Monday, April 30, 2007

MERCOSUR's Parliament, a Test of Accountability to its Citizens?

Let the celebrations begin!

MERCOSUR's first-ever Parliament will open on 7 May...

at Uruguay’s Legislative Palace and in its first year will have an operational monthly budget of 30.000 US dollars (from:

This is fantastic news coming from a regional bloc that was coming under criticism for losing focus on its regional integration efforts.

Here's what we know from the article above about the Parliament:

1. Montevideo was chosen as the seat for the group’s Parliament

2. the ceremony is scheduled in Uruguay (the country has rotating Chair)

3. the Mercosur Council, (Foreign Affairs and Economy ministers) still have to decide on the 2008/2010 budget during a meeting scheduled next May in Paraguay

4. The Parliament bill will be split, half of it according to the number of legislators from each country and the other half based on GDP of each member

5. Legislators will not be paid for their work in the regional parliament and the basic staff in 2007 will be limited to 25.

I guess my title might have been a bit premature, considering the parliament only opens in some eight days, but, still, it's worth ruminating over the extent to which a regional parliament will make MERCOSUR more accountable to its citizens.

This news comes on the heels of the (very) personable Mrs Kirschner, First Lady of Argentina, wooing Mexico's President Felipe Calderon into getting into Mercosur, which currently comprises: Argentina; Brazil; (Associate members) Chile/Bolivia; Paraguay; Uruguay; and venezuela.

Here's a quick list of websites of regional parliaments:

  • African Union / Pan-African Parliament:

  • European Union:


  • Andean Community:
  • Friday, April 27, 2007

    Can You Spot the Fast-Tracker of the East African Community?

    Look closely enough, and throughout this blog even more closely...and you might think I've gone and found myself a lady from Kenya. I've been praising that East African country a bit, I must confess--but I am emphatic that it is not without reason.

    I've never been to Kenya, and so I can't honestly say anything about the people and how they make their country tick, but there are accounts, and best practices to follow. So far, my eye's on Kenya for the simple reason that it's making serious efforts on being proactive in its efforts on regional integration.

    ECOWAS has forever been talking about making regional integration more inclusive, but never has brought anything really concrete. Conversely, the East African Community appears to be something right: it's getting the fourth Estate on board its efforts to fast-track regional integration.

    An article from The Nation reports how

    Media executives will hold talks in Nairobi to discuss ways of speeding up regional integration in East Africa.

    Please note that it's not just a matter of journalists alone being involved, but some of the big fry who would have the power to make decisions on editorial policy and whatnot.

    The secretary-general of the EAC couldn't have put it better when he said:

    "If the regional integration process is to succeed, it must become the agenda of all critical agencies... and none is more powerful than the media,"

    ECOWAS, are you listening? African Union? You there, too?

    Have a good weekend!

    Tuesday, April 24, 2007

    The Fight is On: SADC Competes With ECOWAS in Banking

    Last week, Metro TV, in its Newsnight programme, reported --much to my chagrin--that the government had offloaded (finally) its shares in ADB in preparation for the takeover by the South African bank Standard Bank.

    I've been seeing Standard Bank's ads in magazines like Business In Africa, Africa Today, and been forced to accept that it, too, like ECOBANK, wnts to be a Pan-African bank.

    Predictably, I'm being biased towards Ecobank being a veritable regional bank--precissely for its history of ECOWAS' stake, and its reach in almost ECOWAS countries, including CEMAC countries. Honestly, Stanbic, a Pan-African bank? I don't think so! Where's the SADC support to underscore this? Where is the SADC region's understanding of the rest of Africa?

    In my view, I see an interesting trend here--one of Stanbic, like South African big capital, choosing to lord it over Africa, and feeling, why not, West Africa's a good place. Once we get Ghana, we've got a springboard for the rest of West Africa.

    Not so fast, Stanbic!

    The South Africans appear not to understand not just West Africa, but its market. One thing that goes to compound this perception is an article in Friday's edition of the private Ghanaian paper The Observer, with the headline:

    Stanbic Offers $80m for ADB

    The sub-heading speaks volumes: Workers Charge and Say "Kai!" ADB's Western Union
    Inflows for 2006 Alone Was $400m

    This, in fact, was reduced from $120m.

    The cheek of Stanbic! To think it could buy Ghana's only agricultural development bank for $80m, when Western Union's for ADB alone was clocking a good five times aaht amount speaks more about the South African chutzpah, or hubris, of feeling it can lord it over West Africa in general, and Ghana in particular.

    Back to the news report from Metro news, I noticed that the following night, the station reported that the government insists it had not sold its shares in ADB, and was actually looking at an unsolicited proposal from Stanbic made last year.

    It was confirmed in the state-owned Daily Graphic on Thursday, as the picture above illustrates.

    I certainly hope that Bank of Ghana, and Ghanaians open their eyes to the looming threat of big capital--be it outside Africa, or on the continent itself, represented by a wolf in sheep's clothing--South Africa, always ready to please the West and its elite, yet less amenable to the interests of Black Africa.

    Does NEPAD ring a bell, anyone?

    Monday, April 23, 2007

    Monday Analysis : Of Subregional Imperatives and Regional Integration: CARICOM, IGAD, ECOWAS

    J'aimerais commencer en disant "merci" a winbald, le blogger senegalais, qui frequente cette-site-ci. Meme s'il y a longtemps que j'ai visite ton site, c'est tres acceuillant--en fait, ca chauffe le coeur--qu'un blogger ouest-africain suit le site.

    All that said, the primary objective of this blog has, thus far, been to raise awareness on the subject of regional integration to the casual visitor(aficionados are not excluded!).

    You could say , like the WTO, regional integration is all the rage these days. I would say more specifically, free trade areas (FTAs), what with Japan signing an FTA with ASEAN, or India signing one with non-SAARC countries.

    The advocacy website Bilaterals does a great job of providing an-almost daily overview of FTAs signed worldwide.

    This blog, however, choses to look at the initiatives; the developments; and the trends in regional integration.

    It is not a coincidence that last week, I covered IGAD and CARICOM--perhaps little-known to most Westerners, and even to those in my own backyard of ECOWAS.

    Affinity in Conflict?
    I find IGAD particulary interesting because from the little research I conducted on it, it looks very comparable to ECOWAS--for one prime reason: its propensity for conflict.

    IGAD countries may be small, but most (c.f. Ethiopia/Eritrea/Somalia) are embroiled in some quasi-internecine conflict or other. Look at Sudan--also an IGAD member--with conflict brewing right there in Darfur.

    Parallels with West Africa in that regard are uncanny. Remember the Charles Taylor days of Liberia , in 1990; Sierra Leone--before the British intervention; Togo, with its never-ending rule of Eyadema, till his demise in 2005?

    Sub-regional imperatives
    Armed conflict is far from new in West Africa. Thankfully, ECOWAS, by what I would call its sub-regional imperative of conflict resolution and conflict management has made serious and significant strides in this area. I can foresee IGAD going the route of maximising its experience on conflict for the benefit of the region and the continent as a whole.

    CARICOM, conversely, is conflict-free. Arguably, its sub-regional imperative would be different . That said, it is very telling that in the designation, or creation, of the so-called "Single Domestic Space", as outlined below,it chose to create IMPACS--a regional-space-and-security-regulating agency. This seems to be something which appears non-existent in ECOWAS, despite de jure visa-free travel not only having been established, but being, as it were, comprehensively applicable throughout the ECOWAS countries. Like I said last week, a regional organisation that considers the security of its citizens of utmost importance is certainly a serious one!

    Finally, last week, I touched on Kenya being the peacebroker for the Ethiopia-Eritrea dispute. Kenya can far from anything be called a hegemon, on account of its size, as compared to Sudan, but in the East African Community, it certainly seems to be quite a leader, among its friends of Uganda, Tanzania, and now Rwanda and Burundi--set to join the community soon.

    Kenya looks set to be proactive in these two regional blocs, and I suspect one should begin to keep its eye out for it in the near future.

    Wednesday, April 18, 2007

    Some of the Regions--in Brief


    --Australia has put down "energy", unsurprisingly, as the biggest issue for discussion for the next APEC summit, slated for September


    --Japan and the 10-member regional bloc are to sign a free-trade agreement

    Africa Union

    --The Ghanaian-based private newspaper, The Statesman, has begun looking at the so-called Africa Union government discussions slated for the AU summit here in Accra in July.

    European Union

    --THe 27-member bloc certainly looks like it has way too much time on its hands! It's setting up an early warning system:

    The European Union said Wednesday it would set up an early warning system to watch for foreign trade barriers that it says prevent European companies from exporting to growing markets



    Tuesday, April 17, 2007

    How Sport has Greatly United CARICOM

    Cricket is a boon to the enjoyment of spectator-sport by the British and the Caribbeans like no other game. When you get sport uniting people, it becomes a testament of how people can actually live together.

    No greater place has this been manifested than the 15-member Carribean Community (CARICOM), established in 1973, where visas are freely available to CARICOM nationals who belong to the so-called "single domestic space":

    Recipients of the visa are entitled to move freely through the 10 Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries comprising the Single Domestic Space which was established to facilitate visitors for Cricket World Cup 2007.

    Air and sea passengers travelling between Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, St Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Trinidad and Tobago now do so with minimal delays at the immigration counter. The measure remains in place until May 15, 2007.


    We learn from the above-article that the space was created to "facilitate" visitors for the Cricket World Cup, which, according to a New Zealand-based website covering the Cricket World Cup

    will take place in the Caribbean from 5 March to 28 April 2007. The games, including warm up matches, will be held in nine different countries: Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent & the Grenadines and Trinidad and Tobago

    The article maintains:

    A CARICOM Special Visa is required for the period 1 February to 15 May 2007 by all New Zealanders travelling to the region, including for the Cricket World Cup.

    As to whether this CARICOM visa will now be an established thing is unclear, but what is clear, arguably, is that Cricket has set a precedent for regional integration.

    At least, that is the simplistic version.

    The other, more complicated version is that because it looks like a provisional measure for the Cricket World Cup, there is, ofcourse, little political discussion on the implications for the region of CARICOM.

    stringent screening procedures have ensured that only valid, thoroughly-screened applicants receive visas [and] As a consequence, 732 applications have so far been denied...

    suggests that any talk about an institutionalisation of the visa as a permanent feature of how CARICOM nationals and citizens move round is far from being on the table.

    It looks like beyond the 15 May deadline, the special space for the CARICOM will no longer be in use. This prompts the question of why not, like ECOWAS, go ahead and make permanent the "single domestic space"?

    I'm very happy with the CARICOM website. Other regional organisations could learn quite a bit from them! In all seriousness, when you check the website, you read about "The Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Implementation Agency for Crime and Security (IMPACS), which is facilitating the Special Visa".

    The interesting thing about this agency is this:

    IMPACS was established as the implementation arm of a new Regional Architecture for the development and management of the CARICOM Regional Action Agenda on Crime and Security issues. IMPACS is headed by an Executive Director and reports to the CARICOM Council of Ministers responsible for National Security and Law and Enforcement.

    IMPACS executes a broad portfolio which ranges from project management to research and resource mobilisation. Its overall objective is to enhance the individual and collective capacity of CARICOM member states to control crime and effectively participate in international counter crime and security initiatives

    It is a given that any regional integration that takes into account the securing of its nationals and citizens is a region that is serious.

    Monday, April 16, 2007

    Kenya, the EAC Peacemaker

    If we were being superficial about the analysis of regional integration, we'd probably say that Nigeria is to ECOWAS, as Sudan is to IGAD.

    In fact, that superficial analysis has some elements of truth in it, in the sense that just as Nigeria is the most populous countries in Africa, Sudan , as wikipedia says of it that it is:

    the largest African country by area. [2] The country is situated at a crossroads between the Horn of Africa and the Middle East. It is bordered by Egypt to the north, the Red Sea to the northeast, Eritrea and Ethiopia to the east, Kenya and Uganda to the southeast, Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic to the southwest, Chad to the west, and Libya to the northwest. It is the tenth largest country in the world.

    So, basically, they're both big.

    Even in regional integration, size matters, because the bigger you are, the more clout--ostensibly--you have. Nigeria has oil, and some challenges; Sudan has...Darfur.

    You would have thought if Nigeria is a de facto hegemon (by its sheer size), Sudan would correspondingly be considered one, too.

    It's therefore puzzling--at first--to read, as I read here in Africa News that the comparatively smaller country of Kenya, which is a key country in the East African Community, is going to be the peacemaker, mediating in the Eritrea-Somalia-Ethiopia crisis.

    Simple point is that: Kenya is currently chairing the 26th session of an IGAD inter-ministerial, so perhaps it doesn't have a choice, as it suggested here:

    Kenyan Foreign Minister Raphael Tuju, whose country chairs IGAD, afterward said the bloc had "no appetite" to mediate Eritrea and Ethiopia's feud despite the problems it has caused in the region and within IGAD.

    "The problem between Ethiopia and Eritrea is like a problem between brothers. Our hands are pretty full at the moment so it is not one of the things we have an appetite to get into."

    Quite whether the problem between Ethiopia and Eritrea can be simplistically analogous to a problem between brothers is a moot point. Either way, for now, Kenya is the peacemaker.

    At the heart of the Ethiopian-Eritrea dispute is a finger-pointing from Somalia and the United States that Eritrea...:

    ...was supporting insurgents in Somalia to fight its neighbour Ethiopia. Eritrea and Ethiopia fought a two-year border war whose effects are still lingering (from:

    The article maintains:

    Eritrea is said to be demanding the urgent withdrawal of Ethiopian forces from Somalia, but IGAD's six other member States are calling for quick deployment of the African troops before the Ethiopian pullout.

    "We have discussed this issue previously and Ethiopia has been willing to withdraw from Somalia but we all agree that it has to be a tactful pullout otherwise it would plunge the region into a security vacuum," Tuju explained

    As nature abhors a vacuum, it might be rather critical to start consolidating existing peace efforts to have that intractable dispute between regional neighbours sorted.

    West Africa is very familiar with this type of situation, with ECOWAS having resolved potentially-explosive situations in Liberia and Sierra Leone in the 20th century.

    Today, we have the regional hegemon of ECOWAS that is Nigeria voting in polls. Despite elements and pockets of violence here and there, AFP, through africasia news has said

    An observer team from the west African bloc ECOWAS said Saturday's state elections were "relatively free and peaceful," the News Agency of Nigeria reported Monday

    I am personally confident about moves by Kenya on the dispute. I can foresee that the experience that the six-member IGAD is obtaining is heading it towards a conflict resolution and conflict management imperative, such as that was experienced in ECOWAS--and that cannot, surely, be a bad thing, as far as human resource goes for building well-experienced Africans' capacity for the bigger project of African unity.

    Friday, April 13, 2007

    The Mosquitoe Bites the (Regional Integration) Dust...Almost

    There I was feeling that HIV/AIDS was one of the biggest killers in Sub-Saharan Africa, until I came across this article in Xinhua about how Malaria kills more than war among military forces of SADC:

    The article reveals how:

    Malaria remains one of the biggest challenges for military forces in the Southern African region, accounting for more deaths than wars, Zimbabwe Defense Forces Commander General Constantine Chiwenga has said.

    Far from being stuck in a moment of trepidation, I think it makes sense. We get so consumed by the big picture that we forget, sometimes, to attack the little problems. It's, perhaps, like a crime thriller: it's only upon hindsight that you realise the veritable killer was closer than you thought.

    But seriously speaking, the article maintains that so serious is the issue that:

    [a] first seminar of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) military malaria managers [will take place] in Harare on Tuesday. The seminar, which is running for three weeks, is being held under the auspices of the SADC Military Health Services.

    SADC Military Health Services That sounds rather profound. So I did some investigation to ascertain how far SADC had gone in instituting a regional institution specifically dealing with health. I noticed SADC had met last month--under the aegis of SADC Health Minister's Forum, and had decided to recognise tradional medecine in the region.

    That article maintains how the SADC Health Forum will:

    ...also look major problems of SADC health issues such as HIV and AIDS,Tuberculosis and Malaria.

    Googling further, I came across references to health protocols, without there being anything concrete on a SADC institution dedicated to health.

    Predictably, I atavistically made the comparison with West Africa, which I do know has a West African Health Organisation.

    Even before all of that, my parents tell me that back in the good old days of Nkrumah, during the fifties and sixties, the goverment organised regular spraying of the country, so as to kill mosquitoe eggs.

    I can tell you that in 2007, it is not just that this has not happened, but it has not happened for several years either!

    A few weeks ago, the Accra regional minister I.C.Quaye quipped that mosquitoes did not need visas to enter the country of Ghana.

    One of the Ghanaian Saturday papers commented on this:

    The statement attributed to the Honourable I.C Quaye in Parliament recently, that mosquitoes do not need visa from him to enter Accra may be amusing, but it is very true.

    This is because the mosquito has become a very efficient transmitter of disease, especially malaria and the parasite it transmits has become so adaptive that it makes the control of malaria a very daunting business. As such it can move freely and cause havoc with impunity.

    A reference to the spraying was made by Ms Aba Wilmot, the Chief Entomologist of the Ghana Health Service, who maintained:

    even though spraying is good, she would like the environmental control bit emphasised to deal with the source of the mosquito. Her belief is that Accra, for example, should be divided into zones and the environment tackled from one zone to the other in a rotational basis.

    She went on to call for:

    indoor spraying instead of the outdoor one since the outdoor spraying is expensive.

    But any large scale operation will require the setting up of a good monitoring system to ensure its success. But this effort must be taken on by the whole of ECOWAS through the West African Health Organisation (WAHO). WAHO is the technical wing of ECOWAS that advises the health ministers of the West African States as well as their heads of states on matters concerning health.

    I checked the WAHO website, which does a woeful job of conveying how ECOWAS is dealing with malaria. One sorry sub-site refers to it thus:

    The FY2003-2007 Strategic Plan of the West African Health Organisation (WAHO) is the product of an ongoing strategic planning process that has been underway since February 2001. Contributors to this process include WAHO’s Directorate General, the Ministers of Health from Member States of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), international donors and consultants, health specialists, and experts in health policy and institutional development. Nine priorities have been identified:
    2. MALARIA

    The document may very well be available for download, but let's get real: a document for download and plenty of plans do not a concrete plan make. Come on, WAHO! It is interesting to note, even, that the website, in its attempt to be current, has failed woefully.

    This is because under "WAHO today news", you read that news from January was posted on what looks like April 2, 2007!!

    I think SADC has the right idea in this seminar, and if ECOWAS has been doing something similar for its citizens and/or for those working for ECOWAS institutions, it has done a bad job. We're in 2007! For how long go African regional organisations have to take their citizens for granted on key issues like these!

    Access to vital information like these doesn't need a person being paid thousands of dollars, but committed public servants, or even volunteers.

    WAHO has some way to go. It has the advantage over SADC that it's been in existence since 2000. SADC has yet to establish an institution dealing specifically with health in that sub-region. WAHO, and ECOWAS by extension, must not fail its citizens!

    Thursday, April 12, 2007

    Selling SAARC to the World...what exactly?

    The South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation was established in December 1985 and, according to wikipedia:

    is the largest regional organization in the world by population, covering approximately 1.47 billion people.

    It comprises eight countries, with the latest being Afghanistan that joined at its 14th Summit in New Delhi, on April 3 and 4th.

    You sometimes wonder whether these countries join for the sake of joining the organisations, or whether there is actually something fundamentally fuelling a desire to be part of a project that works. I can perhaps understand why the latter would be interested given its relative isolation in the Grand Scheme of International Politicking, but why join a grouping that doesn't seem to have a future?

    If that sounds harsh, try reading Pakistan's Daily Times article,which paints a rather despondent view of the largest regional organisation in the world. The key word is...Kashmir:

    India rolled forward with radical visa concessions to all including Pakistan. Pakistan sat there and watched, its outlook marred once again by an obsession with Kashmir although there was no need to be so costive about it. Pakistan can show its internal political audit that it was giving nothing away on Kashmir while going ahead with the free trade negotiations. Suddenly the inventiveness of General Musharraf is gone and Shaukat Aziz is changing his stripes. Pakistan must be the rare country that uses a banker prime minister to block trade

    I quite like the idea of a visa concession. West Africa's ECOWAS has it, as exemplified by the comment on the Mali Embassy website in the US:

    No visa is required for ECOWAS countries' citizens, citizens from Algeria,Cameroon,Andorra,Monaco,Chad, Gambia,Morocco, Mauritania,and Tunisia( a valid identity card or passport are acceptable

    The editorial maintains Sri Lanka talking about a common currency!

    It seems to me that sometimes when leaders sit in these regional organisation meetings, they scan the horizon on what is working, or seems to be working, without taking into account any practicalities for their respective region. So, because the EU has adopted a common currency, and anglophone West Africa is talking about it, it's a good idea? Not necessarily!

    Besides, for all ECOWAS' problems, especially with the linguistic divide that has marred progress many a time, one thing that ECOWAS has transcended is this view espoused by some leaders of SAARC (in bold):

    Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz is known for his smoothness but said things quite out of character for a banker.

    He said outstanding political issues should be sorted out first before free trade materialised between the two countries — a brief given by the establishment.

    But he must have wondered why he was losing India’s capital investment in Pakistan along with the Arabs of the Gulf

    Frankly, this attitude will get policy-makers nowhere if they want to fast-track regional integration. Harmonising laws under a supra-national authority may be problematic to some--on account of the loss of sovereignty--but ultimately, these outweigh the politics that exist within any region. Are we saying, also, that the EU is not without its political problems? Far from it! SAARC needs to move--and very quickly.

    ECOBANK, the West African bank (supported by ECOWAS), has made great strides from being a regional bank to now envisaging a transformation (slow-and-sure) into a "Pan-African Bank". It made it, and is going places. That was back in 1985.

    SAARC was established in the same year. Its achievements are nothing to write home about. Sometimes I wonder with distractions like ASEAN and Russia's Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, small wonder with the slow progress. Russia, for example, does not seem very enamored by the regional grouping:

    The world seems to be keen on SAARC but not its old members. At the global level, some countries are realistic about the limitations of the organisation. Russia, for instance, is not keen, and is of the view that SAARC “is still evolving and has a long way to go”. In fact, Russia points to the possibility of the SAARC states pulling out of the prison of South Asia and breathing more freely in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO).

    All that said, it is not so much a matter of SAARC wanting to move as in needing to move and very quickly. Like, now!

    Wednesday, April 11, 2007

    Mauritania...on Africa's Mind...

    That northwest african country of Mauritania has been in the news off-late, for the simple fact that it was holding elections in late March, but it's in today's brief because today, as per news reports ,it was re-admitted to the African Union, after having been expelled from the Pan-African body in 2005, when it staged a coup.

    The re-entry is a testament to the fully democratic elections it underwent in March, with a 69-yr-old "former political prisoner, backed by a coalition of 18 groups previously loyal to the regime of ousted leader Maaoya Sid'Ahmed Ould Taya" winning 53 percent of the vote.

    According to the Africasia website

    "Mauritania is readmitted to the AU with full rights," said Assane Ba at AU headquarters.

    In a statement, the AU Peace and Security Council said it had decided "to lift the suspension measure taken against Mauritania" on August 4, 2005 when the military overturned the regime of Maaouiya Ould Taya

    In December 2000, Mauritania also withdrew from the West african sub-regional grouping of ECOWAS, possibly prompting speculation that it did not see itself as comprehensively West African. In so many ways, you cannot blame it, for it belongs, and probably feels more affinity towards, the Arab Maghreb Union (which default language for their website is French:

    Either way, an interesting food-for-though article in Middle East Online maintains the Mauritanian experience is relevant for two reasons:

    in the way the military relates to the political regime, and in the way countries that are at the periphery of the Arab regional system are conducting their affairs. Contrary to conventional wisdom in the Arab world, the Mauritanian accomplishment proves that the military can be a force for democracy. Also contrary to conventional wisdom, it seems that peripheral countries can be more progressive in their outlook than core countries.

    Just for that quote, which I have put in bold, about the military being a force for democracy, I can seriously concede Mauritania is far from being West African!

    Tuesday, April 10, 2007

    East Timor Wants the Commonwealth, but Needs to Wait on its Own Backyard of ASEAN

    The former Portuguese colony of East Timor is currently voting in what will prove to be a historical election, in the sense that election observers not just from the UN, but from Japan and other ASEAN countries will be present to observe proceedings--as will, predictably, the EU.

    According to an article on the ASEAN website, East Timor became an observer to the ten-grouping regional bloc of ASEAN in 2002, but joined its regional security forum-ASEAN regional forum, considered...

    Asia's top security discussion group that includes the foreign ministers of the United States, China, Russia and the European Union...

    in 2005.

    The article goes on to maintain that East Timor needs a good five years before it joins ASEAN. This is, at least, what then Prime Minister, Jose Ramos-Horta, now running for President in the country, said last year.

    Ramos-Horta only recently appealed, according to New Zealand Herald's website of 7 April, for New Zealand's premier Helen Clark to

    ...keep its troops in the tiny nation for years if he wins Monday's election.

    Apart from calling for the UN to stay, Ramos-Horta has gone and said that he wants East Timor to join the Commonwealth, despite the country not having been a former colony of the British.

    He maintains

    "My strategy is to get Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Singapore and India to endorse it."

    Most interesting, equally, is his statement that East Timor feels isolated by not being a member of ASEAN, a telling statement about the potential bandwagoning that smaller countries may be prompted to do in the face of increasing "regionalisation" of the world into blocs:

    "East Timor is in the anomalous position of not being part of a regional organisation such as Asean, despite the fact it is part of the Indonesian archipelago, and it is not part of the Pacific Islands Forum either. So it can end up a little isolated."


    Thursday, April 05, 2007

    The ECO Re-Gains Currency in ECOWAS

    Exhortations notwithstanding, when it comes to facilitating regional integration, a degree of commitment is critical. News coming in from Ghana's Statesman newspaper, which was culled from Nigeria's Vanguard paper, suggests strongly that:

    ECOWAS members have resolved that there is no going back on a single currency and a unified central bank for the region, according to Famara Jatta, Governor of the Central Bank of Gambia.

    It appears that Gambia, one of the countries in the West African Monetary Zone countries -- comprising Ghana, Guinea, the Gambia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone -- is being a bit more vocal.

    According to the article, the HQ of the Central Bank for the single currency will be in Ghana. Mr.Jatta, the Governor of the Central Bank of Gambia says:

    the initiative for a single currency and central bank in the West African countries was on course, and reiterated that West African countries could not afford to shy away from the need to have a unified currency and a unified central bank for the region.

    The officials maintain that 2009 WILL be maintained as the year of the launch, and that they will not be shaken in their resolve to get the ECO, the new West african currency, launched by that year.

    To date, it has been postponed more times than one can imagine, and so it is normal for this level of skepticism to be expressed by observers. Let's just get the statistics clear here, though.

    The West African Monetary Zone countries' "estimated growth is 6.9 percent, higher than the average 6.0 percent over the past five years."

    So, clearly, there is growth, and so it is little surprise to hear optimistic noises from the Deputy Governor of the Bank of Gambia, Saho, admitting:

    there has been considerable improvement in economic growth in the ECOWAS region, adding that economic convergence was now attainable due to improvement in the economic performance of member countries

    It's all good stuff. Let's just hope that that cream bits in the in-set map will all be colored either green- and yellow-colored zones--constituting the UEMOA zone and the CFA?--come 2009.

    The idea is once the ECO gets off the ground, it will merge with the CFA to create a larger West African currency.

    Let's pray that our ECOWAS officials make this more than pie-in-the-sky!

    Have a good weekend.

    Till Tuesday (it's Easter!)

    Wednesday, April 04, 2007

    Don't Cry for Uruguay, Truth is She Never Left MERCOSUR!

    Don't feel too sorry for Uruguay just yet.

    There's an article in mercopress, maintaining that:
    Uruguay and Paraguay, junior members of Mercosur have lately been at odds with Argentina and Brazil claiming the block has become a two members club, with little benefits for the smaller partners and therefore the need to establish agreements with third countries

    Uruguay has been entertaining the US on discussions over free trade, prompting speculation in other MERCOSUR quarters that it is not as committed to the MERCOSUR project as it claims to be.

    Honestly, how can anyone feel that Uruguay is not that committed when, as Xinhua, Chinese news agency maintains:

    Uruguay signed a bilateral trade and investment framework agreement with the United States in January, a step analysts said put the two countries closer to a possible free-trade agreement

    To boot, London's Financial times reports that:

    Uruguay may downgrade its status in Mercosur, giving up its full membership, if the South American trading bloc stops the country reaching a bilateral trade deal with the United States

    This type of doublespeak can only compound the apparently-conspiratorial sentiment by the rest of the MERCOSUR bloc that feels Uruguay is selling out--and to no less than the United States!

    Comments like the following don't help either:

    “Uruguay must find a way of making a bilateral trade deal with the US,” Uruguayan Economy Minister Danilo Astori was quoted in the newspaper on Friday as saying.

    “Our small country is trapped, a prisoner of the collective wishes of the group, and this is causing us serious harm.”

    Let me just quickly go back to what Andrew Hurrell says about an aspect of regional integration:

    REGIONALISM…can also be seen as panacea for smaller countries when they find themselves weak in the face of strong countries. – CF Latin America (MERCOSUR); AFRICA (ECOWAS; COMESA; SADC; etc..)

    i. Hegemony (existence of hegemon within a region may undermine efforts to construct inclusive regional arrangements involving all or most of the states within a region)


    a. FIRST, sub-regional groupings often develop as a response to the existence of an actual or hegemonic power. Formation is a means by which to improve BOP vis-à-vis locally dominant state (CF: ASEAN > Vietnam; GCC > Iran; SADC > South Africa; MERCOSUR > USA

    b. SECOND, regionalism can emerge as an attempt to restrict the free exercise of hegemonic power thru creation of REGIONAL INSTITUTIONS. (cf: specific project of regional integration in EU arose precisely as preferred means of dealing with GY (armament + ecnc rehabilitation by tying it into integrated network);

    c. THIRDLY, tendency of weaker states to seek regional accommodation with local hegemon either in the hope of receiving special rewards (BANDWAGONING)

    d. FOURTHLY, hegemon itself may seek to actively become involved in the creation / construction of REGIONAL INSTITUTIONS. Alternatively declining hegemony may compel hegemon towards the creation of COMMON INSTITUTIONS to pursue its interests, to share burdens; to solve probs; and to generate int’l support & legitimacy for its policies

    Now, if Uruguay goes threatening to downgrade its membership in the event that its other members refuse to allow it to have a bilateral deal with the US, you have got to wonder whether this small country is into MERCOSUR for a bandwagoning spree--ready to collect whatever it can whenever it can, yet feeling reluctant to follow the leftist policies of its bigger brother Venezuela, and Brazil.

    Furthermore, this type of development, to me, calls into question the major big difference between MERCOSUR and many other regional organisations that appear to be motivated merely by economic reasons. It's about the institutions!

    Other than the Secretariat, a Parliamentary Commission, inter alia, what else is there that can lend some support to a a more comprehensive regional bloc--as exemplified by even the African regional economic communities of ECOWAS, which has a Parliament, and a ECOWAS Community Court

    An interesting paper by Celina Pena and Ricardo Rozemberg looks at some of the institutional deficiencies around and within MERCOSUR, maintaining:

    The lack of an independent technical body is, undoubtedly, one of MERCOSUR’s clearest institutional deficits. The creation of working subgroups or technical committees with national officials was not effective beyond the transition period with respect to the designing of quadripartiteinstruments. Constructing an independent technical body could turn out to be a necessary condition in order to overcome current limitations, but not enough, because its recommendations are not binding and therefore are subject to the member states’ representatives’ political decisions.In any event, a new MERCOSUR technical body might just contribute to the preparation of negotiations with third countries and regions, and to the presentation of technical proposals on issues of the internal agenda where common interests exist

    All these differences apart, it's clear, in my view, that if Uruguay is feeling hemmed in, and restricted, one could easily assume that a lack of motivation by some of the smaller members on where MERCOSUR is going is one of the reasons.

    Uruguay, it looks, might have to do some serious soul-searching before countries decide eto expel it!

    Tuesday, April 03, 2007

    ASEAN, for Youth and Posterity's Sake

    It is a given that a regional organisation without adequate communication of its effects and/or its work is a regional organisation that has failed the people. So, it’s fantastic news to read that in its fortieth year, ASEAN is encouraging no less than the youth to "learn and understand Asean's history since its formation in 1967 until what it is today"

    The Malaysian ASEAN Youth and Sports Minister Azalina Othman Said maintained at the end of a Youth convention :
    "the younger generation must get ready to face regional and global challenges"
    . The minister also stressed the importance of learning more than one language to face the challenges of globalisation, as well as being exposed to
    the diverse cultures of the people in the 10-member grouping to better understand each other.”

    This is very sound advice ALL African RECs (regional economic communities) need to post in their conference rooms—not to forget the youth who will come and inherit their problems some day!!

    Monday, April 02, 2007

    Will this be Africa's Second Regional Banking Group?

    Not to be cowed by criticism of its 419, and apparent endemic corruption, Nigeria has bitten the bullet to spearhead the...

    ...establishment of a regional bank [that] will help reverse the dependence of real domestic capacity on foreign financing by empowering key African institutions to build a large ticket private sector businesses into global players in key sectors

    These words were uttered by the Central Bank of Nigeria Chief Professor Soludo, responsible for facilitating the dynamic and vibrant Nigerian banking sector.

    Looks like the African Finance Corporation, as reported by Ghana's Business Week Ghana, will be "Africa's version of the International Finance Corporation of the World Bank"

    Kudos to Nigeria! All of Africa ought to get on board, whilst this corporation opens up offices in The Gambia; South Africa; Kenya; Tunisia and "some francophone countries".

    Incidentally, ECOBANK, the private sector banking arm of ECOWAS has been the quintessential regional banking group since 1985. It has offlate, re-branded itself as the Pan-African bank.

    This, therefore, stands askance to what Prof Soludo says here:

    Being the first private sector owned and run regional bank, Prof Soludo said, “our wish is for it to be 100%-owned by the private sector.”

    I hope the esteemed professor jsut remembers to give credit where credit is due, by acknowledging ECOBANK as a regionally-run bank, too!

    RegionsWatch will keep you posted.