Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Bank of the South is Here, But Can Africa Bank on the Latin American Way of Regional Integration?

The new multilateral institution is considered as an alternative to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank and seeks to satisfy development credits demand.

Seriously, it's more than an alternative; it's also yet another expression of Venezuela and its associate MERCOSUR members of their dissatisfaction with the prevalent neoliberal system.

I've written about this Bank of the South before and I explained that the Latin Americans had something that Africans certainly didn't. Beyond blood running through their veins, it's about a radicalism and conviction so unprecedented and emanating that any of their opponents feel it viscerally that these are people not to be toyed with.

If not, how is it that despite the articulations of Venezuela against the mighty US, Venezuela has -- along with Brazil; Argentina; Bolivia; Ecuador and Paraguay -- establish this Bank of the South [I notice no Uruguay!!]. Yet, Africans have allowed themselves to be fragmented on the so-called Economic Partnership Agreements?

The fallout of the signing of a so-called EPA-lite by the East African Community and SADC (without South Africa and Namibia) just leaves one speechless--not to mention a little bit less for wear the arduous efforts of civil society -- both in the North and the South.

That said, it's important to press on to stop the discussions between the bullying EU and the other regions.

In my view, the Bank of the South initiative, a formidable alternative indeed to the Breton Woods institutions of the World Bank and IMF in the sense that "each member country would have a single vote, irrespective of size and financial contribution" (from: brings into sharp relief the necessity for greater collaboration between MERCOSUR in general/Latin America specifically and other AU regionalisms to learn lessons on how they were able to resist the Free Trade Area of the Pacific in 2005, yet AU/ACP countries allowed fragmentation by the EU.

While this issue of the Bank of the South, in my view, is one of the most progressive developments in global regional integration to date--bar the ASEAN charter-- Africans ought to contemporaneously reflect on whether there is that much of a difference between the EU and the US, for them to have allowed the EU--former colonisers at that--to hoodwink many of them into an interim agreement that will most likely destroy attempts at regional integration.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

ASEAN Apathy Bites the Dust with ASEAN Charter?

  • "ASEAN, as an inter-governmental organization, is hereby conferred legal personality," says the Charter.

  • According to the Blueprint, the AEC builds on four pillars: a single market and production base, a highly competitive economic region, a region of equitable economic development, and a region fully integrated into the global economy

  • "When it (the Charter) comes into force, it has the potential to transform ASEAN from a loose grouping of countries into a more cohesive, more effective and a more rules-based organization,"

  • Even at a time when the South East asian regionalisms attitude towards erring members (viz: Pakistan in SAARC, and Myanmar in ASEAN) could be described as this side short of soporific, I have to confess that I am rather excited by the prospect of an ASEAN Charter. Excited, because it signals the beginning of what can be in the critical and progressive discussion on regional integration. What can be as in what is possible, where others might have failed.

    I've intoned time and again how the Europeans rejected the constitution back in 2004, yet ASEAN leaders have managed to chalk, and pass it. As to whether it will translate to the citizens is a moot point.

    Whatever the case will be, I believe history will look favourably on the 10-member regional organisation that has a population of 500 million [ECOWAS has 250-300 million, and is fifteen members] for having bitten the bullet to pass the Charter.

    Highlights of the Charter include a compulsion by members:

    to democracy and protection of human rights, the charter also mandates the establishment of a human rights body in the region and aims to turn the region into an European Union-style market.

    Though I am wont to criticise the EU-one-size-fits-all that many regionalisms touch on at least once in their life, I am avoiding that here, because I think it's time to accentuate the positive step ASEAN has taken.

    Let's remember that 4the organisation turned forty only in August this year. It didn't wait for its Jubilee before doing something constructive for its region!

    Above all, and in all seriousness, ASEAN wants to use the Charter to facilitate an Asian Economic Community by 2015. Well, deadlines are great. (Isn't the world supposed to eradicate poverty by half by 2015?) What matters is that there is a framework, a structure that can be carried forward by posterity. ASEAN now has legal personality--and that certainly, four decades after it was established, can only be congratulated.

    In many respects, however, I can understand why the celebrations over the charter eclipsed the UN envoy to Burma Ibrahim Gambari's visit in a way that made the meeting abortive. Put simply, the meeting didn't happen.

    I surmise that not that ASEAN was denying that Myanmar is a nettlesome issue, but that to have brought the UN envoy would have been undermining the cohesion ASEAN tried so hard to fight for in taking more than two years to draft this lofty charter.

    I have always been in favour of UN envoys--and it's not going to change anytime soon--but, again, I've seen a similar thing in West Africa with Cote d'ivoire when it launched its coup in September 2002.

    ECOWAS also decided not to expel it, but brought pressure to bear through the collective voice of ECOWAS to bring normality to the country

    For all the necessary noise that the US is making by saying (through Susan Schwab, US trade representative) that ASEAN's relationship with Myanmar cannot be "business as usual", it makes sense that ASEAN is not going to break its party anytime soon! Let it cry when it wants to--but certainly not now that there has been a significant, critical and progressive development in ASEAN's regional integration.

    quotations taken from the following links:

    Thursday, November 08, 2007

    SAARC's Existential Angst (1)

    At a time when the SAARC region is in the news thanks to one of its key members, Pakistan, it beggars belief that there has been little effort by the regional organisation, that will be celebrating its 22nd anniversary in December, on the issue of regional security .

    And I should know.

    I come from a region where regional security has been put on a pedestal on account of the internecine conflicts that engulfed the region in the 1990s. Despite the hegemon of Nigeria, the oil-rich country rarely ever became an obstruction in the development of peace in the ECOWAS region. Nigeria was instrumental in providing significant financial capital towards ECOMOG--the peacekeeping wing of ECOWAS. In 2007, ECOWAS has transformed from a Secretariat to a Commission with commissioners leading on the major issues pertinent to the region. Bottom line? ECOWAS, for all its problems and challenges, has moved on. That is not to say that things cannot be done better, and mindsets changed. For what it's worth we see developments.

    Very little changed can be said for SAARC.

    Not to deny SAARC having golf tournaments, but I find it ludicrous that a regional organisation with the size that SAARC has (seven members, excluding Afghanistan which joined recently) cannot get its regional organisation going!

    Contrast this with the East African Community, which collapsed in 1977, but re-invigorated itself in 1993. Today, Rwanda and Burundi are members, making the organisation 5-member strong. Yet it's going strong. ECOWAS has 15--and look at the regional structures it has: a Parliament; a Community Court; and a strong regional security initiative.

    SAARC is nowhere near.

    I was encouraged, however, last week to read that Pakistan is going to host SAARC Police Chiefs meeting in February. I thought that here was encouraging news that SAARC was finally getting serious. I had the visceral feeling that the meeting was too closely associated with teh War on Terror, especially as Pakistan's role in that war was cited.

    I wondered whether it would make headline news next year when Pakistan hosts the Third Meeting on Home Ministers, because it is a putative ally of the Bush administration, or would it be consigned to the proverbial dustbin of "irrelevant" news?

    On the positive note, it was good to see that the SAARC Home Ministers are interested in establishing an electronic network of police authorities of SAARC countries.

    It's certainly something that here, in the ECOWAS region, given the spate of gun-related crimes, we could do with! When the West Africa Police Chiefs Committee met a few weeks ago, I do not re-call hearing anything concrete like this SAARC proposal.

    However, what was said by Ghana’s Minister of Interior Nana Obiri Boahen, was this:

    I am also honoured to be part of this historic occasion when the Police Gendarmerie from our sister Francophone countries are joining their counterparts to discuss issues of mutual and common interest.

    I am told that the ECOWAS Commission is expanding its Political Peacekeeping and Security Department to include a police unit that will take care of police issues within the ECOWAS community.

    This laudable idea has been on the commission’s agenda for quite some time now and I am particularly happy that the idea is being implemented.


    In my view, such lacuna go to underscore complementarities that I have talked about before being factored in any critical and progressive discussion on regional integration.