-based approach. Operating from the principle that the current rhetoric is “decidedly state-centric and obsessed with anti-imperialism”, his take is explicit: a greater involvement of non-state actors, as well as “a normative convergence on the issues of democratization and promotion of human rights.”


While noone has denied the utility of democratic dispensations at the domestic level facilitating an enabling environment conducive to economic growth, it would seem that this is not the end-all and be-all. The use of non-state actors—often a codeword for the private sector—may be palatable, only insofar as it feeds into the ideal of a regional integration project that is people-centred. Without the people element, the conception of an AU government predicated merely on the development of the economy would seem myopic in the extreme.


That said, the author outlines four main challenges associated with regional integration in a manner that reflects his attachment to the neo-classical paradigm based on export-orientation.


In his view, the biggest challenge to regional integration in the context of prospects towards a United States of Africa is to do with Africa’s view of globalization. He maintains that African countries are not enjoying the benefits of globalization, because they have been so imbued by the anachronistic ideas of a Pan-Africanism that is impractical. Her writes: “the Pan-Africanist ideology is slowly becoming eclipsed by pragmatism. Notions such as Ujaama or African socialism coined by Julius Nyerere are gradually losing their popular appeal, as various countries start to favour market-based approaches”. Alarmingly, without citing who these leaders are, the author maintains there are “an emerging group of African reformers…increasingly realizing that history’s inexorable evolution is not to the socialist nirvana of autarchy and self-reliance but to a market-based economy and global interdependence.”


Secondly, Qobo argues that African countries mismanaged their economies after colonialism, which inevitably led to corruption. It is interesting to note that he makes little mention of the impact of the deleterious effects of IFI-imposed policies of the World Bank and IMF, and the extent to which they played adverse effects on the countries of African economies.


He even goes on to make the spurious argument that despite the World Bank “channeling massive financial resources towards the improvement of the infrastructure is[sic] areas of water and roads, public financial systems and local economic governance in various countries”,  African economies had failed to create a more enabling environment for business. Let’s remember that for Qobo, a sound environment conducive to “bold” economic reforms spell success in African regional integration.


He cites as a third major challenge the absence of a Central Bank for Africa, which has caused chaos in Africa’s financial system: “the advantage of an independent Central Bank is transparency, predictability, and accountability in monetary policy. This lends”, he writes, “credibility to the economy and insulates monetary policy, especially interest rates, from being manipulated by politicians for short-term gains.”


This point, whilst credible, is utopian, for the current practice where money from donors is tied to aid comprehensively inhibits any control that African countries might have on regulating their finances. That the Bretton Woods institutions enjoy a great stranglehold and say in the capital account of AU countries is sufficient to render an idea like this null and void. The impression, regrettably, one gets from reading this is that the author appears out of touch of the practical obstacles that remain from the current relationship with our donors.


A fourth point that he makes that lends greater credence with some of the key challenges is the issue of debt servicing, and the extent to which it cripples AU countries’ economies: “Africa is also a continent that is adversely affected by soaring foreign debt and is highly dependent on flows of overseas development assistance—most of which is re-channeled [by way of consultants] and multilateral credit institutions to service debt.”


These four main points in the paper are further underscored by an attempt at alternatives, with the first being a regional integration that runs in the vein of the European Union, where membership is incremental, and with “the criteria for membership includ[ing] democratic indicators, fiscal prudence and monetary policy variables.”


Put simply, fiscal prudence is about rolling back the state by spending less on provision of social services, and much more of this kind of ideology finds expression in much of his paper. He writes, for example, about the need for “bold” and “far-reaching” economic reforms. In fact, he makes no secret that, in his view, this is the way for Africa and its regional integration. To him, such measures, taken at the domestic level, would set a precedent at the regional one.


In other words, a more liberalized domestic economy should translate into a regionally-liberalized space, where there is a greater focus on export-orientation and market-based approaches. He goes so far as to argue that even if a regional mechanism is to “have credibility, larger countries or groups within the integrating regions need to play a more active and influential leadership role.” These “larger groups” he talks about are reminiscent of the role of hegemons within the existing regional groupings (South Africa, Nigeria, to name but two). Regrettably, he fails to expound on this point beyond saying that the hegemons facilitating a climate conducive to investment.


What he does do, however, is give a score card of some of the existing regional integration initiatives which he considers “promising”: SADC, CEMAC; COMESA; EAC; and ECOWAS. Analysed through the filter of the extent to which they have pursued “comprehensive trade liberalization and facilitation measures”, his result is as evident as it is emphatic: “despite these successes, it should be stressed these RECS still have a long way to go to achieve the objectives of the A[frican] E[conomic] C[ommunity].”


However, he raises another point that seems as ridiculous as it is spurious. In his view, one of the areas of “notable success” is the establishment of the Pan-African Parliament in March 2004. He maintains: “this has a value for enlarging the space for dialogue and ensuring factors beyond the executive arms of government participate in shaping continental development and influencing processes of regional integration and cooperation.” For a so-called Pan-African law-making body that enjoys an administrative status over an executive one three years after its inception, this argument is risible in the extreme.



Throughout the paper, Qobo gives in many times to the apparently alluring appeal of the leitmotiv of corruption and mismanagement to explain away some of the challenges facing African countries on the rocky road towards the magnificent vision of an African Union government. This line of thinking, however, is one drop short of myopic because it fails to fully acknowledge the nebulous and nefarious prescriptive policies of what the Monde Diplomatique newspaper called in 2002 as the “other axis of evil”: the Bretton Woods Institutions, and the WTO.


Although Qobo, at some point, refers to regulation, he is far too late in the game of advocating market-based reforms that we leave the article in visceral repulsion at this over-the-top suggestion of bold economic reforms setting a precedent for the regional.




This is an uneditted version of a review that appeared in TWN-Africa’s African Agenda (vol10.3)

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