Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Will the ASEAN-OPEC Collaboration Pave Way for Regional Governance?

Given the recent collaborations between regional organisations--ranging from the recent ECOWAS-EAC collaboration to the MERCOSUR-ASEAN one, to the recent ASEAN-OPEC collaboration, you could be forgiven for thinking that the world is slowly and surely moving towards some form of regional governance. I suppose that pre-supposes there to be some form of global governance already. Maybe the two do not have to be mutually exclusive.

Either way, what they do have to do is to make sense for the rest of us. Questions, such as what type of regional governance will we be seeing should probably be the most viscerally-enquiring ones that we should be asking ourselves.

More in context of ASEAN, let me just say that ASEAN is going places. Not just because it is celebrating its fortieth anniversary, but in that celebration, it is seeking to bring to bear on the anniversary constructive outcomes that can benefit the 10-member organisation. For all the controversies over the ASEAN Charter, and whether Myanmar will be the thorn in the flesh in the conception of a rights-based constitution, what is most clear to the average observer is that things are happening, and the ASEAN region is talking to each other candidly about what it needs to do to ensure its citizens are catered for for the future. It is fair to say that ASEAN sees itself as a key player in the region that needs to have a little bit of clout.

It would therefore probably comes as little surprise that some months after the ECOWAS sub-region (allegedly) started its West African Gas Pipeline, and Latin America began talking about a Bank of the South that ASEAN would start talking about pooling its regional energy together--and it's certainly no lean feat!

ASEAN is thinking these big plans:

The 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations has agreed to form a regional ASEAN power grid. This will serve as a platform for members to trade electricity under a set of harmonised technical rules and regulations.

ASEAN leaders are also scheduled to sign a plan of action in the next two months in Singapore to put a $7-billion Trans ASEAN Gas Pipeline (TAGP) project back on track, Indonesia's energy minister said. ASEAN will also work closely with the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to keep prices in check.

If you think those are big plans, let's try this for good measure: the very fact that they are seeking to collaborate with OPEC to "bring prices in check". For me, this type of collaboration may not just be unprecedented, but an interesting development to underscore how the collaboration underpinning the proverbial "unity is strength" has been chewed,transformed, and spat out into a need to strengthen institutional collaborations world-wide.

It also begs the question of why ECOWAS, in its discussions with the World Bank over the West Africa Gas Pipeline never came up with the idea of linking up with OPEC, considering how critical a country ECOWAS hegemon Nigeria is in the sub-region and the organisation. That CHEVRON has a stake in the WAGP reflects the serious and significant private sector interests that the US has and will continue to have in the region.

Then again, you didn't need me to tell you that; it might have been rather obvious to many casual observers.

What I'm, in fact, further interested in is not just the reporting that ASEAN is working on a regional grid, and it serves as a precedent to a region like the ECOWAS one that has a West Africa Power Pool and the WAGP, but how, it is the sure sign of developments in the regional organisations to come.

You might find this a little whimsical, but consider this: the very fact that a mere google search of "West Africa Power Pool" pulls not articles from ECOWAS, but many other private sector organisations not directly related to ECOWAS underscores the very twist and pernicious development that we will begin to see over this apparent new trend of regionalising power and energy projects--especially in Africa.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Here be Some Revelations: The European Union's View on Regional Integration (in ASEAN)

All's well that ends well--even in ASEAN, which has a very different kind of regional cooperation to that of the EU. You know you're doing something right, I suppose, when the EU tells you that your regional cooperation is the best and most successful in the world. Check these soundbites out by EU Parliamentarian, Hartmut Nassauer, invited to the 28th session of the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly:

1. "We have good relations and strong economic links. The EU is a large investor and we create a lot of trade in Asean and vice-versa."

2. "Apart from having a common economic interest, our regional cooperation is the most advanced and successful in the world,"

3. "Until last year AIPA was still called the Parliamentary Organisation. It stresses parliamentary influence in Asean just like the European parliament"

A very superficial analysis would reveal, from these quotes at least, that the EU is no less than pleased with how ASEAN does business. It is evidently looking forward to ASEAN becoming a bigger bloc--as evidenced by this statement here:

Nassauer said the EU would support Asean the best it could in its efforts to speed up integration of the Asean community particularly on the single common market

I guess there can be nothing wrong with parties seeking to maximise cooperation, while contemporraneously lending credence to the maxim that there are "no permanent friends, only permanent allies", as so wittily enunciated by Palmerston with regard to British foreign policy in the nineteenth century.

So, you've got no bother, really, wondering why the EU would be making such proclamations at this time.

Either way, I'm bored. Bored because these pronouncements are nothing mere than reflections of a less-than-altruistic motive by the EU to woo the ASEAN region like never before. And here's the bombshell: the EU betrays itself by giving us mere mortals a sneak preview into how it conceives of regional integration. Read carefully:

the basic element for the EU approach of regional cooperation was

how to strike a balance between the super powers like China, India and the United States


"The only chance for the weaker and smaller states is for them to act together. For a balanced development, South-east Asian states had decided to act as a regional cooperation,"

he added.

If that be the case, why the hell will the European Union not leave Africa alone to manage its own regional integration? Why does it seek to force one for us--as evidenced by the aggressive pursuit of the Economic Partnership Agreement, slated for December this year?

Does it mean, therefore, that it's one rule for ASEAN, and another altogether for African Union's regional organisations?

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Mauritania & ECOWAS: A Self-centred Cooperation?

So, Mauritania wants to relate to ECOWAS? It would be welcome news if it weren't for the fact that the pseudo West African country, with a (natural) penchant for the Maghreb, left the 15-member bloc back in 1999.

Even if ECOWAS has moved on--and, really, does it have a choice?--as to whether it will accept Mauritania back into the Black West African fold is a moot point.

The motivation behind the overtures has to do with the proverbial "strengthening of relations" (the quotes are mine). This is evidently diplomatic-speak for "we need to talk some more on matters of mutual concern!". Frankly, there's nothing wrong with that; the only concern is as to whether Mauritania might want to re-join ECOWAS, and that's when the eyebrows in ECOWAS might be raised collectively, and the questions might be asked: can we trust this country?.

Either way, ECOWAS President is said to have obtained a warm reception from Mauritania:

The decision to strengthen relations was reached during the 15-17 August visit to Mauritania by the President of the ECOWAS Commission, Mohammed Ibn Chambas, who led a high-level ECOWAS delegation.

ECOWAS and Mauritanian officials "emphasized the very strong ties which have existed for centuries between the ECOWAS countries and Mauritania – characterised by brotherhood, friendship and good neighbourliness - and reaffirmed their common determination to strengthen them for the benefit of their peoples", the statement said

It said the two parties reaffirmed their common determination to strengthen their relations in all areas of common interest.

To this end, they agreed to negotiate as soon as possible an Association Agreement, which will guide their economic and trade relations.


From the country that has only recently outlawed the antiquated crime of slavery (as per the BBC news report of 9 August this year), I wonder what "brotherhood" these two parties are talking about.

Alls well that ends...and all that...

I am personally happy to hear that Mauritanian president Sidi Mohamed Ould Cheikh Abdallahi is keen on enhancing relations, but I wonder whether it is a little less than altruistic, for despite talk of an Association Agreement between ECOWAS and the north-West african country, there is sneaky talk of the so-called and thorny Economic Partnership Agreements, that is slated for December 2007 (that is unless civil society has anything to do with that date!!):

after a working session with the Chairman of the ECOWAS Commission, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, Mauritanian officials are more than convinced that the country has missed a lot of benefits for pulling out of the regional body.

Mauritanian officials have now shown their commitment to restore cooperation with ECOWAS, which obviously enables the country to tap existing trade benefits, especially the Cotonou Agreement, a 20-year trade package signed between the European Community, its member states and 77 countries of African Caribbean and Pacific (ACP). The package was signed on 23 June 2000.


The article, from suggesting that the EPA is a positive development (how would I conclude anything but that if it is talking about "tapping" into the "trade benefits") has also hinted that the agreement is going to go ahead!!!

The agreement serves as a platform of integration in world trade as well as gave birth to the creation of Economic Partnership Agreements between the EU and the ACP countries.

Mr Chambas’ visit was seen as epitomising the wishes of both Mauritanian government and the ECOWAS, which is to promote a privileged partnership under EU-ACP negotiations through the Cotonou Agreement.

Whatever the case may be, unless civil society--and it won't yield--has anything to do with it, December 2007 could just be not only a cause celebre, but a cause to celebrate the demise of this most egregious of agreements that seeks to re-formulate Africa's efforts on regional integration!

A few months ago, Mauritania re-joined the fold of the African Union; it better not get too close to these EPAs...

Monday, August 13, 2007

With ECOBANK now in Rwanda, is ECOBANK Heading for the East African Community region?

I use "heading" specifically to provoke a debate, because let's face it: with the acceptance of Rwanda and Burundi into the East African Community, that is getting very ambitious on harmonising regional policies, it will not be long before ECOBANK, the indigenous West African regional banking group (with support from ECOWAS) will start eyeing that region.

After all, ECOBANK is not just in the ECOWAS region these days, but has comprehensively taken over the CEMAC one that comprises: Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, the Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon. Here is the quotation from ECOBANK's Arnold Ekpe:

Our strategy is to be a pan-African bank and to continue to grow. We plan to add five other countries in 2007 and therefore we will be operating in 21 countries. In the coming years, our growth will be in Central, Eastern and Southern Africa. Central Africa is becoming very important in the continent because of its huge natural resources, such as the oil and gas in Chad, Cameroon, Congo Brazzaville, Angola, DRC and Gabon. Our objective, as part of this expansion, is to be the leading bank in "Middle Africa", the area between North Africa and South Africa where we think we have a competitive advantage.

Either way, it's important for one to get that information on ECOBANK and Rwanda, which you can read here. In French, one reads:

En acquérant 90% des parts de la Banque de commerce, de développement et d'indsutrie [sic] du Rwanda (BDCI), le groupe ECOBANK étend sa présence en Afrique de l'Est.

Selon un communiqué de presse rendu public jeudi à Ouagadougou, l'installation de ECOBANK au Rwanda s'inscrit en droite ligne de la stratégie d'ensemble visant à mener des opérations en Afrique de l'Est.

Le Directeur général du Groupe bancaire, Arnold Ekpe, a assuré que ECOBANK Transnational Incorporated (ETI), la maison-mère du Groupe ECOBANK, va recapitaliser et repositionner la BCDI selon son modèle commercial "qui a déjà fait ses preuves".


The long and the short is that in acquiring 90% stake of the Bank of Commerce, Development and Industry (BCDI) of Rwanda, the ECOBANK Group is spreading its presence in East Africa.

The article maintains that according to a press release, the establishment of ECOBANK in Rwanda reflects the strategy of ECOBANK for that region...

It must be prefaced that the article beforehand is about ECOBANK in the Central African Republic, which is also part of the CEMAC region.

Friday, August 10, 2007

ECOWAS -- The "Mother of all Regional Economic Communities in Africa"? (So Says EAC)

At least, this was what the visiting ambassador from the East African Community, Julius Onen, to the ECOWAS Commission on 24 July said. He is reputed to have said this when he was "exposed" to the ECOWAS Operational system.

This was no ordinary visit. It was one from no less than the five-member East African Community, which recently accepted Rwanda and Burundi in its fold. What is most significant about this visit is that it goes to underscore the very essence of the regional integration I had been adavocatinig ever since I started this blog, and way back in 2004, when I set up RegionsWatch.

It was conceived of, inter alia, as a way of sharing information about different kinds of regionalisms. To see that even without my instrumentality, this is happening(!) is a very positive sign. Maybe. it's possible that the long enough you preach your word out there on the internet, the more likely someone, somewhere is going to see and pass the word on;-) Someone might be patting their back for promoting this exchange, I'm sure!

Either way, it is all-so-exciting to see such important developments, and when these are expressed through information sharing and best practices, it becomes all the more interesting...and uncanny!

Best practices on regional integration are not new; the UN's Economic Commission for Africa created the Assessing Regional Integration in Africa(ARIA) as a way of doing just that.

In my estimation, however, it had served more to use ARIA as a way of monitoring and evaluating regional integration than using it to look at best practices in regional integration.

Either way, I'm grinning like a chesire-cat at the idea that suddenly, as if by magic, it is being discussed in no less than a place like ECOWAS that has moved progressively on communicating what it does to the ECOWAS citizens--and beyond--albeit in a painfully slow manner.

A quick look at the Communications department of the ECOWAS Commission reveals some interesting ideas about where ECOWAS would like to see itself. As to the operationalisation of these ideas, one lives in hope. It is good to see that some of the following have been slated:


· The West African Bulletin

· ECOWAS in Brief

· Publication on ECOMOG

· Brochure on the new ECOWAS Commission

Coming back specifically to the context of the press release from the newly-designed ECOWAS Commission website, it is important to disclose one very important piece of information about the future of EAC-ECOWAS relations, as well as the EAC itself:

Ambassador Onen disclosed the EAC’s plans to transform into a commission and
intensify its collaboration with African States and RECs as evidenced by the
bi-annual tripartite meetings with the Common Market for Eastern and Southern
Africa (COMESA) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

I've blogged a number of times about the EAC, and quite a few times about ECOWAS.

The last comparison I made between EAC and ECOWAS yielded in this post. It was all about communication.

I'm glad to be blogging about something more concrete now. Let's keep fingers crossed for more of these positive developments!!

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

ASEAN is 40, So What?

Don't celebrations commence during the Jubilee year? So why, honestly, would there be any reason for the Association of South Eastern Asian Nations to start at a time when it is 40 years old?

The reason for the celebration has everything to do with ASEAN's Charter!

In my previous post, I talked about how ASEAN would have succeeded where a more-developed bloc, like the EU, would have failed. It goes deeper, though. This ASEAN Charter, predicated very much on a rules-based and human rights-based set of principles would help strengthen the 10-member grouping, and probably make it more relevant for its contemporaries. As one might expect, Myanmar is not very keen.

It might probably be very happy that, as Channelnewsasia reports:

there is no consensus on the commission's scope, how it will operate or even when it will start

Evidently, the ts have to be crossed, anad the I's dotted -- particularly because ASEAN hopes tha, with this charter, it can transform itself into "a community with economic security and socio-cultural pillars by 2015".

I am very happy to read that ASEAN is not seeking all-out to emulate the European experience, and remaining mindful that other continents, like the AU and Latin American countries also have it, albeit in limited forms:

ASEAN should understand the European experience without idolising or aping it. After all, other regional human rights mechanisms exist in the Americas and Africa but work in more limited ways. In many cases, rather than emphasising court-like procedures, the systems give ample room for political negotiation and compromise.

But, let this not sound like I am being too pig-headed about the comparative approaches I have advocated before. I simply feel that in order for any serious analysis to take place on the state of regional integration in 2007, such approaches are more than critical.

I hope that the perfect does not become the enemy of the good. Judging by comments like below, one begins to wonder:

ASEAN may, similarly, begin its human rights initiative more modestly, while holding out the possibility of stronger mechanisms in the future. Where can ASEAN best begin?

The best place to begin is in the beginning! At least a charter is being chalked; the rest of the tweaking will needs take place.

Whilst all that tweaking takes place, other articles on the web, such as those by one Bunn Nagara, of the Malaysian Star newspaper are looking at the existentialist nature of ASEAN: where has it come from, and where is it heading.

He attempts at a description of ASEAN in the light of the new development of the proposed charter here:

Encouraged by economic policy harmonisation in a globalised world, some policy harmonisation in governance seemed desirable for regional cohesiveness.

The proposed Asean charter was supposed to cover human rights, as current chair Philippines had hoped, but collective assent through consensus found only nominal approval for a proposed regional rights watchdog.

I like that: regional cohesiveness.

It's something that some of the other Southern regionalisms in the AU, for example, could begin to reflect over!

Kudos to ASEAN!