Thursday, December 03, 2009

ECOWAS-COMESA Relations Make Progress

When the visiting ambassador from the East African Community, Julius Onen, to the ECOWAS Commission on 24 July 2007 called ECOWAS the putative "mother of all communities", some might have believed this to be a rather bombastic statement, but when I had the priviledge of interviewing--on the sidelines of a mining workshop, hosted by TWN-Africa, AU Commission, ECOWAS, and the UNECA--Professor Ndongo of the West Africa Civil Society Forum(WACSOF)and him having disclosed to me that even without Dr.Chambas as Head of ECOWAS (as he now goes off to Brussels to head the ACP Secretariat), the ECOWAS machine would still run smoothly, I got the impression that despite the numerous challenges still dogging ECOWAS, it must be getting something right.

So when I read that no less than the Secretariat of COMESA was entertaining some ECOWAS chaps over at their Secretariat, I as more than chuffed about the potential collaboration that can come out of that.

In tones reminiscent of the collaboration I have referred to many a time on this blog, it was interesting to read that the two RECS are keen to strengthen their Regional Business Councils; "Women in Business, Agricultural Development and Food Security, Trading for Peace, Customs Issues, the Common External Tariff and Free Trade Areas..." among many other areas.

The article maintains:

At the end of the visit, an Aide Memoire was signed between the two sides sealing a commitment to collaborate in areas identified during the visit to enhancing private sector development and overall regional integration. The COMESA Director for Trade, Customs and Monetary Affairs, Mr.. Francis Mangeni, signed on behalf of the COMESA Secretariat, while Mr. Alfred Braimah signed on behalf of the ECOWAS Commission.

I guess seeing more of this is a sure way of facilitating a more progressive outlook on regional integration!

Friday, November 06, 2009

Just in Case you Missed the Emergence of Regional Poles...

The recent signing by the Czechs of the Lisbon Treaty means that the EU will from 2010 become a more formidable force, with what it calls "The European External Action Service", or a super EU Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The UK's CHATHAM HOUSE has a paper on this **, which makes interesting reading about how and why the EU needs to use the Lisbon Treaty to better-manage its external affairs. Inevitably, this might include trade and development.

At a time that the AU is also talking about the AU Authority ( in place of an AU Commission, which is more administrative, it is clear and inexorable the speed towards which we all must be hurtling towards a world where regional poles matter--big time.

Now we all have doubts about this much-touted AU of the people, but blocs like ASEAN are even taking cue from us. A recent article-- that the AU has gotten serious on strengthening human rights, and perhaps ASEAN should do same.

For a bloc that continues to overlook the castigation of BURMA when it is crystal-clear that the junta is a as sore a thumb in ASEAN as Niger-Guinea axis of "trouble" is for our own ECOWAS, a new ASEAN human rights bloc looks a bit of a misnomer and embarrassment for the 10-member bloc.

Coming back to a practical level of what these blocs mean, my kindred spirit--Canadian Stuart Hastings--shares similar views about how these poles can advance a degree of peace. His website is, and there you can read how he has embarked on a one-year trip to visit the major regional poles--AFRICAN UNION *Addis* / EUROPEAN UNION *Brussels*/ ASIAN *Jakarta* / UNION OF SOUTH AMERICAN NATIONS *Quito, Ecudaor*. He hopes to turn his adventures into a video and a book. He is right now in Strasbourg.

If you have some time, do check out his blog on his adventures of how this young 27-yr-old is breaking grounds by practicalising the experience of visiting emerging regional poles, which we have touched on many a time>

Friday, October 09, 2009

ARTICLE--ASEAN: "ASEAN can take a leaf out of African Union"

ASEAN can take a leaf out of African Union
by Dominic J Nardi
Wednesday, 16 September 2009 11:59


Mizzima News - ASEAN still has much to learn about establishing an
effective human rights body from – of all places – Africa.

As the Association of Southeast Asian Nations prepares to appoint its
first set of human rights commissioners to the new ASEAN Human Rights
Body at the 15th ASEAN Summit this October, the commission itself
faces skepticism and uncertainty about its future. Human rights
activists allege that ASEAN stripped the commission of any teeth in
order to appease perennial human rights violators such as Burma.

Defenders counter that, given ASEAN's concerns over national
sovereignty (the infamous "ASEAN Way"), the result was a necessary
political compromise. Indeed, comparing the ASEAN Human Rights Body to
the European Court of Human Rights would seem unfair, given that
Europe consists exclusively of liberal democracies. However, even if
we look to the rest of the developing world, ASEAN still has much to
learn about much about establishing an effective human rights body
from – of all places – Africa.

Historically Africa has had more petty dictators, more xenophobic
governments, more genocides, and more overall human rights problems
than ASEAN. Despite these challenges, the African Union has developed
a fairly advanced human rights system.

During the 1980s, African leaders adopted the Banjul Charter on Human
and People's Rights. Since then, the region has also adopted treaties
protecting children's and women's rights, as well as a charter on
democratic governance. Africa's human rights system exists not only on
paper, but also has teeth: the African Commission on Human and
People's Rights.

African Union member countries elect 11 commissioners for a six-year
renewable term. These commissioners are independent from their
respective governments and must be human rights experts of the
"highest reputation." Impressively, the Commission has both the
mandate and political will to rule against African governments for
discrimination, free speech, arbitrary detention, torture, and a
variety of other rights violations. When a military junta still ruled
Nigeria in the late 1990s, the Commission ordered the government to
release a journalist who had been arrested without a warrant and
prosecuted in a military tribunal. Several years ago, it ruled that
the Republic of Guinea violated the Banjul Charter by inciting solders
to evict, rape, and torture Sierra Leonean refugees. The Commission
has interpreted African human rights broadly, finding that a state of
emergency does not justify violating human rights. It has even
ventured into political disputes, condemning the government of
Mauritania for dissolving the opposition party in 2000.

Admittedly, the African human rights system is far from perfect. The
African Commission has no independent enforcement mechanisms. Some
countries do comply voluntarily, but, even when governments refuse to,
a favourable decision from the commission can constitute a powerful
moral victory. Also, the Commission's docket is backlogged since it
can only meet for two 15-day sessions each year. However, the
Commission has taken important steps toward not only supporting
individual human rights victims, but also promoting human rights
ideals throughout the continent. Despite Africa's sensitivity over
their national sovereignty after being colonized by Europe, many
African governments now consider it appropriate to intervene in order
to protect human rights. Last year, when Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe won
an election through violence and fraud, the Southern African
Development Community strongly criticized his actions and successfully
pressured him to form a coalition government with the opposition. In
2005, the African Union even suspended Togo in response to an
unconstitutional seizure of power, which convinced the government to
call new elections. Moreover, the African Union is currently
establishing a stronger African Court of Justice and Human Rights to
hear human rights cases. As a result, according to the U.S. think-tank
Freedom House, Africans on the whole currently enjoy more civil and
political freedom than Southeast Asians. While Africa still faces many
challenges, human rights violations are no longer accepted as the norm
thanks in part to efforts of the African Commission on Human and
People's Rights.

By contrast, ASEAN has yet to adopt a single human rights treaty and
struggles to condemn gross rights violations committed by its member.
Unlike African human rights treaties, neither the ASEAN Charter nor
the ASEAN Human Rights Body's Terms of Reference detail specific
rights, but rather list vague principles, such as non-discrimination
and the rule of law. Thus, it is not even clear whether Southeast
Asians possess the same human rights that Africans currently enjoy.
Moreover, the ASEAN Human Rights Body will not be nearly as strong as
its African counterpart. It cannot hear individual complaints from
ASEAN citizens whose rights have been violated. In addition, the
commission has no power to monitor or investigate abuses in ASEAN
countries. Rather, its main function appears to be merely promoting
human rights awareness. The ASEAN Terms of Reference also provides
little guidance on the qualifications for commissioners – a far cry
from the Africa Union's requirement that its commissioners be human
rights experts of the "highest reputation." ASEAN's commissioners will
have no independence, serving merely as "representatives" of their
respective governments. Should a commissioner become too vocal, the
government can remove him at its discretion at any time.

ASEAN and the Africa Union are two very different regions, but
nonetheless the comparison provides some useful lessons as ASEAN
prepares to appoint the first human rights commissioners. First of
all, a strong regional human body can coexist with political
diversity, conservative cultures, and national sovereignty. The
African Commission hears individual complaints from human rights
victims who live under authoritarian governments. This may embarrass
some politicians, but has certainly not threatened the regimes of
dictators such as Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe. It is likewise difficult
to see how a stronger ASEAN Human Rights Body would topple Burma's
Than Shwe. Indeed, part of the African Commission's success derives
from using nuanced legal interpretations to balance the concerns of
sovereign governments with the imperative of protecting human rights.
For example, it requires human rights victims to work within their
country's own justice system before appealing to the Commission. This
allows governments the first chance to redress any human rights
violations and save face.

Rather than trying to find a similar compromise, ASEAN seems to have
simply hid behind the mantra of the "ASEAN Way." Southeast Asian
leaders should take a closer look at other regional human rights
bodies, particularly Africa's, in order to learn how to balance
meaningful protection of human rights with national sovereignty. In
the longer run, doing so will help create a stronger ASEAN Community
and give both ASEAN and its member governments more legitimacy in the
eyes of their citizens. In fact, given Africa's relative experience
with human rights, perhaps we will soon see African Union legal
advisors sent to Southeast Asia in order to help the ASEAN Human
Rights Body comply with international human rights standards.

(Dominic J Nardi, Jr. is a visiting research fellow with the
Governance Institute, a legal think-tank dedicated to promoting the
rule of law. He has worked with human rights organizations in
Southeast Asia and advised women's' rights NGOs in East Africa. In
addition, he has a J.D. from Georgetown Law and a Masters in Southeast
Asian Studies from Johns Hopkins SAIS. The views expressed are his

Monday, September 28, 2009

East Asian Community--Come Again, Japan!

I always get worried when new leaders debut their politics with what some might consider bombastic claims to practicalise regional integration. I use "bombastic" to explain away wild claims that might not be founded on reality. I cannot help but wonder whether every economic community has to be predicated on the model of the EU.

When, during the sidelines of the UN general assembly, Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama floated the idea of an East Asian community inspired by the European Union in his first meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao, I believed it to be a great idea, but it is one that must be accompanied with caution.

Caution because just creating something that is modelled on the EU but divorces itself from the culture of East Asia might go to frustrate the conception thereof. Simply put, East Asia needs to continue doing a kind of cost-benefit analysis of what kind of imperative is best for its region--is it economic? is it fiscal? is it one based on security?

When I wrote about the East Asian Community in 2008, I made reference to the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA) that is keen to support the conception of any EAC. My personal opinion remains that a hybrid of ASEAN and the EU and others might be a good idea. A simple cut-and-paste job of the EU into Asia might prove to be counter-productive and seriously frustrate any desire at a critical and progressive outlook on regional integration for South-East Asia.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

UNCTAD Revisits Calls to Strengthen Regional Integration

9 July, 2009

By E.K.Bensah II

The UNCTAD 2009 report on Economic Development was launched in Accra in June. It is the latest in a series of yearly UNCTAD reports that provide additional angles on issues affecting Africa and the developing world.

Entitled “Strengthening Regional Economic Integration for Africa’s Development”, it is the second report in the space of two years that focuses exclusively on how developing countries can maximize the benefits of regional economic integration for their policy space.

UNCTAD 2007 Trade & Development vs 2009 Economic Report on Africa

The most recent was the UNCTAD Trade and Development Report, which was published in 2007. Entitled “Regional cooperation for development”, the 240-page report used the report to outline how regional integration could offer national space for developing countries. Apart from defining what “new regionalism” was, the report stressed that trade liberalization is not the end-all and be-all insofar as regionalism is concerned. The tendency has been for economic integration to be perceived as a purely economic enterprise. UNCTAD averred it was more to do with a reconfiguration of policy space, expressed through many important elements, such as the provision of public goods; a tool for regional trade and industrial integration; and strengthened policies on energy and industry to complement already-existing national strategies.

As for the 2009 UNCTAD report, it comprises five chapters dealing with the issues of challenges and opportunities in the context of the experience of regional integration for Africa; expanding intra-african trade for Africa’s growth; intra-African investment; emerging issues in regional trade integration in Africa; and policy recommendations on strengthening regional integration.

The report dedicates Chapter 1 to the “Experience with regional integration in Africa: challenges and opportunities”, offering more than just a theoretical justification for economic integration. The report provides a graphical illustration of the eight AU-mandated sub-regional blocs (ECOWAS/ECCAS/SADC/COMESA/AMU/IGAD/EAC), along with the existing monetary zones (UEMOA; CFA franc zone). The Libya-sponsored CENSAD, which Cape Verde joined recently, is the only one that is missing in the graph. This omission notwithstanding, the report explains that the African Union has classified the multiplicity of regional groupings in Africa into two groups—the regional economic communities (RECs) and other integration blocs.

We are reminded that many African countries have multiple memberships—an issue that was equally broached in the UNCTAD 2007 TDR, and considered to be one of the reasons for such low level of intra-African trade. Of the 53 countries, 27 are members of two regional groupings, with 18 belonging to three, with one country being a member of no less than four groupings. This kind of spaghetti-bowl groupings can only go to accentuate the necessity of regional integration by developing countries as part of their development strategies.

Given that this is the latest report by UNCTAD on the importance of regional integration, it is fair to say that although developing countries have made quite some progress, it continues to be found wanting—and napping—on concrete strategies to make regional economic integration work for them.

Infrastructure for intra-African trade

The most highlighted case is that of infrastructure. The report posits that there is a distinction when it comes to infrastructure—there is what it calls “hard” and “soft” infrastructure. Hard infrastructure is described as “physical infrastructure that is often missing or is of poor quality in many African countries.” These include road and air transport. The report avers that “the quality of the road network on the continent is so poor that many countries even within the same RTA remain effectively isolated from each other.”

Conversely, “soft infrastructure” includes “the policy and regulatory environment, the transparency and predictability of trade and business administration, and the quality of the business environment more generally.” Simply put, policies that impact on development, such as transport policies are some of the examples of “soft” infrastructural issues that affect transport costs. Not to speak of the high transport costs throughout the sub-regions and continent that inhibits the facilitation of intra-African trade.

Truth be told, it is difficult to speak about infrastructure without broaching the issue of intra-African trade. UNCTAD in this report views it as a critical element in facilitating regional economic integration. It admits that although intra-African trade is low in comparison to other regions, “Intra-African trade is important for many African countries taken individually.” This is buttressed by the point that “over three-quarters of intra-African trade take place within regional trading blocs, highlighting their importance.” The third critical point is that this kind of trade occurs around what the report considers “influential” countries. That is to say “trade poles” that could become development poles.

The report summarizes the section on intra-African trade by recommending AU and sub-regional policy-makers to pay greater attention to the landlocked countries on the continent that are “constrained by their own poor infrastructure as well as their neighbours’.” The report expresses hope, however, in multilateral processes, such as the EPA negotiations between countries of regional economic communities and the EU; AGOA processes and the WTO Doha Round of multilateral trade negotiations that are bound to re-configure the future of intra-African trade.

Intra-African investment

UNCTAD identifies in its report the importance of financially integrating the economies of the AU. Citing examples for each region of Africa, it refers to ECOBANK as a trailblazer, describing it as a “prominent West African investor in Africa’s banking sector.” Created by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and established in Lome, Togo, in 1985, the company was not licensed to operate as a bank until 1988. Today, through manifold investments, it has followed what the report considers to be “a proactive policy of African expansion." It is represented in 25 countries, including China, and has over 500 branches. ECOBANK’s strategy for geographic expansion is consistent with what UNCTAD calls “a sound financial sector”, which it maintains to be a “pre-requisite for increasing the flows of investment within Africa.”

In addition to ECOBANK, Nigerian banks have also been cited as key to the development of the financial sector in the ECOWAS region. UNCTAD indicates that the banking sector has “become a major player in African finance following a radical consolidation undertaken in 2005.” The centrality of these Nigerian banks in Africa’s financial system (with the biggest banks in Africa comprising 9 out of 20 that were Nigerian in 2008) can only go to complement the increasing financial integration of the economies—not just of West Africa but the continent, brought about by the fact that Nigeria’s banks go beyond the shores of the ECOWAS sub-region.

UNCTAD highlights a three-fold reason why both ECOBANK and Nigerian banks will affect intra-African investment. First, the merging and acquisition of these banks with domestic banks means that they inject capital in the economy. Secondly, new competition made possible by the coming of the new banks, triggers a reduction in the cost of banking. Finally, these banks have created financial networks across Africa, making payment mechanisms between countries easier.

In this respect, the proposal made by President of Cote d’ivoire Laurent Gbagbo along the sidelines of a June ECOWAS summit in Abuja for ECOWAS to establish a Regional Investment Fund that would purposefully be used for infrastructure is not just timely, but goes a long way to help cement the financial integration advocated in this report.

Migration and free movement

The May report by the African Union entitled “Status of Integration in Africa” disclosed that free movement had generally been achieved throughout the eight regional economic communities, but some were more advanced than others. ECOWAS perhaps has the oldest arrangement, which dates back to 1979, with a revised treaty in 2003. It has experienced many challenges throughout the three decades. Despite the presence of ECOWAS passports in only three of the fifteen ECOWAS countries, citizens of the sub-region are able to move freely throughout the region with only their ID cards or passports, and enjoy right of residence for 90 days.

Citizens of the East African Community enjoy a similar arrangement, where all the five members have a passport that is specific to the region, and which enables them single immigration entry/departure card under harmonized procedures of entry/work permits.

As for COMESA, it adopted a protocol on free movement of persons, labour, services, rights of establishment and right of residence in 2001. However, progress has been slow.

All these developments notwithstanding, UNCTAD continues to believe that migration and free movement remain important cornerstones of facilitating regional economic integration. It points to West Africa, where it relates the so-called “Ivorian miracle” of the 1980s, which it describes as attributable to “the inflow of Sahelian labour on cocoa and coffee plantations in the South of Cote D’Ivoire.”

The report points to already-existing initiatives, such as the 2006 African Common Position on Migration and Development, which highlighted, among others, the need “to ensure coordination in the development of common regional policies for the management of migration within the RECs.” In this report, UNCTAD avers that policy-makers have to build on the existing initiatives on facilitating labour mobility and migration management “already laid out in various RECs and other consultative forums in the region.” Those above are certainly ones that the report would like to see consolidated and help inform national development strategies so necessary for developing countries.


In the final analysis, it is arguable that UNCTAD’s return to regional integration is not a coincidence. By re-visiting the issue of regional integration, it is reminding both policy-makers and interested constituents that its concern for strategic development policies that will help integrate developing countries into the global economy against the backdrop of a global economic recession is sound.

As it indicates in the report, there is nothing wrong with trade policy, but it should “be part of an overall long-term development strategy which defines a country’s development objectives and the way they should be reached.” Cooperation and collaboration are important elements insofar as regional economic integration is concerned, but it should be done on a holistic basis, which includes regional policies on energy; industry; migration; and infrastructure. Regional integration done without attention to these will only go so far, and end up hindering the progress that the regional economic communities have made.

As the report so aptly concludes: “regional integration is not an end in itself; it should be seen as a stepping stone towards Africa’s attractiveness to investment and export competitiveness.”


This article can also be found on the twn-africa site on

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Rejoinder to "Alan"--On Why Nato's "Raison d'Etre" is Elusive

Just because it's been a while since I wrote an entry does not mean I have not been blogging. I have four other active blogs, which I contribute to; this has merely gone on the back-burner--till now.

I want to get back to the blog entries here by re-posting a comment I wrote in reply to one "Alan" who queried my article on the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation and Nato. You can find it below. If, Alan, you do see this finally, I would be happy for us to exchange more for the purpose of learning from each other. Thanks!

Alan--many thanks for the education. Perhaps suggesting in this post that I only read a wikipedia article and formed an opinion would be doing a disservice to what I actually have been doing, which is reading around other academic articles and sites about the SCO.

I understand theimpression it might give, but I appreciate the value of research, and would do more than wikipedia. I hope the fact that I have set up this blog itself suggests a lot of reading goes on beyond wikipedia!:-)

That said, I believe in the light of what you have said, it is too early to make such categorical statements--as like life, comparative regional integration is about humans establishing mechanisms and whatnot that make policies work or not; in that respect, it's about shades of gray.

I don't pretend to be an expert on either Nato or SCO, but what I do know about the discipline of comparative regional integration is this: there are complementarities in each regional grouping that must be highlighted and popularised, as there are imperatives.

To date, I have failed to see the imperative of Nato--helping AU peacekeepers in Sudan? Helping in Afghanistan? AT least the piracy issue has given it some raison d'etre! All that said, there is no gainsaying that SCO is a force to reckon with, and will continue to serve as a counterweight to Nato in many respects...

Thursday, June 11, 2009

An Ineffectual REC: Arab Maghreb Union

With Libyan leader al-Qaddafi focussing his interests in the African Union and CEN-SAD, you kind of wonder how much effort he would want to put into the Arab Maghreb Union.

Here's a five-member regional organisation that is twenty this year, yet has made scant effort to re-formulate its vision.

I took the liberty of reading the African Union's Status of Integration
, and was profoundly shocked by the fact that of the 8 major RECs on the African continent that had write-ups of them (ECOWAS/CENSAD/East African Community/IGAD/AMU/SADC/COMESA/ECCAS/AMU), AMU had nothing about it. The report suggests that it did not participate.

Elsewhere on the AU website, another report--the Minimum Integration Programme--indicates that in the matrices that have been set up to monitor progress of RECs, this-same REC had failed to deliver on them.

Surely, it's time to disband the Arab Maghreb Union from the AU's established RECs?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

ECOWAS Community Citizens Celebrate ECOWAS Day

You could be forgiven for thinking that the front page of Wednesday's Business and Financial Times newspaper is an indication that all is not necessarily well on the ECOWAS front. If you couple it with the news that ECOWAS common currency can only be achieved by 2020(!) That Niger is behaving in a way that might merit its suspension can only further buttress the fact that regional integration in West Africa has failed.


The West African sub-region remains one of the more vibrant regions on the African continent. You do a google search, and consistently, ECOWAS, SADC, and East African

Community (EAC) are cited as three of the more successful regional blocs out of the eight RECs that exist.

Just in case you might not know, German academics have written this of ECOWAS:

Being the prime engine of regional integration on the African continent, ECOWAS is currently undergoing impressive transformations aimed at defining new priorities and objectives. The ECOWAS priorities and objectives may also serve as a source of inspiration for other regional groupings anywhere else in the world.

The news also that the Ghana Investment
Promotion Council
is doing serious outreach work to get Ghanaians to form
cooperatives and link-up with businesses in Burkina Faso and Niger suggests that this forward-looking vision can only facilitate ECOWAS integration. You can read the news of this here:

What of the ECOWAS Parliament?

I daresay few people might be cognisant of the ECOWAS Parliament. I took the liberty of copying some of the "achievements" from the publication to the left:

In addition to providing parliamentary opinion on matters referred to it by ECOWAS Institutions, the Parliament has recorded the following achievements:

• Brokered peace process in the Mano River Region of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

• Sped up the process of adoption and implementation of ECOWAS decisions, protocols
and treaties.

• Widened the scope of participation of the ECOWAS peoples through its collaboration
with the civil society and the bringing on board of many Non-Governmental Organizations and Community-Based Organizations, a very focal point and nexus of democratic integration process.

• Advanced the cause of democracy and good governance through its support, mediation,
and diplomatic shuttles and peace missions to conflict zones in the region.

• Made texts, drafts and resolutions and amendment of protocols, and treaties in
compliance with a people-oriented integration of the region.

• Partnered, collaborated and shared experiences with the African Union Commission,
NEPAD Secretariat, the UN Agencies,the European Union, the African-Carribbean Pacific (ACP) Secretariat, etc to draw support for the region’s integration and development process.

• Critical engagement in election monitoring in many countries of the region like Nigeria, Benin Republic, Sierra-Leone, Liberia, Guinea, Togo, the Gambia, Ghana etc.

• Made key inputs in the administration of ECOWAS institutions through the timely
sharing of experiences and feed backs to the parliament by the heads of such institutions or their delegates at the House Sittings.

• Institutional re-engineering of the organs and institutions of ECOWAS through the
setting of some criteria or standard of conformity and capacity building.

• Convened parliamentary sittings in different countries of the region to bring the integration process closer to the people and build confidence; rather than holding all the sittings in Abuja, Nigeria; which is the seat of the parliament.

• Surveillance on the economic and political developments within the region and intervention at appropriate times where need be.

• Early warning and proactive measures to forestall full blown crises through its shuttle diplomacy and country-specific collaboration.

• A program of Action at advanced stage to kick-start the process of membership election through universal suffrage to give the parliament legitimacy.

• Promotion of youthful activities and participation across the region.

• Budget Appropriation for ECOWAS Institutions.

• Facilitation of payment of development levy by Member States.

• Image making for ECOWAS and the integration process and deepening of relations
among Member States and with development partners.

• Contributed to the processes of Trade Liberalization, Macro-economic convergence,
creation of customs union and free movement of persons, goods; and investment across
the borders.

• Raised awareness through the Mass Media and mobilized Media establishments within and outside the Community to support ECOWAS institutions and agencies.

• Engaged the private sector, which is the driver of economic growth, to invest in the region.

I'm not quite sure what else to add, except whenever you read this, I hope you've learnt something more than you knew about the 34-yr-old institution, which WE all --community citizens of ECOWAS--have a stake in building up.

Happy ECOWAS day!

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Going Undercover Till African Unity Day on 25 May

The time of the year has come when I am compelled to legally hibernate for a while. Will be swotting up on African regionalism, AU citizenship, and tryng to avoid getting angry over Ghanaian media's propensity to unwittingly encourage political polarization!

Till then...when I come back with a bang!

___sent: e.k.bensah (OGO device)+233.208.891.841/

These words brought to you by Ogo.

FW: Going Undercover Till African Unity Day on 25 May

The time of the year has come when I am compelled to legally hibernate for a while. Will be swotting up on African regionalism, AU citizenship, and tryng to avoid getting angry over Ghanaian media's propensity to unwittingly encourage political polarization!

Till then...when I come back with a bang!

___sent: e.k.bensah (OGO device)+233.208.891.841/

These words brought to you by Ogo.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO): A Contender to Nato, A Substitute to SAARC?

Any discussion on regional integration in Central Asia will inevitably prompt a discussion of key actors like SAARC; ASEAN and SCO.

These days, I don't mince my words on SAARC; I humbly suggest that the 8-member regional group that was established in December 1985 better get its act together or, like Nato, dwindle into irrelevance.

I spent the better part of the weekend reading through wikipedia's rendering of the Shangai Cooperation Organisation, and have to say I was pretty impressed. I couldn't for the life of me understand how an organisation that was established in 2001 had, eight years down the line, a Regional Anti-Terrorism Structure (RATS), yet SAARC that has been 23.5 years in existence had no such structure to fight terrorism when Pakistan, a member, had since 2001 been the bane of the organisation's development insofar as security of the region was concerned!

Remember that discussion on sub-regional imperatives that I've been banging on about? Looks like the gutsy SCO has plenty of that!

Some observers claim that SCO is everything and nothing in the sense that it is a security/political/cultural organisation that comprises non-democracies. Security and political aspects are important because Russia and China are key members, along with some members of what I call the "Stan Family", comprising--Kazakhstan; Kyrgyzstan; Tajikistan; and Uzbekistan. You might have guessed that there are no anglophone countries--unlike the ASEAN Regional Forum, which comprises the USA and Australia.

To top off the fear and loathing of SCO, Iran and India are observers.

I cannot help but wonder why India does not also put some of its efforts into re-dynamising SAARC, as it remains the putative hegemon of that part of Asia. I guess to each his own?

In the specific context of regional integration in Central Asia, observers writing about SCO believe it to be a great contender to Nato. One Michael Bendetson, writing in The Tufts Daily is one of them:

After analyzing NATO’s past actions and future plans in Afghanistan, it appears that only the United States is living up to the lofty expectations established by the

organization. European members are pledging their moral support; however, the future of NATO will depend on the alliance backing up their word with strength. If the majority of members continue to project an image of weakness, the alliance will falter.

He goes on:

In addition to the pressure of internal fragmentation, the power of NATO is being challenged in all areas of the globe. When the Cold War concluded in 1991, NATO was the strongest alliance in the international arena. The Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact had been dissolved, and NATO had been left unchallenged. Unfortunately, a lot has changed in two decades. The most significant of these changes pertains to the establishment of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).

The question of Nato is relevant here because as observers have been writing, the elements of Russia and China as powerful members within SCO are equally united in ensuring that Nato does not expand to that part of the world. With the SCO firmly ensconced in Central Asia, desires by Nato to expand eastwards further will be seriously inhibited.

As for Afghanistan, the less said about it the better! It joined SAARC in April 2007, with SAARC playing no central role in its development. However, in November 2005, the SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group was established as a platform to help Afghanistan for reconstruction.

Latest news indicate that the SCO can continue to play a role in Afghanistan, and it makes sense as a stable Afghanistan can only augur well for the rest of the SCO members.

Whatever the case may be; and whatever Western leaders will propound, it is clear that any progressive and critical look at regional integration in Central Asia will continue to encompass a greater role of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Much Ado About Nato

I lost interest in the alliance the every day Nato decided to transgress the UN Security Council in 1999 and invade Kosovo. I was far from chuffed: here was an alliance that was seeking to re-establish its raison d'etre against the face of what was an explicit illegality. It was just not on.

Suffice-to-say, ten years on, my attitude about Nato has far from changed: Nato, in my view, remains a relic of the Cold War--caught between a rock and a hard place of providing humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan (and even the African Union!!) and needing to expand to perpetuate the fallacy that it still has a reason to exist.

Let me be clear: the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation will celebrate a far from happy sixtieth birthday this month. Three articles have conspired to remind me that I am not far from the mark of wishing it as dead as a dodo.

The first is that of Mitchell A. Belfer, of The Prague Post, who writes:

It is interesting to note that since the Afghanistan episode NATO's priorities have shifted. At a time of growing geopolitical threats, it is remarkable to watch NATO squabble about maintaining troop levels capable of delivering humanitarian aid to the far reaches of Afghanistan, and deploy state-of-the-art equipment as part of a "hearts and minds" strategy, but not do what NATO is meant to do: namely, win wars and provide security for its members.

In the writer's view, Nato should have been focussing on ensuring security for its alliance members instead of seeking to reward what he calls Russian "belligerence". That Nato has adopted a rather lukewarm attitude towards Russia, in his view, only provides a fertile view that Nato has lost the plot.

The two other articles are more explicit about what they feel about Nato.

The second is by Andrew J. Bacevich of the LA Times which title of the article is sufficiently explicit: The US must simply quit the alliance.

Ofcourse, coming from where it's coming, it was always going to be normal that the United States would consider it a kind of albatross, what with the global recession and all.

His article is an insightful one, providing one with a survey of Nato from 1949 to 2009. He mentions implosion, which really is about Nato needing to resist from going further Eastward. That this is already happening--as the BBC has reported today--with Albania and Croatia joining to becoome the 27th and 28th member respectively, you cannot help but wonder whether any putative implosion will not come any time soon!

The La Times avers that the EU is more than capable of managing its own defence matters:

The difference between 1949 and 2009 is that present-day Europe is more than capable of addressing today's threat, without American assistance or supervision. Collectively, the Europeans don't need U.S. troops or dollars, both of which are in short supply anyway and needed elsewhere. Yet as long as the United States sustains the pretense that Europe cannot manage its own affairs, the Europeans will endorse that proposition, letting Americans foot most of the bill. Only if Washington makes it clear that the era of free-riding has ended will Europe grow up.

I believe that's a fair point, but I believe that the mess that Nato is transcends the paternalistic role of the US in EU defence matters; it has a lot more to do with failing to re-evaluate and re-formualte a vision of where Nato needs to go in 2009 and beyond!

Finally, there is Mark Medish's article in the New York Times, which actually mentions regional integration in the following context:

"Since the Soviet collapse, NATO has been a useful tool of regional integration, although it has done little in this regard that the European Union could not do better."

Regional integration? Come on, now. I would never go so far as saying that Nato has been a tool of regional integration in the sense that we have expressed it here on t his blog; I don't even know whether an alliance can foster or facilitate regional integration by simply expanding, without deepening, which if we are frank with ourselves, the EU does not do. It has always expanded very well, and deepened its regional inegration process rather well.

In the specific context of Nato, though, the writer uses the words "iconoclast"; " institutional fetishism"; and "radical re-branding". What he means in using these words is to explain that the iconoclasts "view [Nato] as a hollow alliance that has plainly outlived its usefulness and represents a misallocation of scarce reosurces."

As regards "institutional fetishism", the writer suggests that there will always be proponents of Nato; he believes that these proponents practice "institutional fetishism", which he thinks they should go beyond, adding "Nato should not be considered too big to fail."

Finally, on "radical re-branding", Medish offers a humorous rendering:

Instead of disbanding or expanding, a better option would be radical re-branding. It is not necessarily too late for this. Re-branding could start with a new name, such as POTATO, which would be far less neuralgic, at least in Moscow.

In short, Nato needs not just a re-think, but a very sober one if it choses to go forward. If it were for me, I think Brussels could do with a nice park at its headquarters in Evere!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Reflections on Regional Integration: Creating Sub-Regional Imperatives for SADC & SAARC, While IGAD/ECOWAS Forge Ahead

I have been trying so hard to write about Madagascar without elaborating on the latest developments of the country having been suspended. Not that I am not happy that SADC has suspended the Indian Ocean country, or that the AU has equally done so, but that I was hoping that the issue of Madagascar ought to be a watershed for SADC to re-formulate where it needs to go in terms of its sub-regional imperative.

You might re-call that I have made a lot of noise about ECOWAS and Liberia and how it has developed a conflict prevention imperative, on account of the number of conflicts it was compelled to go through, as well as the transformation of what was essentially an economic organisation into something that would become a force for peace enforcement through ECOMOG.

I could not help but wonder whether the headaches that SADC had over Mugabe and power-sharing has perhaps forced SADC to look at a new imperative for it--governance! Think about the fact that Zimbabwe is in power-sharing mode now, and how Ravalomanana could have "power-shared" with Andry Rajoelina if SADC had intervened earlier.

I believe that as the regional economic communities move ahead, they needs must develop imperatives that lend them a degree of credibility; for surely regional integration cannot only be about bringing tariffs down within a collective group?

So when I heard yesterday of the Lahore bombings, I couldn't help but wonder how profoundly SAARC had failed in a possible regional imperative of tackling terrorism, and how it quickly needed to get its act together! If you have been reading some of my writings about SAARC, you'll know that I don't suffer it gladly--so to speak.

In my view, it remains one of the weakest regional unions that exist in the world. I cannot for the life of me understand how Afghanistan would seek to join it last two years, yet fail to use SAARC as a focal point to rationalise counter-terrorism activities in the region! Is it a political thing or what? If the 15-member ECOWAS could establish protocols on peace and security, what is stopping the seven-member SAARC?

Constrast SAARC's execrable performance on regional integration and the search for imperatives, and you are confronted with IGAD, which I wrote about a few months ago. IGAD, in all fairness, has gotten very serious about using the imperative of conflict prevention to its advantage. That it comprises SUDAN, SOMALIA, ERITREA as countries representing some of the inter-necine conflicts suggests that this was the only rational solution to pursue. SAARC must take cue. India, as the putative hegemon, should be less imbued by its own country's growth, and be more concerned about leading SAARC to be what it can be--an effective tool for the resolution of conflict in South East Asia!

Monday, March 30, 2009

Regional Crises, Regional Solutions

Regional Crises, Regional Solutions
By E.K.Bensah

In 2008, West Africa had the distinction of being the only sub-region to have experienced two coups within months of each other.

On 6 August 2008, Mauritanian troops overthrew the country’s first elected leader that had been freely-elected, adding that they had formed a state council to rule the country. Four months later in December, the death of Guinea’s Lansana Conte would prompt young, military officers to storm the country’s radio and TV station announcing the seizure of power.

If it is arguable that these two incidences have reared the spectre of coup d’états in the ECOWAS region, especially noteworthy is how they have accentuated the efficacity of the mechanisms within the regional economic communities – including the African Union.

The hurried announcing and swearing in of Kenya’s Kibaki by the Kenyan Electoral Commission (KEC) after the country’s presidential elections in December 2007 would trigger several weeks of chaos, where the so-called tribal hatred with a thousand-plus senseless killings would play out to the world’s media.

By March 2008, the crisis was all over—thanks to the AU-sponsored intervention of former UN secretary-General Kofi Annan. His several weeks in Kenya deep in discussion both with opposition party Orange Democratic Movement (ODM)’s Odinga, and then-incumbent Kibaki would prove to set the precedent of “power-sharing.”

In Zimbabwe, when after presidential elections of March 2008, Mugabe increased intimidation of political opponent Morgan Tzvangarai in order for him to concede defeat against the face of a second round, rumours abounded that the country should go the “Kenyan way”, triggering what would now be called the craze of “power-sharing.” Several regional attempts by the fourteen-member SADC would prove futile, leaving observers and commentators to finger-point a suspected pusillanimity of veteran freedom-fighter Mugabe as the root cause for the non-condemnation of his antics.

Tale of Two Outcomes
Elsewhere on the continent, the coups of Mauritania and Guinea elicited interest, with attempts by regional organizations of the African Union(AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) respectively proving to yield altogether-different outcomes.

Days after news of the coup broke in Mauritania, the African Union was quick to condemn it, demanding a return to constitutional rule. It further added that it was sending an envoy to the nation’s capital Nouakchott immediately. Apart from the usual Western condemnations associated with the EU and the US, AU heavyweights Nigeria and South Africa were equally quick to voice their concern for the coup. Days after, the AU suspended Mauritania.

Shortly after the December coup in Guinea, the exhortations by coup-leader Army Captain Moussa Camara did little to assuage the fear of AU diplomats that they were going to revert to constitutional rule; neither did promises by the junta that none of them would run for public office. Camara had promised elections within two years—to which top AU diplomat Jean Ping would consider insufficient towards civilian rule.

Even Camara’s promise that he would reinstate Guinea’s previous constitutional limit of two , five-year presidential terms, repealing the seven-year, unlimited terms imposed by the late President Conte would wash little with AU officials, who promptly suspended the country mid-January. ECOWAS followed suit on 12 January, by suspending Guinea from the fifteen-member sub-regional group.

It must be said that these outcomes have not just shown how far mechanisms have come, but brought into sharp relief the ever-evolving and dynamic nature of the AU in the resolution of electoral conflicts. Furthermore, it has highlighted a symbolic departure from erstwhile ad-hoc solutions between 1963 and 2003 that amounted to nothing more than non-interference in the affairs of then-OAU countries.

In fact, it could be argued that the transformation of the OAU into the AU in 2003 has led to a kind of Zeitgeist where African countries, keen to march on with their democratic dispensation, have largely developed coup d’état-fatigue. That said, these latter-day coups have enabled regional economic communities (RECs) not just gain needed experience on how to better develop the paradigm of conflict prevention—both electoral and otherwise—, but also pointed the way on how to consolidate and strengthen the regional mechanisms at both the sub-regional and continental level.

REC’s Reaction
In the case of Mauritania, the mechanism found expression in a non-tolerance by the AU of the country’s coup as well as deadlines and proposition of steps to revert to constitutional rule; these steps have certainly helped the West African country get serious on holding elections—as exemplified by the January 23 announcement by Mauritanian State Council President General Mohamed Ould Abdela Aziz of elections on June 6 2009.

Six days later, the Council approved the formation of an independent national electoral commission. It is fair to say that had the AU adopted a lackadaisical approach to the follow-up of the coup, such measures—despite a 10-point communiqué issued by the AU’s Peace and Security Council (that gave a strong deadline that failure to move ahead on constitutional rule by 5 February would elicit significant sanctions, including “travel restrictions and freezing of assets”) – would not necessarily have come to pass so soon after the August 2008 unconstitutional ousting of President Abdallahi.

In Guinea, the regional mechanism through ECOWAS has been more elaborate. Like Mauritania, Guinea was ready to bluff and bluster: after having proposed a six-month deadline to conduct elections to return the country to civil rule, it suddenly reneged, setting a new deadline of December 2010. ECOWAS acted quickly to prevent any further tergiversation by Guinea; it insisted that the junta has just 2009 to return the country to civilian rule in the election process.

Calling for an early ratification and implementation of the ECOWAS Supplementary Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance and the 2007 AU Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance at the December 2008 ECOWAS Ordinary Summit, the regional bloc went further to secure the suspension of Guinea from all meetings of ECOWAS Heads of State and ministerial levels, until civilian rule had taken root.

At the Abuja summit earlier in January, ECOWAS set the record straight on what it felt about the Guinean situation. Nigeria’s foreign minister for foreign affairs, Chief Ojo Maduekwe, chairing the meeting would say “there is no patriotic coup as distinct from unpatriotic coup. The ECOWAS protocols we are all parties to, leave no room for those distinctions…”

To this end, ECOWAS leaders agreed on a comprehensive set of measures for the restoration of Guinea back to the ECOWAS fold. These included the leaders resolving to push for the inclusion of Guinea on the agenda of the UN Peace Building Commission; the launching of a comprehensive security sector reform; the maintenance of a permanent and constructive dialogue with the CNDD party; the completion of voter registration exercise and the provision of voter identification cards to facilitate the holding of elections this year; as well as the authorization of ECOWAS President Ibn Chambas to submit regular reports on the situation in Guinea to the Chairman of the AU Commission as well as to the AU Peace and Security Council for information and appropriate action.

SADC’s Stagger
It was an altogether different affair with SADC over Zimbabwe, for despite the announcement three months earlier for Tzvangarai and Mugabe to power-share, it would only be in late January this year for any agreement to finally be agreed at. This delay had been fuelled by the sharpened divisions and mistrust that prevailed. SADC’s prevarication can arguably be construed as a reflection of its relative inexperience as a mechanism for the resolution of a conflict that potentially had ramifications for the region.

In Kenya, it would yet again be the African Union—not the East African Community--that would help resolve the crisis. Lack of movement and the near-silence by the EAC (save for the Central bank governors of the East African Community (EAC) who called for a quick and effective resolution of the political crisis in Kenya, saying the impasse has negatively impacted on the region’s economy) reflects—as in the case of SADC—a possible inexperience on bringing pressure to bear for a regional solution.

Conversely, the six-member IGAD played a more significant role. With a delegation comprising Ethiopian, Ugandan, and Somalian foreign ministers, they met with former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan who was leading the mediation talks. Despite the fact that Odinga claimed that Kibaki was not the legitimate head of state, they pressed on with the talks to the extent of eventually backing the Annan-sponsored discussions.

This desire to play a proactive regional role was predicated on two reasons. First, Kenya happened to hold the rotating chairmanship of IGAD and had built up “goodwill” in the bloc for its regional peace efforts; and secondly, as Ethiopian Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin indicated just a few days before the a breakthrough in the talks, IGAD’s experience in Somalia, Sudan, and Ethiopia meant that its imperative for conflict resolution was very important in bringing to bear a solution that at least had the backing of the regional leaders.

The same imperative for conflict resolution could be attributed to the ECOWAS countries. The turbulence of ECOWAS countries Liberia, Sierra Leone and Cote d’Ivoire in the 1990s has lent the West African REC an ineluctable imperative to resolve the recent Guinean crisis that it has acted as what consultant for election assistance and organizational development Tim Bilfiger has called a dual role of mediator and election observer.

The future of regional mechanisms
Bilfiger believes that if ECOWAS is to move forward on election monitoring, it must reconcile these two roles. His proposition for an Election unit has already become reality: Ghana’s Daily Graphic newspaper of 31 January reports that a regional network of electoral commissions has been established in the West African sub-region to harmonise election standards among ECOWAS countries.

As the RECs continue to standardize and harmonise as part of their democratic dispensation, election-monitoring –as exemplified by the roles played by the Pan-African Parliament and ECOWAS in Ghana’s December elections – will become more relevant. If Guinea, Mauritania, and Zimbabwe are any indicator, we see that there remain significant regional mechanisms that are as robust as they are sound and credible. Strengthened election-monitoring will only serve to complement the already-existing ones. That the ECOWAS Network of Electoral Commission has finally been established can only go to offer one a glimmer of hope that the facilitation of a development of a healthy and democratic sub-region is possible.


This article appeared in an edited form for Third World Networks' African Agenda, Edition 12.1 (January 2009)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

ASEAN/African Union--Still Some Way to Go for the ASEAN Community

I am both excited and disappointed by the latest developments in the ASEAN region. I am excited to hear that ASEAN wants to "accelerate" the formation of a single market; but profoundly disappointed it has to be like that of the European Union.

ASEAN is not--and should not be expected to be -- like the EU, which culture is different; furthermore, the history surrounding the establishment of ASEAN is dissimilar to the EU. Like many of the African RECs, there was no Economic Coal and Steel Community before the Treaty of Maastricht created the EU in 1992.

That the organisation agreed to move on consensus-building rather than sanctions--even with the new Charter--is a reflection already of its idiosynchratic nature.

What is not so different is the fact that there are regional leaders driving the group. In this case, it is Singapore; Thailand; Malaysia; and Indonesia. According to bloomberg, they account for almost 90 percent of all foreign investment into ASEAN.

With regard to the bloc's response to the global recession, Bloomberg reports:

Asean’s new charter, which came into force three months ago, has no mechanism to stop member countries from implementing protectionist policies. Earlier this month Indonesia ordered civil servants to use local products, and Malaysian Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi said it was “normal” for countries to resort to protectionist measures in a slowdown, according to local media reports.

ASEAN has always talked about free trade, and I don't believe that will change soon. What might have to be changed is the degree of political will to move forward on integration. That they have decided on a new human rights body, which has hitherto no name, is a great idea. Still critical steps to make it an important body in the ASEAN construct ought to take prominence. The naysayers and cold observers might huff and puff at the ideas for the region's processes. However, I believe that it needs to start with its charter--and the strengthening thereof--as an important step towards the critical development of its own regional integration.

What's eating the African Union?
Meanwhile, elsewhere in the African Union, the Pan-African body is getting some migraine from Guinea;Mauritania; Madagascar; and Guinea-Bissau. Need I mention Sudan? Let's watch the space for a frenetic period for the continental body. Before we do, let me leave you with a commentary by one Tom Nuttal about lessons that the AU can learn from the EU:

Tom Nuttall writing in the "Independent" newspaper of Uganda advances five lessons that AU member states can take cognizance of while conceiving of a United States of Africa.

First of all, it doesn’t take a charismatic man to drive the idea of any Union of African states. He refers to the "founding father" of the EU—a gradualist—Jean Monnet who espoused the idea of a Europe based on federal lines. Secondly, countries ought to "focus on the bottom line". In other words, they ought to believe that they will benefit mutually from being associated with each other, that leaving becomes the last thing on their mind. The third lesson is in finding "a method of integrating states while allowing them space for legitimate disagreements—and ensuring that those disagreements do not hinder the fundamental project of union." The fourth point is predicated on finding an external force, like the US in the EU after the Second World War ended in 1945, who can preside over any attempt or project to unite. Finally, adversity and challenges are necessary to advance any unification project. 

Thursday, February 19, 2009

CEMAC--Has Cameroon Failed to Lead the Central African region?

It's a bit of bitter pill to swallow from an academic, but I can see where the man is coming from. The man in question, Cameroonian-born Dr.Chris Fomunyoh, Senior Associate for Africa & Regional Director of NDI, a Washington-based non-profit organization, has, in an interview, castigated Cameroon for adopting what he considers a "lack of leadership in the sub-region", and cites it as being responsible for the poor economic and political transformation in the sub-region.

He believes that unlike Nigeria/South Africa/Kenya for ECOWAS/SADC/EAC respectively, Cameroon has failed to step up to the plate over CEMAC. In this regard, Cameroon’s failure to compete as a sub-regional leader explains why the region "is unable to experience the kind of economic and political transformation other parts of the continent have enjoyed."

Meanwhile, bishops in the CEMAC region have called for responsible resource extraction. AFP reports that:

The bishops from the Economic and Monetary Union of Central Africa (CEMAC) -- comprising Gabon, Congo, Cameroon, Chad, Central African Republic and Equatorial Guinea -- called for an anti-corruption mechanism to be developed and a change in behaviour when it came to exploiting and managing resources.

Prospecting and exploiting natural resources in these countries must ensure that "environmental and social norms are respected, so human rights and the well being of populations are respected," the bishops said.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

MERCOSUR--Chomsky Speaks about "Exciting" South American Integration

In this interview of Noam Chomsky on Foreign Policy in Focus, Chomsky explains why he is excited about Latin America and its attempts at regional integration. I have culled the relevant sections of the interview here. Enjoy!

South America

DOSSANI: Will the current crisis open up space for other countries to follow more meaningful development goals?

CHOMSKY: Well, it's been happening. One of the most exciting areas of the world is South America. For the last 10 years there have been quite interesting and significant moves towards independence, for the first time since the Spanish and Portuguese conquests. That includes steps towards unification, which is crucially important, and also beginning to address their huge internal problems. There's a new Bank of the South, based in Caracas, which hasn't really taken off yet, but it has prospects and is supported by other countries as well. MERCOSUR is a trading zone of the Southern cone. Just recently, six or eight months ago, a new integrated organization has developed, UNASUR, the Union of South American Republics, and it's already been effective. So effective that it's not reported in the United States, presumably because it's too dangerous.

So when the U.S. and the traditional ruling elites in Bolivia started moving towards a kind of secessionist movement to try to undermine the democratic revolution that's taken place there, and when it turned violent, as it did, there was a meeting of UNASUR last September in Santiago, where it issued a strong statement defending the elected president, Evo Morales, and condemning the violence and the efforts to undermine the democratic system. Morales responded thanking them for their support and also saying that this is the first time in 500 years that South America's beginning to take its fate into its own hands. That's significant; so significant that I don't even think it was reported here. Just how far these developments can go, both dealing with the internal problems and also the problems of unification and integration, we don't know, but the developments are taking place. There are also South-South relations developing, for example between Brazil and South Africa. This again breaks the imperial monopoly, the monopoly of U.S. and Western domination. China's a new element on the scene. Trade and investment are increasing, and this gives more options and possibilities to South America. The current financial crisis might offer opportunities for increasing this, but also it might go the other way. The financial crisis is of course harming — it must harm — the poor in the weaker countries and it may reduce their options. These are really matters which will depend on whether popular movements can take control of their own fate, to borrow Morales' phrase. If they can, yes there are opportunities.

Sameer Dossani, a Foreign Policy In Focus contributor, is the director of 50 Years is Enough and blogs at

Thursday, February 05, 2009

AFRICAN UNION--The Unbearable Lightness of Being...An African Union Citizen

I have spent the better part of the week working on a paper that has taken my time away from this blog. I re-post what I posted today on my ghana blog, as I believe it to be relevant...

It was too contrived to be a coincidence. After I posted an entry requesting why the issue of African Union had not been covered on CITI97.3FM (pls see above) on both Shamima Muslim and Citi Breakfast Show host Sammy Bartel's facebook wall, the following day on the show, I heard Victor Gbeho and Dr.Nii Alabi come on the show to discuss not just Ghanaian politics, but no less than implications of Al-Qaddafi as AU Chair.

There was--unlike former host Bernard Avle--no acknowledgment of my suggestion. I hardly expected it, but it would have been nice anyway!

Still, that was not going to dampen my interest and optimism. Upon learning that the AU is going to transform into an AU Authority, I sent some information round to Facebook friends, which elicited some responses. Curiously, out of the thirty people I sent the information to, only a handful replied. Below are some of the responses:

  • I honestly believe that once Africa stops looking 4 aid & begins to look and assist its own her in Africa we'll never be blessed. Its a Biblical principle that the founding fathers of the west knew and instilled into their children and children's children generations ago.

    Continental unity would transform us into thee Super Power.

  • It can only work if we make it work. We must instill that feeling of pride that the Americans have about being American about being an African in our offspring. Racism, tribalism and all those other evils are taught I'm yet to meet any1 born with any of those cancers in them. We have work to do, but if we are single minded in achieving this 'dream' the future is brighter that a thousand Suns beaming down on us.

  • Cool so i can proudly pay i live in the USA now.

  • This is what I myself wrote:

    it is ironic that in the centenary of the birth of Osagyefo Dr.Kwame Nkrumah, the dream towards continental govt could become a reality! Breaking news---al Qaddafi of LIbya just became CHAIR of the AU for one year. Certainly a BOON--if ever I saw one--to continental unity!!

    All that said, I would not for a second believe that those who failed to comment are any less patriotic than I am.

    We can draw any number of conclusions about the non-response, but what I can say is that there is a general lack of interest and apathy in the whole enterprise--which only compounds my unbearable lightness of being an AU citizen...

    But let's get positive for a second. Here's the plan for the African Union Authority:

  • AU Authority would be made operational by July 2009

  • it will have a vice-president and President

  • current commissioners of the AU would be transformed into secretaries

  • new secretaries would have portfolios structured along nine areas of shared competence. These include...

  • ...poverty-reduction; free movement of persons, goods and services; infrastructural development; climate change; epidemics and pandemics; international trade negotiations; peace and security matters; foreign affairs

  • Right across from where I work is Eastgate hotel; it has an EU; Ghanaian; Nigerian; Canadian flag. There is NO AU flag. It's a good job the AU is changing its flag. Maybe I can lobby for it to be hoisted?;-)Seriously, last time I looked, flags were a symbolic representation of a country's identity. There is no hotel here in Accra I have seen that has ever dared to hoisted an AU or even ECOWAS flag. In my view, it just reinforces the perception that Ghanaians don't care much for representing the AU to the world!

    To conclude, we do not live in a perfect world, so we are always going to get the likes of Al-Qaddafi. Whatever you might think about his human rights, he has made immense contributions--albeit not altruistically--to the cause of Pan-African integration.

    I believe it sincerely to be a blessing in disguise to have a putative erratic character like him at the helm of the AU in this year, and at this time when we are in the centenary of one of the most visionary Africans that ever lived--Dr.Kwame Nkrumah. A man who also happens to have proclaimed "Africa Must Unite! when he took Ghana, along with Nasser and a posse of visionary leaders instrumental in the establishment of the erstwhile Organisation of African Unity.

    Like Sunday World columnist-cum-blogger Kobby Graham wrote:

    Say what you will about the man but his visions of a single African military force, a single currency, and a single passport for Africans to move freely around the continent have an appealing whiff of Nkrumah about them that I cannot help but inhale.

    In my view, the nay-sayers of AU integration are missing the point! It is not about Al-Qaddafi--it's about fighting for AU integration now!

    Friday, January 30, 2009

    IGAD--Getting Proactive on its Security Imperative?

    It's no news now that Ethiopian troops have withdrawn from Somalia. What is news is the fact that the six-member Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD)--comprising Kenya; Uganda; Ethiopia; Somalia; Suda; and Djibouti -- issued a statement after an emergency meeting on Tuesday 27 January condemning actions of what are described as "anti-peace groups" in Somalia.

    Bottom line is that unbeknownst to many, IGAD is getting proactive on the facilitation of its regional integration process, which could look like one increasingly predicated on security.

    Profoundly reminiscent of ECOWAS in the 1990s when the West African REC transformed its mandate to transcend a conflict resolution/preventive one by establishing ECOMOG, it has got one thinking whether this new-found imperative is not to be consolidated further.

    These latest developments look like it just might do that--with the help of the African Union.

    Already--as VOA news maintained--top AU diplomat Jean Ping "spoke confidently of adding Ugandan and Nigerian battalions to the AU's 3,500-strong peacekeeping mission in Somalia." This is important as the Islamist extremists are allegedly trying to re-take control of Somalia.

    We all know how nature abhors a vacuum. Developments so far prove that with the proactiveness of AU and IGAD, the regional solution will be comprehensively explored.

    [map from Voice of America website]

    Tuesday, January 27, 2009

    MERCOSUR--Venezuela-Brazilian Ties are No Game!

    There's a lot of interesting developments in the Latin American region off-late, and I'm not just saying that because Bolivia's referendum went well the country's way on Sunday. Ofocurse, well is relative, because for the detractors of the referendum, empowering the indigenous makes a nonsense of the westernising process that suits the middle class. But, that's another story.

    The biggest story here is that apart from the fact that Chavez is coming under attack for extending the term of his office by way of the constitution, as far as regional integration initiatives go, more exciting things are happening. Last week, for example, the personable Christine Kirchner, President of Argentina, met up with Chavez.

    The objective of the meeting was to deepen ties between the two countries. To the extent that a good 21 new cooperation agreements were signed, plus the bullet-point notes of: meeting once every three months; and alternating the meeting between Venezuela and Argentina all have lent credence to the idea that Venezuela and Argentina are getting things "right" on fostering their regional integration.

    Fostering integration is very often about deepening ties between, and among the countries in the region. Perhaps here in the ECOWAS region, Ghana and Nigeria come close to doing that more often than with the other thirteen members of ECOWAS; I do sure hope we could see more Ghana-Gambia / Ghana-Senegal / Ghana-Cote d'Ivoire / Ghana-Mali interactions. If you think about the permutations that can occur between and among countries in any grouping, it is more than astronomical.

    It's More than in the Eyes

    Going back to the issue of developments in the region, one reads further that Brazil and Venezuela are also strengthening their regional cooperation after the 6th Bilateral Summit, which was held in the "western oil-producing state of Zulia."

    Now when we talk about Brazil and Venezuela, we are in essence talking about regional hegemons--even if Venezuela has yet to be comprehensively ensconced in the MERCOSUR region.

    The meeting was more than bombastic talk: it saaw the two leaders of Chavez and Lula driving through a "commnal city" named "The Labyrinth", which is...

    "a growing agricultural community of 157 families, where an irrigation system is being developed with Brazilian technology."

    There were also inspections of a 2,050 acre cattle-raising complex in The Labyrinth, supplied by what the Venezuelan leader calls "very resistant" Brazilian cattle breed.

    Venezuela will, in turn, be creating a large food depot to give food security to its people, with Venezuela ready to transfer technology from the agricultural revolution the country has experienced since the sixties--all this so that Venezuela can also create its own agricultural revolution.

    The long-and-short of it all is that if ever we thought Brazil, Venezuela and Argentina are playing games with rhetoric about fostering a strong and cohesive MERCOSUR, these developments better dispel that myth fast!

    pictures are from