"I can vividly recall in a public forum I recently attended, one lady in her verbal castration of regional leaders, described their approach to the integration movement, as a “Prime Ministerial, piecemeal, paper-based and people-less process” ".--Anselm Caines
Once in a while, you come across an article on regional integration that is just too juicy and poignant to let go off. This one, by one Anselm Caines, writing in SKNVIBES.com is one of them.
His article operates from the premiss of an insightful statement made by a lady of regional leaders, which I have quoted above.
Caines proceeds to expatiate his piece on the basis of the four points by the lady. I daresay many regional integration initiatives world-wide could do with a reading of this piece. Caines well and truly nips it in the bud with the following four points.
Caribbean integration (like much integration processes) remains at the realm of abstraction. In other words, ordinary people do not feel any connection to the process. Whether this is the EU, ECOWAS, SADC, or MERCOSUR, I suspect that many of these regional integration initiatives(RIAs) must work harder on their communication strategies to ensure that integration process makes sense, is real and palpable. Despite the success of the Schengen area in the EU, it is reported that many Europeans have a problem with a Europe out there divorced from the realities of the EU's problems.
The lesson is for the diplomats to TAKE integration to the schools, the communities, the citizens.
ECOWAS's Community Development Programme, in this respect, looks interesting, but it is still problematic. This is because of how it has been structured--what with the identification of networks that will, in effect, serve as proxies for the policy-makers at the ECOWAS level.
Integration initiatives fail because they are rarely endorsed by the public before they become policy. Radio and TV spots alone are insufficient. They must be sustained and dynamised.
In this respect the UEMOA-ECOWAS-sponsored "Caravan d'integration" that will end very soon (and which started in May in Senegal) remains a flop, because they passed through Ghana, but not one radio station was sensitised about their coming. For those of us who knew, too, we were not contacted to be briefed on updates. That is a whole opportunity to showcase West African regional integration efforts WASTED!
These RIAs exist solely on paper. In my view, even passports are a symbolic representation of a regional integration on its way to being actualised Other solutions to counter this include Model meetings, as with The Hague International Model United Nations; Model AU; Model NATO; Model ECOWAS. Kids representing diplomats are sure ways of ensuring research is done, and energies motivated towards the idea of regional integration.
Without people, a community of people around a regional integration initiative is baseless. Caines writes:
Remember, matters such as freedom of movement of persons and the right to establish businesses in any member state are very sensitive issues that cannot truly be expected to succeed if half of our populace is indifferent and apathetic to such principles.
What about the teachers union and doctors throughout our Federation? Were they thoroughly consulted so that they could offer their views as to the scope of the social shocks that will inevitably follow
The flip-side is that we, as citizens, must also take an interest in what the implications of these initiatives are for us. If we are business-inclined, we might want to get to know what freedom of movement means so that we can maximise our opportunity as community citizens in the sub-region. Freedom of movement is an important and critical element, for example, for the informal sectors in, say, the ECOWAS sub-region. While the traders might be clueless about what is contained in the 1979 ECOWAS protocols on freedom of movement, they at least know they can -- challenges of bribes notwithstanding -- move across borders with a mere passport.
A more literate person would want to go further and find out how freedom of movement can help with his business across the sub-region.
In the final analysis, if I have not pointed out the article already, let me do so here. You can read it by clicking here.
These are some of the ideas we need to facilitate a critical and progressive outlook on regional integration!