Friday, May 30, 2008

The Africa Unity Day that Wasn’t

By E.K.Bensah II

The last holiday that Ghanaians enjoyed might have gone unnoticed to many in its symbolism purely because they did not understand the significance of it. It is interesting to note on the news wires that even the US government congratulated the African Union(AU) for the celebration of forty-five years of its existence on 25 May. So when in scanning the Ghanaian media, one heard and read almost nothing symbolic about that celebration, it struck me as a worrying trend in our psyche of “Africanness”.

Granted, we do not need a holiday alone to remind ourselves that we are Ghanaian in particular, and Africans in general, but I do wonder whether it animates us sufficiently. For a country that played host to an African Union (AU) summit in June 2007 in the fiftieth anniversary of the country’s history, it is downright unacceptable, in my opinion, that Africa Unity day came and went with a non-existent fanfare.

We can speculate as much as we can—that it is an election year, or that it fell on a Sunday, therefore the media’s antennae were not awakened to the significance of it, and then some. In my view, we have no excuse about the silence, especially at a time when the regional is taking centre stage.

Take the case of Burma and the cyclone that it experienced a few weeks ago. Two weeks ago, British foreign minister and former senior UN official Lord Mark Malloch-Brown toured the region to try to establish whether there could be greater collective Asian/ASEAN response to the disaster. This was important, because the reluctance of the regime suggested that a regional response—translated through the ten-member grouping of the Association of South East Asian countries (ASEAN) – that includes Burma would elicit a more effective response. His efforts proved useful, because ultimately, a Franco-British deal would eventually facilitate ASEAN’s greater role in the disbursement of aid to the victims of the cyclone. All this has come against the backdrop of criticism in some quarters suggesting ASEAN should be disbanded.

One particular article in the *Jakarta Post” entitled “Myanmar disaster challenges ASEAN’s utility” went so far as saying that ASEAN has been lethargic in the manner in which it has been implementing its programmes, including a 2005 Agreement on Disaster Management and Disaster Response that was never signed.

The case is not that much different in this part of the world, where ECOWAS, established since 1975, has, many times, come under some flak for not living up to its agreements. To date, the “real” meaning of ECOWAS integration is debatable, considering the hassles citizens of West Africa—comprising some 230 million—experience traveling through the sub-region.

Food crisis
The challenges notwithstanding, what we can say ECOWAS has done off late is respond regionally to the food crisis that has afflicted much of the developing world.

Last week, the ECOWAS Bank for Investment and Development (EBID) agreed to provide $1billion annually to support agricultural productivity in the West Africa sub-region as part of its contribution towards resolving the food crisis. This was part of the outcome of an extraordinary meeting of the regional grouping and their ministers of agriculture, trade and finance. This development has spawned a number of discussions around ECOWAS and the implementation of a common agricultural policy.

Truth be told, it would be as far back as 2005 that the grouping would adopt the ECOWAS Agricultural Policy (ECOWAP). Three years later, its implementation remains moot. According to TRADENET website, in Senegal’s attempt to implement ECOWAP, the country begun putting in place a National Programme of Agricultural Investment. The question now is getting the mqjority of ECOWAS countries adopting the policy.

Any regional grouping learns from demands—or imperatives—that are placed on it. This means that when the Liberian conflict broke out in 1990, ECOWAS was compelled to send troops through its peacekeeping/-enforcement wing of ECOMOG. Today the Labadi-based Kofi Annan Peacekeeping Training Centre(KAIPTCE) is a testament to the ECOWAS imperative of conflict resolution and prevention. I daresay considering earthquake-struck China’s proximity to the ASEAN region, the grouping’s new imperative could be that of disaster management!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Regional Integration Perspectives: Closer Towards an East Asian Community?; AU-GCC FTA in the Offing?

There is some ground-breaking stuff going on in the area of regional integration: no less than the fifty-three member African Union has instituted an audit of its institutions.

It goes without saying that policy without direction is policy in a vaccum. An audit as a self-evaluating and self-monitoring tool can help the AU look deep into itself, and attempt at a resolution of some of the existential angst that it is suffering from. Arguably, one of the biggest of these is the proposed union government that was the subject of debate at the AU summit here in Accra last June.

An article in maintains that according to a report by Regional Economic Development and Integration, debate has been mounting on the appropriate form of a proposed union government. The report went on to say that conclusion on the debate of a formation of a continental government was subject to the finalization of the report.

AU-GCC Pact?
Meawhile, a very short article from points to a desire by the de facto SADC hegemon South Africa to complete an FTA between the AU and the Gulf Cooperation Council. On reading the news, my visceral question was to ascertain since when South Africa had become the spokesperson for the AU; and secondly, was this not a masked desire by the country to itself establish an FTA with the GCC.

Interestingly enough, Pretoria maintains that it is impossible for one to be set up between itself and the country that will host the next session(XIII) of UNCTAD in 2012—Qatar, but one can be arranged between the GCC and the AU.

The reason being that South Africa is a member of a customs union, comprising the so-called BLNS countries (Botswana; Lesotho; Namibia and Swaziland).

Aren’t we going in circles here I wonder? Point is: the AU can set up one with the GCC. Fine, but why does SA have to speak on the 53-member body’s behalf as it did, when the South African Trade minister Mandisi Mpahlwa, speaking on the sidelines of a business forum organized by the Qatar Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told reporters when prompted by reporters. That in itself raises questions as to why reporters were asking about such an FTA to the country itself? What made them think South Africa would have the answer? Last time I looked, the AU had a Commission, which would take care of such questions!

EAC’s all the rage!
Though it’s been a while since I talked about the five-member regional organization that saw Rwanda and Burundi join its ranks in July last year, this is an EAC of a different kind. We’re talking about the East Asian Community, which has been promoted and promulgated so many times in the ASEAN world it’s no longer funny. ASEAN’s issues with Myanmar notwithstanding, it seems clear that an East Asian Community—probably modeled on the EU and NAFTA—would be a model that could work for the region. I suspect that one that worked like ECOWAS (in whichever form or content it exists) with a commission and commissioners is what might work best. The EU at 27 members seems a tad unwieldy these days, what with its aspirations to have an EU president and all that. Furthermore, with little movement on a referendum, and with ASEAN having adopted a charter where the EU failed, it seems, IMHO, that a hybrid of regional forms is what might best work for the proposed EAC.

But who am I to propose that? After all, the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA), described as "a key initiative to support the formation of the East Asian Community has received full support from senior government officials in Brunei". This means, in short, that a considerable amount of resources are going to be put its way to chart the course of a putative Asian Community. Note what the article says:

The think tank, which will formally be established this year in Jakarta, will receive Y1 billion from the Japanese government for 10 years, said Hidetoshi.
The think tank will also be publishing 55 volumes of research on all 16 countries in the region soon, said Hidetoshi. Brunei's Centre of Strategic and Policy Studies (CSPS), one of the ERIA member research institutes, is involved with over 300 researches in 16 countries, including the 10 Asean countries and its dialogue partners, Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea.